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TBT: That time Parks and Rec let rotting fish sit in Fountain Lake for days

Posted at 12:44 PM, Aug 04, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. – City residents and visitors who think Shockoe Bottom has its unfavorable aromatic days can commiserate with the residents of Byrd Park, who dealt with a lake full of rotting fish back in 1979.

For #ThrowbackThursday we present the dead fish rot of May 1979 at Fountain Lake; the stinky situation that perturbed city residents living nearby.

The lake was drained in April 1979, to repair and replace parts of the fountain, according to the May 16, CBS 6 news report by Ed Hazelwood.

The Richmond Chief of Parks and Recreation at the time, Rino Hendrickson, said he had hoped to keep the fish alive “but weather conditions thwarted those plans.”

Fish couldn't survive in Fountain Lake, in 1979.

Fish couldn't survive in Fountain Lake, in 1979.

Hendrickson apparently thought  the fish could have been kept alive had the fountain been drained and only a minimal amount of water left.

Rocky Edwards, who manages Byrd Park, said he wasn’t with Parks and Rec in 1979, and couldn’t comment on the precise thing that may have killed the fish.

An official with Virginia Department of Game and Inland fisheries, who was not employed there in 1979 and isn’t familiar with this case, said that fish kills aren’t that uncommon. Typically there are half a dozen or so in the state annually, especially when temperatures rise.

“The hotter the temperature is, it reduces oxygen content,” said Lee Walker with VADGIF. “Smaller species can’t tolerate it.”

A fence was erected to keep out kids and vandals

A fence was erected to keep out kids and vandals

It’s likely that if Hendrickson thought he could keep the fish alive, a minimal amount of water was left in the fountain. But rising temperatures and stagnant water can quickly change the PH and reduce oxygen  -- and fish meet death gasping.

A lady living off Davis Street told Hazelwood that the smell was horrible and that when the wind blew the strong stench filled their apartments.

Hendrickson told a reporter that someone would be out the next day to clean up the fish – which had been dead for some time.

Children congregated near the lake.

Children congregated near the lake.

A fence was erected to keep kids and walkers away, but footage showed that it was already coming down.

“A park ranger said he has to chase kids away 10 to 15 times a day,” said Hazelwood, deadpan, in the report. “A girl from the neighborhood said she doesn’t think the dirty lake is a place for children to play.”

Suretha McGhee, Progam Supervisor for Parks and Recreation, who started with the department in 1974, said she doesn’t recall anything happening like that since then. She added that she focuses more on programming than parks.

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