by Ned Oliver
A coalition of environmental and outdoor recreation groups is pooling its finances in hopes of purchasing Vauxhall Island, which goes up for auction Thursday.
The coalition wants to put the island in a conservation easement and donate it to the city, says Tricia Pearsall, a board member of the James River Outdoor Coalition.
The island, near the city’s Pipeline Trail and adjacent to a great blue heron rookery, is accessible only by water and a railroad bridge. It’s host to a billboard visible from the Mayo Bridge that generates an income of $36,000 annually, according to Motley’s, which is handling the sealed-bid auction.
The specific organizations involved in the coalition are in flux while groups and donors rush to get finances ready in time for the auction, Pearsall says. The extent of the city’s involvement also is unclear.
“I can only tell you that the city and many local conservation groups are collaborating to put in a bid for the island,” says Nathan Burrell, the director of the city’s James River Park System, in an email.
Sources who asked not to be named say the city has applied for a grant to help fund the purchase.
“The situation changes daily as the organizations and people involved solidify their approaches and finances and private and potential grants,” Pearsall says. “It’s reassuring that so many groups are working to make this happen.”
Tara Quinn, executive director of the Capital Region Land Conservancy, says her organization and Enrichmond hold conservation easements on approximately half of the James River Park, and are “always interested in expanding public access to the riverfront and other wild and natural places around the Richmond Region.”
In the 1800s, the island served as a pleasure garden, housing shuffleboard courts and a barroom. Currently it houses a homeless encampment, Pearsall says.