There is no one way to hike the North Bank section of the James River Park System. As park manager Ralph White likes to say, it might be the best of all the parks at giving you that feeling of being lost in nature and away from urban Richmond.
When the water of the James is high, dry land can be cut off. But when the levels are low — as they are most years in early September — so many adventures open up.
One of my favorite destinations in the park is to cross the railroad pedestrian walkway (away from the bike trails) and head west on the shoreline river paths toward the Boulevard Bridge and Foushee Mill.
It was listed as one of three existing structures in the park in the James River Park Conservation Easement parcel documentation, but it is the only one with historic significance (the other two are the parking area and the CSX pedestrian bridge).
There are many great spots to swim and relax along the beaches, but as the path heads west, start looking for peaceful shallow channels in the banks that come from the north. There is a mill race and a sluice (Haxall) from the canal above that runs under the CSX tracks that provide plenty of water to trickle over the smooth rocks.
As you get close to the impressive sluice, carefully cross below the tracks over the huge smooth rocks and keep heading west. You’ll find the Foushee Mill site about 100 yards further west. This spot is directly south of Maymont, but you’d hardly know it because of the thick trees and the high train tracks through the woods that block the sites and sounds.
There is nothing overly special about the mostly granite Foushee-Ritchie Mill, even in its history. According to The Atlas of the James, the mill was two stories and was built in 1819 by Dr. William Foushee, who sold it to Thomas Ritchie in 1824. It apparently was damaged and abandoned as a mill in the 1830s, but still maintains a fraction of its original form today.
The cool thing about this spot — other than the walk to get there — is that the structure is almost 200 years old and has survived flooding, vandalism and Mother Nature’s damages and has maintained the shape of its structure. It is crumbling, but the remnants and surroundings allow you to easily visualize the mill and it’s features. There aren’t many examples left on the James — at least not in the JRPS.
The walking distance is probably no more than 3 miles round-trip from the parking lot, but the water, rocks, trees and remnants of past man-made alterations are worth seeing. If you’re smart, you allow time to play in the water, skip a rock or two or take some pictures. Bring a garbage bag with you too, in case some less intelligent visitor forgot to truck out his own trash.