Paddling up Kanawha Canal = Boon to Richmond?

My son and I went for a paddle on the Appomattox River in Petersburg in summer 2008. I’d heard that you could park your car at Old Ferndale Park (or for  greenhorns, Appomattox Riverside Park) and paddle up a canal for a mile or two, ride down the Appomattox and take out at Old Ferndale. A circuit! Great idea, and it worked like a charm.

Peaceful Appomattox river canal in Petersburg/Dinwiddie county

Historic Appomattox river canal in Petersburg/Dinwiddie county

I really enjoyed the light workout and peaceful paddle up the canal, and got to see plenty of serene beauty and history, including the old towpath, a few ruins and remnants of the days when people shipped themselves and their goods by canal. 

Of course, the convenience of parking the same place you end up, with minimal portage or walking is ideal. It got me to thinking about doing this on the James river.

Could we paddle up river on the canal in Richmond? The biggest problem is CSX rights to the canal and the busy train tracks. Legally, it would be a tough challenge, and CSX is very strict on property easements.

Let’s skip all that for a moment. If you takeout at the Belle Isle pedestrian bridge on the north bank (or park there for starters), there is a long portage up the hill, under the Robert E. Lee Bridge and along the dirt path to the North Bank trail. Long walk, I know, but there is a reward. 

Just think of the scenery and excitement along that path. Yes, you can hike or walk the North Bank Trail, but what fun is that when you often can’t see the river or the train tracks. No one gets to see it but the CSX guys. I’d love to get a look at all that forbidden territory.

If access were granted, you could paddle the approximately two miles up the canal to Pumphouse Park. There is access under the train tracks and back into the river.  Any other point along that path and you’d have to cross the train tracks, which we’d want to avoid.  Check the map below for an idea of the space and travel distance [full map]:

Follow the orange line on the north bank along the canal

Follow the orange line on the north bank along the canal

In this circuit, you could hit Choo Choo Rapids, Cooper’s Rifle, Mitchell’s Gut, First Break, Approach and Hollywood before the takeout. 

I don’t have a huge circle of paddling friends that I shoot out ideas with all day, but of the individuals that I do know, most have said that would be a welcome option. People with high authority in city departments have commented that although it sounds nice, CSX wouldn’t allow it. 

One even said that the canal could be paddled all the way to Bosher Dam, almost the full distance of the Falls of the James. He even said the canal is in decent shape, except a few points could use some dredging due to property run-off and silting — a problem the good people on the Appomattox are trying to combat as well.

Problem is, the tracks are built along the southern towpath of the Kanawha canal — the river side, in-between the canal and the river banks. There is little access to cross the tracks. Still, it could be done, and with little effort on CSX’s part.

It works on the Appomattox because the land was granted to Petersburg by (then) Virginia Power.  There are no train tracks to worry about, just a lazy tree-covered canal and relative peace and quiet.

What, you don’t care for long paddles or long walks carrying your equipment? Fair enough, but there are plenty of people who do (including the paying crowd, ‘Adventure Games’-type people), and plenty of cities that aren’t as lucky as we are that we have so many glorious access points to a river like the James. 

Even more important to acknowledge is the fact that we have this fantastic wild river with up to Class IV rapids right smack dab in the middle of our fair city. Most people have to drive hours to get rapids like we have, and park in tiny crowded lots or camp overnight or go with a tour group just to get on the river.

We … don’t.


7 responses to this post.

  1. Good information. I just purchased a kegerator plus I am actually wanting to get another 1 or build
    one on my own using a kegerator kit. I’ll be coming back very soon.


  2. […] their tracks, which extends, in most places, all the way across the canal. This is not the case in Petersburg on the Appomattox River, and it is possible to park, paddle up the canal and make a run down the river, ending up at the […]


  3. Opening any stretch of the Kanawha Canal to paddlers is a great idea! Currently it is difficult to get to anywhere. I was able to put my kayak in just east of the Huguenot Bridge behind Virginia Eye Institute, but the canal toward the east is blocked only inches above the water by a bridge that leads to a few river front houses. Heading west on the canal it would appear navigable by kayak all the way to Boshers Dam if it were not for the many trees that have fallen across the canal. I don’t know who owns the canal where it strays more than 100 feet from the railroad, but it would be a great recreational attraction if somehow it could be opened.


  4. […] open up the canal behind Dominion at Oregon Hill to form a circuit for paddlers from Tredegar to Pump House Park. I’ve done field research by scouting some of the land one might see along the canal. That […]


  5. […] their tracks, which extends, in most places, all the way across the canal. This is not the case in Petersburg on the Appomattox River, and it is possible to park, paddle up the canal and make a run down the river, ending up at the […]


  6. […] 16, 2009 by Phil Riggan I recently wrote about paddling up the Lower Canal between Tredegar takeout (putting in canal at Hollywood Cemetery) and Pumphouse Park  in […]


  7. Posted by Perez Christina on October 8, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    great post


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