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The Community Foundation Blog

Q&A with Capital Trees
By The Community Foundation / August 1, 2017
Q&A with Capital Trees

So far this year, The Community Foundation has awarded over $6 million in competitive grant funding to local nonprofit organizations that are working to address needs within our community. In our most recent funding cycle, Capital Trees, a first-time TCF competitive grantee, received a $25,000 grant to provide programming and operational support for projects to restore and enhance Richmond’s urban green spaces. We did a quick Q&A with the board chair of Capital Trees, Susan Robertson, to learn more about the organization’s mission and passion for creating accessible green space for Richmond residents.


Can you share a brief history of how Capital Trees was formed?

The four Richmond chapters of the Garden Club of Virginia wanted to work collaboratively to create a greater impact in the Richmond community. This partnership led to the formation of Capital Trees, a new 501-c-3 organization.

Capital Trees was initially focused on the declining tree canopy in downtown Richmond, but our work has since evolved into an expanded, holistic approach to enhance the community’s urban green spaces. We have increased our scope of work with the goal of bringing enhanced landscapes to Richmond’s urban core. Capital Trees hopes to demonstrate best practices in environmental stewardship while focusing on the health of the James River. In addition, we retain an obligation for continuing maintenance for all of our projects.


Tell me about your mission of connecting people and nature.

Our three major projects include the restoration of the streetscape of two blocks of 14th Street; the horticultural restoration at Great Shiplock Park in collaboration with the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation; and the Low Line Gardens along Dock Street and the James River and Kanawha Canal. Our goal for all of these projects was to eliminate as much concrete as possible and add a good dose of public plantings.

On 14th Street, Capital Trees added triple allees of Gingko and Swamp White Oak trees in an area that was previously dominated by concrete. This project included the first engineered bio-filtration system erected on city property to clean storm water.

Great Shiplock Park, a City of Richmond Park, was underutilized and unkempt until the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation designated it as their western trailhead. Capital Trees has worked in tandem to significantly expand the horticultural restoration and install a rain garden to filter water from the parking lot. This park is now bustling with bikers, walkers and runners enjoying the trail.

The Low Line was created from 5.5 acres of repurposed civic space between Dock Street and the canal and dominated by the CSX train trestle. With no natural advocate, this property had become choked with weeds and invasive plants. The Canal could not be seen from the Capital Trail, which runs though it on the north side, nor could  Canal boat tour riders see through this growth to the trail and Shockoe Bottom. The Capital Trees renovation is creating a much more welcoming gateway to Richmond for the estimated 300,000 annual bike users of the VCT and for the downtown workers and nearby residents using the trail. Headlining our work at the Low Line Gardens are 88 trees, 500+ shrubs and 15,000+ perennial plants and ornamental grasses.


What will the TCF grant mean for Capital Trees?

The TCF grant is helping Capital Trees expand its capacity to complete the Low Line project. Approximately 3 acres of the Low Line Gardens have been restored to date, and the remaining 2+ acres will be restored as the full funding becomes available. We also have the opportunity to incorporate additional storm water mitigation through rain gardens and extend the horticultural restoration to the floodwall at 17th Street.

One very important component of Capital Trees’ model is our commitment to the ongoing management of project sites. In order for our donors’ investments to have a long-lasting impact in the Richmond community, these investments must be well loved and maintained.


How have you seen Richmond green spaces change since the inception of Capital Trees?

Capital Trees is a catalyst for public/private partnerships to strengthen the City of Richmond’s civic green spaces. Our projects model how private dollars can work alongside the city’s investment to leverage our green assets to benefit the community.  Our three projects demonstrate the effectiveness of this model by breathing new life into Richmond’s urban core. By encouraging investment from the philanthropic community and remaining accountable for the stewardship of these investments, Capital Trees is stepping up to locally lead the urban greening and green infrastructure movement that is spreading around the globe.


What type of community outreach events are scheduled to feature your successes?

Capital Trees is hosting a Volunteer Work Day at the Low Line. For more information email

Interested in a walking tour of the Great Shiplock Park and the Low Line? Visit the Capital Trees website to learn more.


Thank you Capital Trees for sharing more about your organization’s mission create more accessible green spaces in the Richmond region!


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