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Charlottesville's Azalea Park to grow

An 8.61-acre tract of land that’s long been used for gardening will be added to Azalea Park in Charlottesville thanks to a pair of grants totalling $350,000 that City Council agreed to accept on Monday.

“It’s going to be more public space,” said the city’s park and trail planner Chris Gensic.

At its Monday meeting, the council voted unanimously to accept $175,000 each from the Virginia Land Conservation Fund and from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund to purchase the property which hugs the southern bank of Moore’s Creek where Old Lynchburg Road crosses under Interstate 64.

Just past city limits, the tract spent decades in the hands of Hazel and George Cason, according to their grandson Rick Cason.

“George and my great uncle Jack grew vegetables that they would sell down at the farmer’s market: potatoes, green beans, all that good stuff,” Rick Cason told The Daily Progress. “As they got older, they had to battle the deer and the raccoons.”

The last survivor of the seven brothers who have been credited with launching Charlottesville’s City Market, George Cason died in 2021, and the property recently passed into a family company that continued the agricultural tradition by leasing the land to the International Rescue Committee, or IRC.

Since 2015, the IRC has leased about 4 acres as the home of New Roots Farm and Community Garden, according to Cecilia Lapp Stoltzfus, manager of food and agriculture programs for IRC. She said this assemblage of 60 garden plots gives immigrant families, many of whom are refugees, an opportunity to exercise, maintain healthy eating habits and build community connections. Some of these immigrant farmers have parlayed their agricultural skills into cash crops, selling their produce at the cooperative New Roots booth at the Farmers Market at Ix Art Park.

“We’re really excited that the city has been supportive as they have been,” said Lapp Stolzfus.

Gensic said the city will conduct public meetings after acquiring the property this summer. For now, he said he wants to see whether the gardeners have an interest in moving to the slightly higher ground in an undeveloped part of the park called Azalea Park West.

Acquired in 2016 with donations from musician Dave Matthews and his business manager, Coran Capshaw, Azalea Park West is approximately 30 acres.

Lapp Stolzfus said she has convened a steering committee of gardeners to meet over the next two or three months to decide whether to ask to stay on the property or move to higher ground.

As piles of driftwood atop creek banks and a posted “How to Prepare Your Farm For a Flood” flyer attest, this is flood plain. Lapp Stolzfus said that torrential rains in the spring of 2018 ruined many crops and caused some discouragement, but then came the pandemic.

“We had a huge spike in 2020,” said Lapp Stolzfus. “The garden really had a rebound.”

Gensic said the new land may provide a better path for part of the popular Rivanna Trail, which currently forces trail-users along busy Old Lynchburg Road for several hundred feet.

“Helping protect the IRC’s community gardens is part of the puzzle,” said Gensic.

Although assessed at just $9,300, Gensic noted that three appraisals over the course of about five years found the land worth somewhere between $188,000 and $540,000.

For Gensic, he said he’s pleased that the additional tract will help buffer Moore’s Creek and possibly provide tree canopy to help create more green space around the city’s perimeter.

“Boston has its Emerald Necklace,” he said, referring to the a 1,100-acre chain of parks linked by parkways and waterways in Boston and Brookline, Massachusetts. “But Charlottesville’s a little smaller, so maybe we should call this the emerald bracelet.”


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