by Stephanie Smith
July 14, 2017
Paradise Creek Nature Park in Portsmouth, Virginia, is seen on July 6, 2017. Once nicknamed "Paradise Lost" because of its close proximity to the former New Gosport landfill—a Superfund site—the area has become a model for urban waterway restoration.
Paradise Creek is a tributary of the Elizabeth River, historically one of the most polluted waterways not just in the Chesapeake Bay region, but in the United States. Years of dredging and filling brought drastic changes to the Elizabeth River, creating a waterway much deeper and narrower than the broad, shallow Bay tributary it once was. Some of that leftover dredged material made its way to Paradise Creek, where it filled in the creek bottom and smothered the area where tidal wetlands once thrived.
In 2001, the Elizabeth River Project began planning for the restoration of Paradise Creek and the surrounding land. Through the decade that followed, the City of Portsmouth agreed to operate the site as a public park, the land was purchased and the Virginia Port Authority removed more than 300,000 cubic yards of dredged material from the creek bottom. Today, eleven acres of once-lost tidal wetlands have reemerged.
Opened to the public in 2012, two phases of restoration efforts have helped turn Paradise Creek Nature Park into a recreational haven. The 40-acre park is now home to two miles of trails, a launch for canoes and kayaks, a wetland learning lab and thousands of newly-planted native trees and shrubs. Visitors can even rent unique, clear-bottom kayaks to get an up-close look at the waterway’s recovery.