The Elizabeth River Project's animation shows the bold displays demonstrating the impact of sea level rise.

Elizabeth River Project Gets $2.1 Million Gift, Largest in its History

The Elizabeth River Project made major strides this month toward bringing a new center for environmental resilience to Norfolk, thanks to a $2.1 million gift from longtime supporters.

The donation from Norfolk residents Pru and Louis Ryan is the largest single gift in the Elizabeth River Project’s (ERP) nearly 30-year history. It will fund the Pru and Louis Ryan Resilience Lab, which ERP calls a cutting-edge, pioneering example of climate change-resilient living. It will be sustainable, incorporating solar energy, rain barrels, and green roof. And it will incorporate floating platforms and storage buildings that rise with flooding. The entire building will be elevated 10 feet above the ground.

The donation from Norfolk residents Pru and Louis Ryan is the largest single gift in the Elizabeth River Project’s (ERP) nearly 30-year history. It will fund the Pru and Louis Ryan Resilience Lab, which ERP calls a cutting-edge, pioneering example of climate change-resilient living. It will be sustainable, incorporating solar energy, rain barrels, and green roof. And it will incorporate floating platforms and storage buildings that rise with flooding. The entire building will be elevated 10 feet above the ground.

“The resilience lab will show us how to keep living and working on the shores of our urban river in ways that are healthy for humans and marine life, even as sea levels rise,” says ERP Board Community Leader Aimee Batten.

The site of the new center on Knitting Mill Creek in Norfolk is being restored from an old light industrial site, its bulkhead replaced with a living shoreline of native plantings and coastal wetlands. It will also feature a kayak launch.

Elizabeth River Project animation shows the planned living shoreline and kayak launch at Knitting Creek.

Louis Ryan, an officer with ERP’s Board of Directors, says he was inspired to support Elizabeth River restoration when he settled in Hampton Roads to enjoy some sailing. “The sailing I wanted to do was not off the oceanfront, it was in the waters immediately around Norfolk.”

Ryan says the Elizabath River is important to the region, both economically and for recreation. Sea level rise threatens not only the people who live and work around the waterfront in Hampton Roads, but also the water itself. Nuisance flooding and coastal tides sweep pollution and excess nutrients into the river and ultimately, the Bay.

“It’s not just a case of trying to make it more inhabitable for human beings, it’s also a case of making the land more friendly to the river,” Ryan explains.

The Resilience Center project is part of ERP’s larger Next Wave funding campaign, which also aims to expand the group’s River Academy at Paradise Creek Nature Park in Portsmouth and to support five years of river education, including on its Learning Barge.

“The legacy that will be created…is a cleaner and healthier environment for the citizens of our region,” says Ryan.

-Meg Walburn Viviano