Last Updated: Jan 8th, 2015 - 07:42:25

FOLAR discusses future of organization, recognizes helpers at annual meeting
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Nov 30, 2012, 14:40

After 11 years, Friends of the Lower Appomattox River, or FOLAR, is still going strong, collecting $2 million in grants, donations and volunteer time, constructing 12 miles of walking trails and leading more than a dozen cleanups of riverside areas in its time.

The organization was looking to its future at Wednesday night’s annual meeting, but not without honoring their volunteers and members who have already helped.

“What we’re really here for tonight is to thank the people that have helped us,” Wayne Walton, Chairman of FOLAR, said. “...I think you cannot say thank you enough to the people who go out and volunteer and do work for you, and it’s good because it comes from the heart a lot of the time.”

The organization honored eight of their volunteers and board members at the meeting Wednesday, including Dustin Tippins, with Hopewell Co-Generation, who received the Business and Industry Award, Cpl. Michael Nelson with Garrison Command at Fort Lee, who received the Government Award, LuAnn Collier, who received the President’s Award, Wayne Banty with Vulcan Materials, who received the Friends of the River Award, Jervis McCorkle with Wal-Mart Distribution Center, who received the Friends of the River Award, David Early, who received the Volunteer Award and Steve Thomas, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Walton said honoring the volunteers and members of FOLAR was a great way to give back to them, although he added that the eight honored on Wednesday represented just a small percentage of the people who support FOLAR.

“We have done this now for over 10 years,” Walton said. “We’ve kind of been expanding on some of the awards we try to give to the people that have really given to us.”

Tim Blumenschine, biologist with the Petersburg National Battlefield, spoke on the importance of parks in the localities and the future of the battlefield and honored the volunteers who take care of the land that surrounds the communities.

Blumenschine, who has been with the National Park Service for 26 years, told those in attendance that the federal organization manages 398 sites across the country, totaling 84 million acres. He said that Petersburg National Battlefield is looking to add to that number.

“We are currently trying to expand,” Blumenschine said. “We have a bill that’s been in front of Congress for over two years now. Unfortunately, it is not gaining a lot of steam.”

The bill, S. 713/H.R. 1296 - Petersburg National Battlefield Boundary Modification Act, was introduced by Sen. Jim Webb, D-VA, and Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA and would authorize the park to add almost 7,300 additional acres to the battlefield, with most of that located in Dinwiddie County.

Blumenschine said that during the last session of Congress, the bill passed through the Senate subcommittee but stopped there.

“There is a lot of unprotected battlefield lands in Dinwiddie County and Petersburg that is still undeveloped, still pristine battlefields,” Blumenschine said. “...Hopefully, someday, we will get our bill passed and acquire some of these lands. Right now, it is kind of stalled out.”

While the two primary missions of the park are education and history, “our primary mission is to tell a story” Blumenshine explained, recreation at the park has grown. Blumenschine noted that the battlefield has over 20 miles of trails, many of which they lack the funds to sustain at desired levels.

Blumenschine said that the park, like FOLAR, relies on volunteers to assist with essential projects. In 2011, the battlefield logged over 16,000 combined volunteer hours, the equivalent, he said, of eight full-time employees.

“We rely very, very heavily on volunteers to help us do our work with our mission and do a lot of things we wouldn’t be able to do,” Blumenschine said.

Currently, the battlefield is working on their Adopt-a-Trail program which receives assistance from 10 groups including Hopewell High School, Fort Lee and a Girl Scout troop. Local families have also helped. Blumenschine hopes to get the program moving forward in the coming years.

“Hopefully, eventually, we will get them all adopted as we get more information out there,” Blumenschine said.

Richard Taylor, former Chairman of FOLAR and Government Relations Manager for the Virginia Housing Development Authority, handed out the volunteer awards on Wednesday.

After the program was over, he was still in shock at all the accomplishments of the organization.

“It’s beyond our wildest dreams that we have achieved all that we have in 11 years,” Taylor said. “In particular, that we have gotten all six localities involved in creating trails and parks along the lower Appomattox River.”

Taylor said the organization has not only made the Appomattox River and its shoreline cleaner, it is creating a healthier population by encouraging people to get out and be physically active on one of the many trails.

Taylor spoke mainly about the volunteers and how much they have given to FOLAR. He said that 11 years after the formation of FOLAR, he is still amazed at just how many people are so willing to give of their time. Taylor said he liked to take at least one evening a year to say “thank you” to the volunteers, even if they weren’t looking for accolades for their service.

“Most people don’t look for a pat on the back, although they like a thank you for the efforts,” Taylor said. “It is always nice to recognize them with a little something. Some people say, ‘it’s not the recognition I enjoy, it is doing it and making the place a little better than I found it.’”

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