A “Smarter” Ralph White? 

The new manager of the James River Park System talks about his new gig.

click to enlarge The city hired Nathan Burrell to manage the James River Park System. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • The city hired Nathan Burrell to manage the James River Park System.

The city hired Nathan Burrell last week to succeed Ralph White as manager of the James River Park System. Burrell has worked for the system under White for 10 years, most recently as trail manager.

White, who for 30 years served as the park’s obsessive steward, says the city made the right call. But by his own account, managing the park wasn’t all glamour and sunshine. How’s Burrell going to handle it? “He’s smarter than I am,” White says. “He’s slicker and more flexible.”

We checked in with Burrell just to be sure.

Style: After a particularly bad spat with his supervisors, Ralph White had to agree to open and close the park gates every morning and night as a condition of his employment. Are you going to have to do that?

Burrell: No. We contracted with a security company that does that. And soon I’m hoping to get the gates automated. We can send robots to Mars and all these other places, I’m pretty sure we can figure out how to get the gates to close automatically.

Ralph also cleaned the bathrooms. Have you outsourced that too?

There are many facets to the park, and yeah, you know, cleaning the bathrooms is one of them. And it’s definitely not something I’m above. I was out this morning doing it.

There’s been talk about creating a new position — hiring a program manager to do the kinds of interpretive tours that Ralph was famous for. Where are things with that?

That discussion is still taking shape, but the general feel is that we are going to hire a programs person that will get more school groups in the park and work with the recreation department to develop programs and getting kids from the community centers into the park.

What’s your vision for how the park should function going forward?

I think there’s a lot of room not only for improvement, but for expansion, especially as it relates to the city’s riverfront plan. … Connectivity within the park is one of the biggest issues. Many areas are spread out with no connecting property or paths in-between. Being able to get through the park is vital. There are glaring missing pieces. Being able to go from Belle Isle to Brown’s Island to Manchester to Ancarrow’s Landing — you’re talking about opening up the city in a way it hasn’t been.

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