Posts Tagged ‘Pipeline Rapids’

10 places you might encounter homeless in Richmond

Monroe Park

There are thousands of homeless in Richmond and I have no idea how to deal with them.  What is the proper etiquette? Do you give them money or something to eat? Do you ignore homeless people? Tell them “No thank you, I can’t help you?” Are you consistent? Are you sympathetic to their plight? Do they make you angry? Are they all on drugs, drunk or mentally ill?

I am cautious around unstable and desperate people, especially now that I’m a parent. I have had trouble explaining to my children why the people we see hanging out in intersections are allowed to break the rules of the road that I’ve worked so hard to teach them. Or why we cannot camp out in our parks and on benches at night like those same people. It’s confusing to them.

With the City of Richmond announcing a $6 million plan to improve the very visible Monroe Park — widely known as the number one place to find homeless in the River City. City leaders and a group of citizens say they are looking to make the city’s oldest park more open and family-friendly.

I don’t get everywhere in the city, but I have encountered homeless in many unexpected places over my many years here. This list isn’t meant to be harsh or insensitive to the homeless, but I am trying to illustrate how many key locations have suffered from the blight of homeless.

Monroe Park – You will find all types there, and it has been that way for as long as I can recall. The Daily Planet shelter used to be a couple of blocks south of the park. Different organizations regularly feed people in the park. NBC12’s Rachel DePompa detailed the renovation plan, which included a café with public restrooms and seating on a sunken plaza, a granite water feature that would be designed to mimic the James River.

I’ve seen enough abuse of fountains by homeless folk and as much as I love the push in Richmond to encourage public art, I have my doubts that this fountain will avoid being abused.  Sounds like a running urinal in waiting.

Anywhere on Grace Street – From Belvidere down to Centenary Church at 4th Street and beyond. Monroe Ward used to be a glorious gateway to the West End from downtown. Then, automobiles and suburbia ruined it, and the majority of the old Victorian homes were replaced with drab storefronts. Now, many of the remaining businesses are blighted by hoards of people roaming the streets looking for a hand out — many likely mentally ill. Many of the entranceways of empty businesses have been treated as urinals for years.

Kanawha PlazaKanawha Plaza – This must be a resort or oasis of sorts for the homeless.  The stage in the park used for Friday’s a Sunset is a ready-made shelter and the attractive fountain in the plaza doubles as the laundromat. I’ve seen it and while I feel sad for the people, I hate that a beautiful spot of the city doesn’t belong to the downtown workers that deserve a pleasant, clean park.

Anywhere within a four-block radius of the Greyhound bus station – The Boulevard between Broad Street and Westwood Avenue is littered with humans with no better place to bed down than under an overpass or behind a warehouse. The Boulevard needs to have this problem addressed as the Richmond continues to encourage economic growth and development in that promising area.

Leigh Street and Belvidere – Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between “Homeless: 2 kids, no job, need food” and “I’m report for work to this corner everyday.” That sounds so harsh, but there are people who have been at that same intersection for YEARS. I believe they are homeless, but I don’t believe that it will help them stop being homeless if people continue to support them with change out of their windows.

Belvidere and Canal streets – The Daily Planet used to be there, so there is history. VCU bought the property and moved everyone out, but there is plenty of lingering homeless. Traditions are hard to break.

Lombardy Street, between Maggie Walker Governor’s School and Virginia Union University, under the Interstate 95 overpass – It’s a shame that those two institutions have to be sullied. The chain-link fence under I-95 has signs warning against trespassing, but plenty of people live back in the weeds under the shelter of the overpass by the train tracks.

James River downtown at the Pipeline Trail – Actually, they also live among all the islands around Mayo Island downtown at the Great Blue Heron rookery. These guys have a tent city, mostly in the summer. I’ve looked down on the tarp houses from Vistas on the James. These are the hearty, self-sufficient types that aren’t likely looking for a handout and generally you never see them — just their stuff.

Broad Street in Shockoe Bottom – Not as bad as it used to be, but I’ve seen plenty hanging out in Shockoe Bottom at the Exxon across from McDonald’s recently. Same dudes every time.

Bryan Park – This is from personal experience. They like to live in the backwoods or along the interstates. More of the self-sufficient types — never had them ask me for anything.

This is not an overly thorough list. I am not that familiar with Southside, Highland Park or Church Hill. I’m not trying to offend anyone and I’m clearly not overly educated on homeless in Richmond. I don’t know the solution.

Key statistics from January 2009 of homeless people in Richmond:
Total homeless population:
1,150 (1,014 adults and 136 children).
Adults with children: 11 percent.
Unsheltered individuals: 16 percent.
Gender: 74 percent male; 26 percent female.
Family status: 56 percent single, never married; 6 percent married; 44 percent have been in families before.
Race: 68 percent African-American; 26 percent white; 4 percent Hispanic.
Average age for adults: 44.
Education: 53 percent high school diploma or GED; 22 percent some college; 9 percent college degree.
Veterans: 18 percent.
Have served time in jail or prison: 73 percent (43 percent jail; 8 percent prison; 22 percent both).

For more: www.homewardva.org.  Also, see the Daily Planet website for a list of local resources.

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Open the canal to paddlers in downtown Richmond

Let's paddle the canal from the Cross monument to Brown's Island!I want to paddle the canal in downtown Richmond. I love that area and want more!

I’ve written about my desire to form a circuit for paddlers between the James River and the Lower Canal from Tredegar to Pumphouse Park. That one might be a tough sell to CSX and would require a lot more work for the paddlers.

But a more realistic circuit would be an easy one to create that would require relatively little money and maintenance and would provide a benefit to the city. Let’s open up the Kanawha Canal from Captain Christopher Newport’s ‘Cross’ monument at 12th and Byrd Streets to Brown’s Island. 

Paddlers could get out of the canal at Brown's Island.The circuit would allow paddlers access to the river from the Tredegar Beach and the Manchester Dam through Pipeline — which has class III-IV rapids. The paddle up the canal would only be about a half-mile long and would allow more people to be a visible part of the downtown scene.

Why have all these expensive and cool toys like the Canal Walk and the canal if we can’t use them? More time in the water is greater than more time carrying your equipment and paddlers would get behind this kind of opportunity.

Some dedicated paddlers already carry their kayaks back up the catwalk over Pipeline, up the sandy trail to Brown’s Island and over to Tredegar Beach to make the run again. At the end, getting out below the Pipeline overlook and making a short walk up the hill to the canal before paddling to west end of Brown’s Island would be a huge draw to the area.

Hey, if we could get a contraption similar to a ski lift to run under the famed CSX railroad viaduct, that might be a distant second-place option. Sound like fun?

I’ve seen many white-water kayakers carry their equipment from the takeout at the south end of the 14th Street (Mayo) Bridge and carry it the half-mile along the Floodwall Walk to the Manchester Bridge where they could drop in and run the Southside rapids over and over. If they are that dedicated to making the run, what would they do if you let them paddle up the canal instead?

Riverside on the James is right on the Canal Walk, above the Kanawha Canal.There is a reason to expect this circuit is possible.  This is an excerpt from the Downtown Master Plan [See the full .PDF document]:

Over time, the James River’s role as the heart of Richmond’s industry and commerce has evolved. Today it is known instead for its unique recreational opportunities, such as rock-climbing and nationally recognized kayaking. Allow residents and visitors to fully enjoy this unique natural feature by creating a series of clear connections to the riverfront. Although the James River is the geographic center of Downtown, it is difficult for residents and visitors to directly reach the waterfront. One obstacle to accessibility is the layering of infrastructure that lines the riverfront, including the canals that George Washington surveyed, the railroad lines built on top of the canal tow-paths, and the recently constructed floodwall.

Not convinced? Try this:

Richmond’s reputation for world-class kayaking and rock-climbing should continue to be promoted, and improved facilities for these sports should be provided.

Construct a dock at the low-lying iron fence behind the Cross monument.As for the access to the canal, there is a low-lying iron fence (see photo at right) behind the Cross monument and a small dock could be constructed there. There is already a dock at the opposite end of the canal on Brown’s Island and paddlers would be free to make the short walk over to the boat access at Tredegar Beach from there.

I recently visited the beautiful new pavilion at Byrd Park and seeing all the happy paddle boaters opens up another possibility. Let’s make that same opportunity available on the Canal Walk from Brown’s Island down to the ‘Cross’ monument and use that same dock as a launch point.  During one of the many summer festivals at Tredegar, Brown’s Island and the Canal Walk just imagine the “cool factor” the city would get seeing people using the canal.

Paddlers already use the parking area for Belle Isle and the 14th Street takeout when coming off the river downtown, so this area gets plenty of use. But envision the extra draw here. With a circuit, these folks could be a part of the show during many events. To be able to enjoy a big event downtown while also getting to be on the river and having fun by making runs down Pipeline over and over…

Parking area for old Reynolds Metals property, behind the protection of the Floodwall.What about parking? Well, let’s play with the old Reynolds Metals property for a moment. That property will be open for development at some point soon. It has a large parking area that most certainly will not be available to the public if there is another Vistas on the James or Riverside on the James condominium is built.

The Pipeline Rapids Walkway already has a small parking lot with about 10 parking spots available, but that lot would fill quickly.

Paddling the canal would be a fun time.But if a forward thinker was to embrace the river and allow an outdoor shop like Riverside Outfitters or someone similar to run a business out of that area?

Come on Venture Richmond, let’s make it happen. Let’s paddle the canal and give the Canal Walk another draw it desperately needs.

‘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.

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.

Devil’s Kitchen and Soda Water

If you have never had the chance to walk the islands in the middle of the James river in downtown Richmond, do it someday. What ever you have done downtown, if you haven’t taken the time to look at the islands just west of Mayo Island, then you’re missing the best of The Falls of the James.

I’ve walked Pipeline on the north bank at least 20 times. I’ve done the same with the Floodwall on the south bank. Crossed the Mayo and Manchester bridges by car countless times. They all form a square around the area I’m talking about — the last of the 8-mile stretch of the Falls. One of the wildest and most beautiful areas, and the least accessible.

On my visits, I’ve tried to do so legally. No spur line of the Norfolk Southern Railroad to cross the river. Just paddling.  Not that there’s anything wrong with walking. The islands are known to have permanent campers and the occasional derelict, so I’ve tried to go in broad daylight, stayed mostly on the perimeter trails of the islands and respected the more shielded areas.

View of buildings on Gamble's Hill in downtown Richmond from Devil's Kitchen

View of buildings on Gamble's Hill in downtown Richmond from Devil's Kitchen

The best part of the area visually is Devil’s Kitchen Rock, and the view of the James and the buildings downtown. Especially when you consider how many people can see the area from downtown skyscrapers, but will never take the time to see from the top of this 30-foot cliff overhanging the wild river below.

The area is full of ragged results of floods, quarries, blasted rock and more man-made alterations. The view can be obstructed in summer with full vegetation, but there is never a lack of interesting colors, site-lines and natural wonders.

Shad Island (to the south), Devil’s Kitchen (in the center),  Bailey’s further northwest of DK) and Vauxall Island (to the north) and of course Mayo Island (the biggest and only developed land here) make up this tree-covered, Heron rookery-hosting, wilderness.

Soda Water, viewed from below on Devil's Kitchen

Soda Water, viewed from below on Devil's Kitchen

Just west of Devil’s Kitchen is Soda Water, described in Bill Trout’s Falls of the James Atlasas a pool in the river fed in part by a 3′ waterfall that was a popular swimming hole long ago. The name may come from the bubbles “boiled up from the falling water.” 

I’ve never paddled in Soda Water, or even swam in the pool, but I’ve admired it many times and wished I had the guts to just do it someday.  I might have to wait until I’m sure my kids can handle themselves, but the scenery and experience is too great to pass up.

The real key to visiting this area is how easy it is to feel isolated and removed from the busy city.  The easy paddles are launched from the Floodwall parking area at 14th Street on the southside or from Great Shiplock Park or Ancarrow’s Landing further down the river. Those paddles begin in the tidal waters of the James, and bring you right up to the last white water of the Falls.

View from Devil's Kitchen Rock high above the rapids at Shad Island

View from Devil's Kitchen Rock high above the rapids at Shad Island

Why I think of Jerry Nutter every time I kayak

David Nutter

David Nutter

David Nutter is a friend. A wildman and excellent athlete. He is an all-out devotee to the James River and among many things, he is an avid white-water kayaker.

When I first met him in Spring 2008, he and I were talking during a kickball game.  It didn’t take long for us to figure that we shared love of kayaking and I quickly discovered he obviously had much more experience than me. 

I had only been kayaking for a measure of months at that time. I was explaining how much of a novice I was and that since I had a wife and kids, safety and caution was higher on my list than fun and excitement. 

As we talked, I described to Nutter a horrifying story I had been making myself recall everytime I paddled. It’s of a father and son kayak trip down the James where a father drowned in the Pipeline Rapids in downtown Richmond after rolling and becoming trapped upside down underwater.  The son was quoted in the Richmond Times-Dispatch story that next day:

“I was blessed that day to be doing what I loved to do with my dad,” his son wrote. “I was blessed to be there for him to try to save his beautiful life, but I am cursed because I cannot stop seeing it happen over and over in my head.”

I was working at the newspaper at that time, and on the desk the night that story broke. It was quite moving to me at that time — I cried, thinking of my own young kids and what would happen if it were me in the father’s place. Despite efforts to be safe and wear a helmet and lifejacket, the father still didn’t survive.

I made myself pledge to remember the son’s words and to this day still think of them when I hit the river — or any other slightly risky activity for that matter.

But as I was describing this life lesson of mine to Dave at the kickball game, he matter of factly stated: “Yeah, that was me. That’s my Dad.”

I’m rarely completely speechless, and Dave gave me a couple of minutes to straighten myself out.  I’m sure I turned white.  I was dumbfounded. I had no idea that I was describing Dave’s own story to him. 

He had come to grips with the loss of his father, Jerry A. Nutter, that day on December 29, 2007,  and was able to deal with it head on (read Dave’s version here). That’s Dave — he is hard core, not shy and not one to hide or quit in the face of adversity.  He mourns his father in his own way and honors him by staying in the James doing what they both loved to do, together.

NBC12: Son organizes river cleanup to memorialize father who died kayaking

I will be at Pipeline this Saturday at noon to gather with Dave and many of his family, friends and fellow James River lovers to honor Jerry A. Nutter by spending a few hours cleaning trash and making the James better place for all of us to visit and explore.

This plaque was placed near the spot on a sandy beach below Pipeline Rapids where David Nutter pulled his father Jerry A. Nutter out of the water.

This plaque was placed near the spot on a sandy beach below Pipeline Rapids where David Nutter pulled his father Jerry A. Nutter out of the water. PHOTO: Phil Riggan, Feb. 2008