Archive for the ‘parks’ Category

How Dick & Willie can teach Richmond a lesson

My family members walked the Dick & Willie Passage in NovemberI was quoted in lede of a recent Martinsville Bulletin article on the new Dick & Willie Passage in Martinsville. It is a rails-to-trail project and a wonderful example of what could happen for Richmond.

Phil Riggan of Richmond described the Martinsville area’s newest walking and biking trail in one word.

“Perfect,” he said while he and family members walked the Dick & Willie Passage. They were here recently visiting his aunt.

Riggan said efforts are under way to create similar trails in the Richmond area. Now that he has seen what he considers a perfect trail, he said he is “going to go back to Richmond and tell them how to do it.”

It was a complete coincidence that we ran into the writer, Mickey Powell, because right before that moment I had been pondering the 2.5-mile stretch of a former CSX railroad bed that runs between Belt Boulevard and Hopkins Road in South Richmond. I wrote a story in April on a clean up that took place in the area next to Southside Plaza at Hull Street. That project would be the beginning of a greenway path toward the James River that could connect through proposed trails in Crooked Branch Park to Forest Hill Park. 

I meant what I said, that I needed to go back to Richmond and tell them how to do it. After that walk on the Dick & Willie, I spoke four days later at a JROC meeting with the City of Richmond trails manager, Nathan Burrell, and one of the key trail-builders that works with him, Mike Burton.  They were happy to hear that I had a great time in Martinsville, but didn’t seem encouraged that the Richmond project was moving along very quickly.

In April, I wrote that the plans for that 2.5 mile ”ecological corridor” are for a future public bike and pedestrian trail that will serve as a scenic recreational greenway area, providing neighborhoods a safe alternative way to connect without automobiles and away from busy streets.

My son running on the Dick & Willie Passage in NovemberThat’s what Martinsville has because that trail helps people avoid the “busy” streets of Martinsville in areas that don’t have sidewalks or safe places to travel without a vehicle. It also provides another safe place for kids to play and ride in safety. According to an editorial that ran October 17, around the time the trail opened: 

The $1.4 million trail was developed entirely with grants from the federal government, the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Virginia Tobacco Commission. The Henry County and Martinsville governments and county Public Service Authority contributed in-kind services.

The “Dick and Willie” railroad was created in the late 1800s by residents who wanted a modern way to connect the towns of Martinsville, Danville and Stuart. Today, the railroad is long gone, but the Dick & Willie Trail has been created in its place.

That is what rails-to-trails is all about, taking old unused railroad beds and making a new use for them. Greenways! On, the entry for the Dick & Willie Passage is robust. There is a page for Virginia trails, and among the listings, there is only one in the Richmond area: the 1-mile Chester Linear Park. Either that proves that Richmond is still a vibrant town that is using all of its railroads, or we need to get off our rear ends and help transform our unused railroad beds.

My family is from Martinsville and I travel there several times a year.  The area has the worst unemployment rate in the Commonwealth. They needed a shot in the arm like the Dick & Willie Passage, and it is nice. I saw two things that I took away in thinking about Richmond’s greenway:

  1. There were a handful of commuter bikers that Saturday afternoon — men wearing work overalls or uniforms. Very promising, especially considering that the project in Richmond is targeted for a blue-collar area that has few sidewalks, little park space and poor planning for non-vehicular traffic.
  2. The trails were clean and the sight-lines were open and inviting. When I was covering the cleanup in April 2010, there was so much trash and overgrowth that the volunteers barely got more than 30 feet into the trail.

Mayor Dwight Jones has stated that “Richmond loves pedestrians” and we even have a slogan “Live Here, Bike Here.” I’m ready to help rethink our streets, and I’m ready for Richmond’s Bike, Pedestrian and Trails commission to move forward and create our greenways and bike paths.


Columbus statue in Byrd Park established many “firsts”

Richmond's Columbus Monument, at the south end of the Boulevard in Byrd ParkColumbus Monument in Byrd Park, Richmond, Virginia. A gift to the city from Richmond’s Italian community, statue of Christopher Columbus dedicated in 1927.

Christopher Columbus in Byrd Park at the south end of The Boulevard, north of the reservoir.WHAT: “Christopher Columbus” in Byrd Park at the south end of The Boulevard, north of the reservoir.

ARTIST: Ferruccio Legnaioli.

DEDICATION: December 9, 1927.

DESCRIPTION: A standing bronze figure 6 1/2 foot high on a granite pedestal 8 1/2 foot high. This was the first Columbus statue in the south and was the first monument in Richmond to have night illumination. The idea of Frank Realmuto, this statue was sculpted, erected and financed entirely by Virginians of Italian birth.

In the United States, Columbus Day is always celebrated on the second Monday in October. Virginia celebrates two legal holidays on the day, Columbus Day and Yorktown Victory Day, which honors the final victory at the Siege of Yorktown in the Revolutionary War.

Bryan Park’s revival caps first 100 years

Entrance to Northside’s Joseph Bryan ParkAs we celebrate the glory days of the first 100 years of Northside’s Joseph Bryan Park, I’m reminded of the more recent bad reputation the park has overcome.

I’m a Bryan Park resident and that has been my home turf since 1999. My kids have grown up with Bryan Park, playing in Upham and Jordan’s branches. Climbing, sliding and swinging around the playground. Learning to bike on the blacktop streets that are blocked from vehicular traffic. Going on nature hikes, exploring and searching for geocaches. Shopping the weekly North of the James Farmer’s Market. The past three combined birthday parties for my kids have been held at our favorite park and we have loved it all.

When the soccer fields were installed in the heart of the park in 1998, that began a revival of sorts for a park that had been compromised by unsavory activity — people parking and cruising for sex in the corners and hidden areas of the heavily wooded, 260-acre park.

The families and constant coming and going of visitors helped improve the perception of the park, which runs along the city’s boundary with Henrico County and the Lakeside community. Getting well-intentioned, right-minded park-goers has made a huge difference in the revitalization of Bryan Park, but it wasn’t complete.

Disc golfers playing at Bryan ParkIn 2007, the park gained another positive feature with its 18-hole disc golf course. The course is always packed and provided more people to help police the park grounds merely by their presence.

With the increased good people traffic to the park — combined with the road bikers, runners, picnickers and SEAL Team trainers — Bryan Park is a vibrant and friendly place.

In the past year, the City of Richmond spent $805,000 in Bryan Park to make improvements to two ponds, according to Christy Everson of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Facilities. After years of failed attempts, it cost $600,000 to repair the walls of Young’s Pond.  It was restored with customized molded walls, made to look like the old mortar and rock walls to help retain the historic look.

Joseph Bryan Park's Azalea Garden pondIt cost $205,000 to remove years of silt from the historic Azalea Garden pond and repair its walls. The total amount removed from the Azalea Garden pond: 120 cubic yards of dirt or the equivalent of 25-30 dump trucks loads.

The city still plans to add a gazebo in the Azalea Garden within the next 12 months. The expectation is for the gazebo to be used for weddings and special events, especially during the spring when the 17 acres of azaleas are in full bloom.

There are plans to add a shade structure over the heavily used playground. It would be similar to the one at Pine Camp Park, which is about 1.5 miles to the east on Azalea Avenue.

The city also plans to team up with the Central Virginia Soccer Association to build a concession stand with restrooms adjacent to the beautiful soccer fields, which could cost about $200,000. CVSA, which does most of the maintenance and management of the fields, would be matching funds with the city.  

So many great plans for a park that people wanted to forget existed. It now has the respect and love that is earned for a 100-year-old park. If you’d like to help keep it nice, contact the Friends of Bryan Park:

Snorkeling the shallow waters at Texas Beach

What can you find under the water?Richmond’s North Bank Park is one of the best places to visit the James in late summer. The shallow waters and calm sands of Texas Beach are a great setting for an afternoon of exploring.

For one, Texas Beach is never as crowded as Pony Pasture, Belle Isle or even the Main Section, which is located across the river on the south bank. Two, the people there generally are more laid back. We observed some college-aged kids kicking back playing guitars, people with dogs and a couple of groups that brought their own folding chairs and beach towels.

When the river levels are low (it was at 3.3 feet that day), a new world of opportunities opens. With no recent rains, the water is clear and the bottom is easy to see. The shallow pools and slower rapids make it safer, including for little children. We brought our masks to see what was going on under the water.

Read more in Snorkeling at Texas Beach at

Will the Canal Walk ever become a tourist hub?

Canal Walk and the Turning Basin in downtown Richmond, Va.It has been more than 10 years since the completion of the Canal Walk and while beautifully landscaped walkways may have replaced the abandoned wasteland that frequently hosted bonfires set by Richmond ’s homeless, the promise of the area remains unfulfilled.

The Canal Walk is a 1.25-mile greenway that connects Tredegar Ironworks to 17th Street in Shockoe Bottom. It features a series of markers and signs that interpret Richmond ’s history and provides a link to many of downtown’s best attractions. And while there has been some commercial development, it hasn’t developed into a tourist hub.

Last week, Richmond City Council unanimously approved a special-use permit to relieve some zoning requirements for a development proposed for the 6-acre Reynolds Packaging Group’s North Plant property along the Canal Walk at 12th and East Byrd streets.

WVS Cos. and Fountainhead Development LLC plan to build more than 225 apartments in a mixed-use development that should remove the Canal Walk’s biggest roadblock.

For more on the status of the Canal Walk, see

Taking ownership of Pony Pasture

Crowds at Pony Pasture Rapids Park in Richmond, Va.Pony Pasture Rapids Park is an urban paradise for many. A cheap way to make the best of one’s day for those that can’t afford a trip to the beach or don’t have the time to leave the city for a vacation.

The exposed granite boulders are a big draw for Richmond’s rock hoppers and sunbathers. Family gatherings are as popular as inner tubing, kayaking, swimming, fishing and partying.

But there are many people who take the pristine park conditions for granted. It takes a lot of work to keep human interference from tarnishing Pony Pasture’s natural beauty.  Between the James River Park System’s staff and the many volunteers and dedicated park-goers, the work gets done.

I am one of those proud people and Pony Pasture Rapids Park is now my park. Actually, many people own the park, and taking ownership is encouraged. After all my years of using the park, I’m now volunteering my time to maintain it and defend it from those that abuse it.

Aluminum cans left at Pony Pasture Rapids Park in Richmond, Va.I spent five hours clearing trash and helping people park cars at the west Richmond park on the hottest day of the summer. The official high that day was 105 degrees, beating the record of 99 for July 25. Didn’t matter, the park was packed.

I can claim four garbage bags worth of trash and recycling. I had help, as people who saw me coming with my trash bag would volunteer things they had collected from the river. It was good to have children helping a little, especially with aluminum cans.

Other than all the of senseless disposal of diapers all over the place, the worst part of clearing trash was a six-pack of glass bottles smashed on the rocks.  That malicious act took the longest to clean. I also found an enclave of more than 80 cans, bottles, boxes and food containers that was about as bad as it gets. The worst part was that a trash can was only 15 feet away. Trash in, trash out people.

Cigarette butts left at Pony Pasture Rapids Park in Richmond, Va.I think the cigarette butts were the most disappointing thing I found. Smokers know better and should be prepared to clean up after themselves.  I found 70-plus butts in one spot. The location suggested to me that it was obviously a good spot to see nature more than people-watch and I was disgusted by the lack of respect for the outdoors.

Parking is another issue at Pony Pasture. Between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. on most summer weekends, the lot gets full and the park system workers and volunteers help manage the flow of cars into the park and keep everyone happy, according to park manager Ralph White.

Lines for the parking lot at Pony Pasture Rapids Park in Richmond, Va.By 3:30 p.m., the line to get into the lot was 20 cars deep and the wait was about 20 minutes. The lot — which is the largest in the park system — has 80 parking spaces but can be expanded with creative management to 110 spaces, White said.

“In the early ‘80s, riff-raff was so bad, people petitioned to have the park closed – twice,” White said. The Pagans and Hell’s Angels motorcycle gangs were a big part of the problem, he said — doing donuts with motorcycles in the gravel, smashing car windows, starting fights, drinking, doing drugs, womanizing, etc.

Pony Pasture was a rowdy and untamed place in those days and citizens weren’t happy, but the park was never permanently closed.

That was a long time ago. The park seems to be more popular now than ever and keeping peace and harmony for a diverse and multiculural crowd on a hot day is beneficial to everyone. 

“It’s a parks issue, not a police issue,” White said. Having the parks department and volunteers run the parking lots at peak hours frees police from having to dedicate several cars to patrolling the park.

White said Richmond police usually dedicates one unit to Pony Pasture on the weekends.

“There is no one breaking into cars or starting fights… and everyone gets along much better,” White said. Having attendants manage the parking lot at peak hours has helped ease tensions and people seem to respect the park more now.

While I was there, the police mostly concerned themselves with the cars in line for the parking lot that blocked westbound Riverside Drive. There were no calls for Emergency Medical Services, no rescues, no arrests that I saw.  Everyone was getting along, despite the close quarters, heat and huge crowds.

There were at least seven volunteers, including a two couples that lived near the park that like to ensure that their neighborhood is well-maintained. Another young man volunteered in the park all day doing whatever the parks department had for him. He is a regular and has taken ownership of his Pony Pasture.

I will continue to volunteer. The afternoon didn’t seem like work.  I was earning time to enjoy my James River. 

If you see something you don’t like about any city park, take action. Take ownership. Make the park yours.

Find out how to help the James River Park System or any of the volunteer groups: Friends of the James River, James River Outdoor Coalition and the City of Richmond’s Department of Parks, Recreation & Community Facilities.

Granite rocks are a big draw to Pony Pasture Rapids Park in Richmond, Va.

James River Wish List Part II focuses on Pump House

Image of the interior of the pump room at the Pump House

Three of the five items on my second Wish List for the James River on are related to the Pump House and the area surrounding it. Part I focused on areas east of Belle Isle.