Jacksonville, Florida - The City of Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board has awarded the Duval Soil and Water Conservation District (DSWCD) the 2022 Environmental Achievement Award for Regeneration Park. Regeneration Park is a green infrastructure and community stewardship project that is creating a safe space to demonstrate urban agriculture, cultivate environmental stewardship and empower residents to build with nature for social, economic and environmental health.
The Regeneration Park project was established by board member Jennifer Casey after considering the site during a local cleanup in the Durkeeville community. The project has since transformed a half-acre of vacant public land on the west side of Jacksonville’s Urban Core near the Emerald Trail S-Line Link and the Sugar Hill Mosaic. The property had a troubled history, having been contaminated decades ago when used as a rail yard. The City of Jacksonville has since remediated the contamination with an asphalt cap. In December 2020, the DSWCD began working with the COJ Parks and Recreation department to develop an appropriate plan for the site. The mission was to improve the land and positively impact a vulnerable and underserved population, as most of this community are minority residents who have the lowest average income and highest rate of poverty in Duval County.
Having identified an initial funding priority for bringing conservation technical assistance directly to the community’s residents, the DSWCD formed a working group in late 2020 with prospective partners. The Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board, UF/IFAS Duval County Extension, Groundwork Jacksonville, St. Johns Riverkeeper, NativeJax, and community organizations provided resolutions, consultations and in-kind support to the project. In March 2021, the DSWCD was awarded a $50,000 urban agriculture conservation grant through a partnership with the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). This grant fully funded Phase 1 and allowed the DSWCD to employ a part-time urban agriculture coordinator to begin soil regeneration and install green infrastructure including a bioswale and a pollinator habitat.
Beginning in June 2021 and continuing over the next year, conservation and community partners began providing education, research, hands-on conservation, native seed collection, and technical assistance to develop a resilient and sustainable system. The Duval SWCD hosted a celebration of Stewardship Week, quarterly community cleanups, and a series of hands-on green infrastructure workshops on “Building with Nature” to demonstrate permaculture practices that included creating healthy soil from wood chips, installing a pollinator garden to increase biodiversity, and building a bioswale. The workshops focused on the need to build with nature rather than against it. Participation included everyone from neighborhood residents, to cub scout troops, to sailors from the U.S. Naval Air Station. Over 300 volunteers participated in the project spreading mulch and installing plants including UNF Environmental Leader, April Thomas. Her student project included compiling video interviews into a multimedia project. In August 2022, the City of Jacksonville began installation of educational signage that explains the functions of the green infrastructure within the park, concluding Phase 1 of the project.
The DSWCD is committed to offering ongoing educational workshops at Regeneration Park to help remedy decades of persistent environmental inequality which has disproportionately affected poor and minority communities in the urban core. Regeneration Park is directly impacting the wellbeing and quality of life for the cyclists and pedestrians who routinely use the S-Line link of the Emerald Trail as well as the 35,000 people who live within walking distance of Regeneration Park. Research demonstrates that converting vacant lots into community parks increases socialization, improves mental health, and can even reduce crime.
Over time, the impact on the community will be profound! The DSWCD has raised over $127,000 dollars in 18 months and Phase 2 is already underway including the addition of shade trees to reduce urban heat, a pervious pathway to reduce storm water runoff, solar lighting to conserve energy, an ADA accessible sensory garden, and raised beds for growing vegetables. There are thousands of vacant city-owned properties in Duval County. The Regeneration Park project is not only promoting independence to the community through nature, but is a model for resilient pocket park design in Duval County.
The Duval Soil and Water Conservation District was created in July of 1953 under the authority created by the Soil Conservation Act, passed by Florida Legislature in 1937. The DSWCD is an independent special district organized by concerned citizens of Duval County to help landowners and users to conserve land, water, forests, wildlife and related natural resources. The DSWCD fulfills its responsibilities pursuant to Chapter 580.20, F.S. by placing a priority on planning, implementing and/or facilitating programs, projects and practices that will promote the conservation of our natural resources. The board meets twice a month to hear reports from affiliate agencies, learn about conservation funding priorities in the district, and develop educational programs that meet the needs of conservation within Duval County.