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Rain Garden Gets Special Governor’s Approval

Students, parents, teachers, conservationists, and a former governor (and genuine Virginia hero) -- that’s a pretty potent combination to get just about anything accomplished.

That was clear this week at a celebration marking the completion of a large rain garden at Linwood Holton Elementary School in Richmond, Va. The garden, a project spearheaded by the Chesapeake Bay Holton Elem garden 011Foundation (CBF) but involving scores of public, private, and volunteer partners, will catch and filter runoff pollution from nearly two acres of school property, including a large asphalt parking lot that has been prone to flooding.

The garden’s water-absorbing qualities and natural filtering abilities will thus help clean and protect water quality in the Upham Brook watershed, a network of urban creeks snaking through Richmond and adjacent Henrico County and eventually making their way to the Chickahominy and James rivers.

The rain garden is just one of several projects that CBF and partners have completed as part of a larger, whole-community project to help restore Upham Brook. Other efforts have included homeowner education workshops, a “scoop the poop” pet waste campaign, floating wetlands in local lakes, and a variety of volunteer stream-bank plantings and cleanups.   

But this week, all the attention was on Holton Elementary, where some 100 third-graders joined CBF, DSC_0136 parents, and dignitaries on a bright sunny day to welcome the school’s namesake, former Gov. Linwood Holton (right, greeting students), to help cut the ribbon on the new rain garden and plant the last flowers in it.

Holton, who served as Virginia’s governor from 1970-74, was clearly pleased to be back at the school and see all the good conservation work that Principal David Hudson, the students, teachers, parents, and friends have accomplished. In addition to finishing the new rain garden, the school, led by parents Ellen Shepard and Susanna Raffenot, has turned much of the grounds into an outdoor classroom full of rain barrels, gardens, trees, and wildlife habitat.

That conservation ethic resonates with Holton, who during his term as governor helped change Virginia law to dramatically reduce pollution in state waterways. It was also during Holton’s governorship that Virginia’s policies toward school integration took a dramatic turn. At great political risk, Holton declared an end to the era of “massive resistance,” Virginia’s anti-desegregation policy, and in 1970 personally escorted his daughter Tayloe to enroll in a nearly all-black public high school in Richmond.

DSC_0053The former governor’s legacy of environmental and civil rights progress was noted by speakers during the rain garden ceremonies. The third-graders, however, paid him a different tribute, singing a rousing “Happy Birthday to You” to mark his recent 90th birthday.

Then following a quick demonstration how the rain garden will serve as a “green filter” to clean the dirty water running off the parking lot so it won’t pollute Upham Brook, the students grabbed shovels and put in the final rain garden plants.

Education, restoration, celebration. Hard to top that kind of day.

Chuck Epes

Chesapeake Bay Foundation



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Inspiring story! Gov. Holton was exemplary "Mountain-Valley" leader. He was the first Republican I ever voted for!

Gov. Holton was/is an inspiring story, indeed. Thanks for the good words about the blog.
Chuck Epes

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