Posts Tagged ‘hiking’

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.


‘Cross’ honors Newport on Canal Walk

'Cross' monument to commemorate Christopher Newport's first visit to the place that became the City of Richmond, Virginia.WHAT: “Cross” monument to commemorate Captain Christopher Newport’s first visit to the place that became the City of Richmond, Virginia.

LOCATION: Canal Walk, near the corner of the 12th and Byrd Streets.

ARTIST: Unknown.

DEDICATION: June 10, 1907.

Christopher Newport's 'Cross' monument at Canal Walk.DESCRIPTION: The bronze cross, which is mounted on a pyramidal base of mortar and river stones and initially erected on Gamble’s Hill to commemorate the arrival of Captain Christopher Newport, John Smith and party May 24, 1607. The City moved the Cross in 1983 when its site was acquired by industry. The cross was erected by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.

A bronze reproduction of the wooden cross raised by Newport when English explorers first sailed up the James River as far as “The Falls” is located just uphill from Pipeline Rapids. It’s believed Newport and his small band of men, which included Captain John Smith, planted the cross on May 24, 1607. Research by the Valentine Richmond History Center indicates the original site was near the 14th Street Bridge.

* * *

The Cross is next to the Riverside on the James condominiums at the midpoint for the Canal Walk and will be a witness to the development of a key area of downtown Richmond’s progression. There are viable living spaces, restaurants and retail options on the Canal, but the crown jewel may be the development of the former Reynolds Metals building, right across the alleyway from Christopher Newport’s cross.

I’ll be rooting for it — I love the Canal Walk. It combines my favorite things about downtown: The river, history, sight-seeing, outdoors, walking, adventures…and one day I hope we will be able to paddle in the canal from this point. My family will often take walks along the Canal and picnic wherever the sun is peaking through the tall buildings.  There is so much to see, with the Canal, Brown’s Island, Pipeline Rapids, trains, white water paddlers, Great Blue Herons, etc.

Captaion Christopher Newport's 'Cross' monument at Canal Walk in downtown Richmond.

Mountain biking, hiking trails in downtown Richmond

Mountain biking, hiking trails in downtown RichmondWho’s up for a run through the wilderness in downtown Richmond? Lucky for you, Richmond has some of the best trails that deliver the feeling of biking along an isolated mountain trail right in the heart of the city.

The James River trail loop is one of the most popular outdoor fitness areas in Richmond. The Belle Isle, Buttermilk, and North trails combine for a circuit course that runs along the hillsides above both banks of the river between the Boulevard Bridge and the Robert E. Lee Bridge downtown.

Check to see what these trails look like and read the full story.

Pipeline Rapids: Downtown Richmond’s best kept secret?

Pipeline Rapids, viewed from the Manchester BridgeI think the Pipeline Rapids walkway is the downtown Richmond’s best kept secret. It’s been open to the public for almost five years, but seemingly few take advantage of it. Unless you go when there is an event like Dominion Riverrock on Brown’s Island or a paddling event, it’s often just you and the raging James River in a setting mixing the wild and natural river and the urban landscape of the bustling city.

Great Blue Heron rookery in early spring at Pipeline RapidsI love the sound of the water as it roars through Pipeline Rapids. There’s a chance a train will add to the noise. When it’s quiet enough to hear, the birds take over your ears. In the spring, the area has fascinating views into the world of a Great Blue Heron rookery.

Environment beat writer Rex Springston of the Richmond Times-Dispatch loves this spot. I’ve seen him here on several occasions, and he has often found the most unusual migrating species here: Blue crab, fish that looked like eels, scads of fish and of course, the heron. It’s a wonderful place to watch nature and escape the city for even just a few minutes.

The metal catwalk at Pipeline Rapids, under the CSX ViaductThe walkway is so named because there is a large city water pipeline running the length of the path. Both the pipeline and the metal catwalk on top of the pipeline are located directly under the busy double track CSX railway viaduct. The area surrounding the Pipeline is part of the James River Park System and under its care.

When water levels are up, just watching the river rage is enough — sometimes its too loud to hear the person next to you. When the river is low, giant granite boulder are exposed, giving visitors more vantage points.

In full view from the pipeline walkway are Bailey’s Island and Devil’s Kitchen Island, in the center of the river. They are a worthwhile visit too, if you get the chance. A spur line of the Norfolk Southern Railroad crosses over these islands (walking on them is trespassing) past the far eastern end of the path and the 14th Street (Mayo’s) Bridge can seen under the tracks.

New bike rack and staircase at Pipeline RapidsThe city is still working to improve and enhance the area. There is now a bike rack and although the ladder at the eastern end of the catwalk is still an obstacle for some, there is a new wooden staircase.

TO GET THERE: Pipeline runs along the river at the Riverside on the James condominiums, is easy to access from the Canal Walk at South 12th and Byrd streets or from the east end of Brown’s Island.

Pipeline Rapids is a great place to watch white water rafters, kayakersPADDLERS: The Pipeline Rapids, a hazardous eighth-of-a-mile stretch considered Class IV, are considered as treacherous to paddlers as the Hollywood Rapids at Belle Isle. There are several large boulders in the midst of the Pipeline Rapids. A friend of mine lost his father at Pipeline on a kayak trip, so please use all safety precautions. Normally the rapids in Downtown Richmond are Class II-III. Many intermediate paddlers prefer to take the Second Break Rapids, which run toward the south side of the river.  The entire area is a great (and safe) place to watch white water kayakers and rafts up close, mainly on the weekends.

Great Blue Heron fishing in the James at Pipeline RapidsBIRD-WATCHING: Plenty of Osprey, blue heron, ducks and geese. The islands in the area are wild and there are multiple trees with nests in the area. Heron like to fish in the shallow waters below the rapids and among the islands in the middle of the James, often hidden from view.

FISHING: Upstream of the Mayo Bridge, where the falls begin, catch smallmouth bass, channel catfish and sunfish. In the tidal area below the falls, the catch includes large blue catfish. Rockfish and others migrate through in spring, and they like to make their runs up the more shallow banks of the river instead of the raging rapids in the middle. A license is required.

HIKERS: This area makes a great loop with the Canal Walk, or an out-and-back from Brown’s Island.  If you start at Brown’s Island, walk under the Manchester Bridge toward the river. There is a rocky trail down to the river, and follow it east along the sandy shoreline. The trail picks up under the viaduct.  From the east, the pipeline walkway starts under the viaduct just west of where the train tracks cut through the doorway to the floodwall (below the Vistas on the James condos, or behind the Alcoa property).

TRASH IN, TRASH OUT: I have done river cleanups in this area, and anywhere you go on the James there will be some washed up trash. The water usually moves too fast to do much cleaning. Please make sure you respect the river by not allowing anything to be thrown or dropped in.

Watch out for the residents of PipelineWARNING: The area is known to have a few full- and part-time “residents.” I snuck a photo of this guy napping the sun, which I admit, made me jealous. You might encounter a person’s overnight campsite or what looks like all of someone’s possessions stuffed into an old dirty bag.  Those guys know to stay clear during the day, so you make sure you stay clear at night. Park closes at dusk anyway, so protect yourself.

Richmond MORE and city open Forest Hill Park trails

New bridge at Forest Hill Park bike trailAfter nearly six months and 800 man hours, one of the key elements to the revitalization of Richmond’s Forest Hill Park is now complete with the re-opening of the biking and hiking trail.

Jimmy McMillan hits the trails at Forest Hill ParkThe trails were closed to allow the reworking of portions of the original trail to help prevent erosion and to make it easier to maintain, said Nathan Burrell, Trail Builder for the City of Richmond.

“That’s why we build them that way — to cut down on the maintenance and let us work on other projects and continue to expand,” he said.

The restored trail is intended for use by everyone, not just the mountain biking community, he said. The single-track trail winds it’s 3.2 miles around the perimeter of the wooded areas of Forest Hill Park and highlights many of the park’s existing features.

Several new techniques were put to use and the trail looks fantastic.

The restoration of Forest Hill Park’s lake was completed under budget and a month early and the park will soon put in place a footbridge over Reedy Creek at the above the lake in memory of the Bryan Harvey family. The lake has become a marsh after being filled by silt over many years of neglect.

“We’ve turned the corner on perception,” said J.R. Pope, the city’s director of Parks and Recreation Department. “People are taking ownership of the parks.”

The Patio at Forest Hill Park in Richmond, VirginiaThe trail restoration was a combined effort from the City of Richmond Parks and Recreation Department, Richmond Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts, and many other volunteer groups.

RA-MORE is an all volunteer organization formed in 2005, is dedicated to improving the state of mountain biking in the Greater Richmond Virginia area.

The Forest Hill Park trail project cost $15,000 to complete — $5,000 from the city and $10,000 in donations, mostly from RA-MORE.

One example of the cost is the new wooden multi-use bridge over a brook in the middle of the park.

New bridge at Forest Hill Park bike trail“The bridge is incredible,” Pope said. The bridge has a curve in the middle as it crosses the ravine and a staircase — a fine example of carpentry.

Several overheard comments from riders as they approached bridge for the first time were nothing but complimentary.

Greg Rollins, president of RA-MORE, congratulated the 25 members that attended an opening day picnic before the group hit the trail to celebrate its completion.

“J.R. saw that the mountain bikers wanted to be a part of the parks,” Rollins said. “Guys that come out and put 8 hours in each Saturday.”

Burrell was the project leader and was especially proud that the trail was completed in time for the Urban Assault mountain bike race, which is part of Dominion Riverrock, scheduled for May 14-15.

J.R. Pope addresses members of RA-MORE at Forest Hill Park“We were able to bring something together that only a small amount of people could use….to something that walkers, hikers, bikers, everyone could use,” he said. “And as a result, everybody is happy!”

Burrell added that the next trail building project is in the wooded hillsides Dogwood Dell, below The Carillon and across the road from Pumphouse Park. 

Pope agreed and said that effort would be the next logical step in establishing the Pumphouse as the new visitor’s center for the James River Park System.

Greenway trail cleanup held in Southside Richmond

City Councilman Doug Conner cleaning trashRichmond City Councilman Doug Conner of the South Central 9th District held a Richmond Greenway and Trail Cleanup Friday morning on a former CSX railroad bed that runs between Belt Boulevard and Hopkins Road.

“The area had been abandoned for 40 years and it had become a dumping ground,” Conner said, adding that when he was elected to city council in 2006, he made it a focus of his to get CSX — the owner — to clean the area. CSX cleared the area, but there was plenty of vegetation and dumped material again on the site.

The plans for this 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.

“So we can help some people get off the couch,” said Jennifer Wampler of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Richmond is considered a pilot project for attempts to create a interconnected system of long-distance trails in Virginia, Wampler said.

The property has not been purchased from CSX yet, but the hope is that it will soon. Several landscaping firms have donated designs for the project.

A larger goal is that it could be linked to the United States of America East Coast Greenway, which is being built in sections from Main to Florida, and to the Virginia Capital Trail, which would link Richmond to Williamsburg and Jamestown.

The plan for the area depends on federal funding, according to Champ Burnley of the Virginia Bicycling Federation. Private donations for the project could be matched in quadruple by federal “transportation enhancement funds” that are designated only for bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

The community volunteer cleanup focused on the area next to Southside Plaza at Hull Street. Volunteers from the Richmond Outreach Center and the Southside Baptist Christian School helped remove unwanted trash and debris from the areas, including a couple of discarded couches.

Hiking in the James River

Richmond skyline seen from the middle of the James riverIn late Summer 2007, I took several long hikes in the James river between the Powhite Parkway Bridge and Belle Isle. I hopped on rocks normally submerged along the various paths I took — available due to a period of drought and low water levels in the river.

Those hikes left a lasting impression on me and helped fuel my appreciation for the James. The discoveries I made on those hikes continue to drive my quest to explore the river.

I tried to stay relatively dry. My goals were to see as many spots as I could — things that one would never get to see from the shoreline or at normal river levels.

The visual from the middle of the river is so much more appealing than seeing the river from a bridge, shoreline or beach. At that time, I had not become a paddler. I’ve since purchased two kayaks, and I think these hikes had something to do with that inspiration.

When the water is as low as it was (below 2 feet), it is clear and slow-moving. Many little pools are formed. Fish and other aquatic life get trapped. Rocks, grasses and driftwood are exposed. Many man-made obstacles like levees, dams, pipelines, pillars from old bridges, etc., are also revealed.

My son crossing a pipeline at Boulevard BridgeI took my son with me on one of the hikes. Mitchell was four years old that summer. He was so happy as he explored on his own, playing and asking occasional questions about nature and the river. We do our best to keep putting our kids in the river and encouraging them to appreciate the outdoors.

I made slideshows from the 100s of photos I shot and posted them on the expired Discover Richmond website that I maintained for Media General at that time. Someday these too will be deleted, but until then, have a look:

Being able to take time to enjoy myself and explore was a great asset to me in that period of my life, and I still try have as many adventures as I can.  I was able to transfer much of what I discovered and photographed into articles, slideshows and video for my job.  Often, I would find something I needed to know more about, do a little research and end up writing about it for the website. I miss that outlet — getting paid for my adventures.

The photos in the gallery below are from those three hikes. I don’t have the larger originals, but click any of the photos for a larger size. I have several that I’m proud of.