Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Canal Walk getting more attention, best to be patient

Chuck "Cotton" Renfro, a canal cruise tour guide for Venture RichmondI’ve been on a handful of cruises on Richmond’s Canal Walk downtown, but only one with a $10,000 camera on my shoulder. They are always entertaining, but I think I finally found my favorite guide.

Reporter Danielle Wilson did a fun 12 About Town story for on the canal cruises that are offered throughout most of the year. The guide for our tour Chuck Renfro, or “Cotton” as he’s better known. He has been a guide with Richmond canal cruises since they began 11 years ago. 

Cotton is best guide I’ve had yet. He was entertaining and full of fun history facts and he even dressed for the part. Other guides I’ve had were knowledgable and full of facts too, but Cotton was hitting his history with exact dates, quizzes for the passengers and his presentation was full of energy.

We were there on a Saturday night from 4:30 to 7 p.m. and the tours were packed on every run. The one thing I noted was that most everyone showed up just for cruise and left. Some people milled around on the canal before or after the tour, which brings me back to my wish there be something to do or a vendor of some type to take advantage of the crowds.

In late August, I met with Lucy Meade of Venture Richmond at a dinner at Morton’s hosted by to discuss the James River. We got off-topic at one point, talking about the Canal Walk, which is under Venture Richmond’s control.

Meade mentioned that the first comparison most people want to make for Richmond’s Canal Walk is the River Walk in San Antonio, Texas. Her point was that for anyone that wants Canal Walk to be a thriving, bustling retail and restaurant hub in Richmond like River Walk is for San Antonio, it should be noted that it took nearly 40 years for River Walk to develop and gain acceptance as a tourist attraction.  She said that organizers in San Antonio tell her it was more like 80 years in the making.

The work to create the Canal Walk in Richmond was completed in 1999 and many people are becoming impatient with the process of developing a consistent entertainment draw. I wrote about this in early August after a rezoning decision was made for the Reynolds Plant that bisects Canal Walk and have continued to follow developments.

Alix Bryan covered an event for about a collaborative session attended by about 40 people on the future of the Historic Canal Walk, hosted by Sixth District Councilwoman Ellen Robertson at the Hat Factory on Aug. 28:

The Canal Walk and surrounding areas are jewels that many cities lack. The riverfront undoubtedly holds the potential to host great community spaces for residents, outdoorsy types, buskers, vendors, singles, couples, families, cosmopolitans, professionals, students, and tourists alike.

A majority present were City of Richmond affiliates, developers, or business owners. Who else gets up early on a Saturday morning for a three hour public meeting? However, the most vocal participants were Bottom residents, or interested citizens–an estimated 12 total. A developer of the soon-to-be 225 apartments at the former Reynolds site, long the obstacle impeding cohesion along the Canal Walk, was in attendance taking notes.

I will have to side with Venture Richmond’s Meade and just practice patience. Richmonders don’t like to be pushed into anything new, even if the “new” thing is something that was old, like the canal.


Brookgreen Gardens combines best of Lewis Ginter & Maymont

Diana of the Chase at Brookgreen GardensRichmond is blessed with many philanthropic treasures that give its citizens and tourists places to celebrate our love for the city. Two of the best examples can be found among the natural and cultivated beauty at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and Maymont.

Grace Arents donated the land for the 25-year-old botanical gardens after it had been left to her by her famed philanthropic uncle, Lewis Ginter. Maymont was given to the city by James and Sallie Dooley and opened as a park in 1926 and has been a jewel in Richmond’s crown since.

Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, South CarolinaOn a recent trip to South Carolina, I experienced Brookgreen Gardens, which boasts one of the world’s largest outdoor sculpture gardens. The grounds are carved from several old plantations and combine the best of the flora and fauna found at the 80-acre Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens with the expansive grounds, natural serenity and native animals found among the 100 acres at Maymont.

Combine the best of those two with the entirety of Richmond’s sculptures and you may approach the bounty found at Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet in South Carolina.

It was created by philanthropists Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington — a famous sculptor in her time — in 1931 as the first public sculpture garden in the United States. The National Historic Landmark contains more than 1,200 works of art from 350 sculptors spanning the early 1800s to the present.

“Diana” with “Pegasus” in the distance at Brookgreen GardensThe sculptures are placed in more than 50 acres of gardens and landscape settings and more than 300 acres of gardens and facilities, featuring more than 2,000 species of native plants, native wildlife, historical and cultural exhibits and tours and excursions.

The gardens are heavily shaded by hundreds of southern live oak draped in Spanish moss – which on their own are natural works of art. There are at least two sections of the garden planned specifically around allees of live oak and there may not be a more appropriate garden accessory in South Carolina than the beautifully twisted, hulking seacoast hardwood. There are also hundreds of magnolia, cypress and dogwood trees throughout the gardens.

Walking the grounds is encouraged and lovingly worthwhile, but to see every area of the garden and study all of the sculptures could take all day. Just the main gardens could take hours – there is so much to see.

Youth Taming the Wild at Brookgreen Gardens“Youth Taming the Wild” is a striking welcome for visitors long before they reach the welcome center. It rests on a peninsula in the center of a bricked in pond encircled by a walkway. The distance from the gate to the gardens is more than a mile, so of course one may need a rest stop before taking on the rest of the garden.

Fountain of the Muses at Brookgreen Gardens“Fountain of the Muses” might be my favorite display. The odd characters combined with the catfish fountains, the bricked terrace and the garden features surrounding the sculpture are delightful.

The Lowcountry Zoo has animals native to South Carolina, such as river otters, alligators, foxes, deer, owls, hawks, bald eagles and wild turkeys. Overall, the zoo is very comparable to Maymont’s Children’s Farm, Nature Center and wildlife habitats rolled into one.

Butterfly House at Brookgreen GardensIt also has at new Butterfly House, which opened in spring of 2010. It reminded me of when Lewis Ginter hosts the “Butterflies Live” exhibit in its Conservatory.

The Huntington family left more than 9,000 acres of land in the area between the Waccamaw River and the Atlantic Ocean to be protected from development, including Brookgreen Gardens, Huntington Beach State Park and the Oaks Plantation.

The Visionaries statue by Anna Hyatt Huntington at Brookgreen GardensAnother statue, “The Visionaries” by Anna Hyatt Huntington shows that the Huntington family were proud of their contribution. She portrayed her husband and herself allegorically, expressing the timelessness of their contribution to the arts and the environment.

I’m not knocking Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden or Maymont. I love them and Richmond should be thankful and proud that we have them. It’s just that Brookgreen Gardens is so mind-blowingly large in its scope, beauty and largesse that any city’s gardens would pale in comparison. Hats off to Mrs. Huntington, who planned and contributed to the gardens for more than 40 of her 97 years.

Brookgreen Gardens is located along the Grand Strand on U.S. Highway 17 between Myrtle Beach and Pawleys Island. It is about 30 minutes south of Myrtle beach and an hour north of Charleston.

1931 Brookgreen Drive
Murrells Inlet, SC 29576
843-235-6000 or

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

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.

Statue of President Abraham Lincoln at Tredegar

Statue of President Abraham Lincoln at Tredegar IronworksWHAT: Statue of President Abraham Lincoln in Richmond, Virginia.

LOCATION: Richmond National Battlefield Park Visitor Center at Tredegar Iron Works.

Statue of Abraham Lincoln and son Tad at Tredegar IronworksARTIST: David Frech.

DEDICATION: April 3, 2003.

DESCRIPTION: The life-size bronze statue depicts Lincoln and his 12-year-old son, Tad, sitting on a bench during their historic visit to Richmond on April 4 and 5 1865 to tour the burned-out Confederate Capitol.

* * *

On his visit to Richmond, Lincoln visited the White House of the Confederacy and Capitol Square, but little of his visit was recorded. He apparently never visited burned-out Tredegar Iron Works, but his statue is very worthwhile visit. There is a marker at the site with the following description:

Lincoln lived long enough to articulate his post-war vision. In his concise and powerful second inaugural address on March 4, 1865, the president delivered this now-famous passage: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right…let us strive to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds…to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Lincoln had only three conditions for the Confederacy: complete end to the war; abolition of slavery; and restoration of the national authority, and his words were “Let ’em up easy.”

Very Richmond #9: Grand Kugel at Science Museum of Virginia

Granite globe Grand Kugel at Science Museum of VirginiaWHAT: Mary Morton Parsons Earth-Moon Sculpture (or Grand Kugel) in Richmond, Virginia.

LOCATION: Science Museum of Virginia, 2500 West Broad Street.

ARTIST: Kusser Granite Works, Germany.

DEDICATION: January 2003, rededicated October 2005.

DESCRIPTION: The the $1.25 million sculpture represents the Earth and the moon at a scale of about 1 foot to 1,000 miles.

* * *

Grand Kugel is a Guinness World Record holderThe 29-ton Tarn granite globe Mary Morton Parsons Earth-Moon Sculpture — better known as the Grand Kugel (kugel is German for ball) — is recognized by the Guinness World Records as the world’s largest floating-ball sculpture, thanks to a jet of water. Even little children can move the sculptures, which is a never-ending crowd pleaser for the little ones.

The Earth is a solid granite ball almost 9 feet in diameter. A proportionately smaller moon is 250 feet from the Earth. It is 2.3 feet in diameter and weighs about 1,100 pounds. There is a brick path between the two, and it provides a great opportunity to demonstrate distances and proportional size.

Another great thing about this feature: Free. It only takes 10-15 minutes to drop by this excellent Very Richmond attraction and never ceases to amaze — at any age.

The original Grand Kugel was carved from an 86-ton block of South African black granite. It was 8 feet, 8.7 inches in diameter, and it floated on a base of granite. Soon after installation in 2003, the first Grand Kugel began to crack and was shutdown in 2004. It was replaced in 2005 at no cost the museum, thanks to insurance coverage.

What makes something that isn’t even a decade old Very Richmond?

  • One: Guinness World Record.
  • Two: Because of its record-holding status, it brings notoriety and much-needed attention to Richmond, Virginia.
  • Three: Didn’t you just read that the first one broke?

Kugel Moon at Science Museum of Virginia
Statistical information came from the Science Museum of Virginia and the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Monument to Confederate War Dead at Hollywood

Pyramid monument to Confederate War Dead at Hollywood CemeteryWHAT: Monument to Confederate War Dead.

LOCATION: Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond’s Oregon Hill neighborhood.

ARTIST: Design originated from engineer Charles Henry Dimmock.

DEDICATION: November 8, 1869. (Cornerstone was laid Dec. 3, 1868)

DESCRIPTION: The famed 90-foot pyramid is made with large blocks of James River granite. The blocks were stacked without bonding. Built overlooking the cemetery’s Soldiers’ Section. It is a monument to the 18,000 Confederate enlisted men buried in the cemetery.

* * *

Pyramid monument to Confederate War Dead at HollywoodThe pyramid took a year to build and there were many accidents during construction. Thomas Stanley, a Lynchburg convict working with the construction crew, made the perilous climb to the top to lower the capstone into place.

The plaque reads: “A memorial to the Confederate women of Virginia, 1861-1865. The legislature of Virginia of 1914, has at the solicitation of Ladies Hollywood Memorial Association and United Daughters of Confederacy of Virginia placed in perpetual care this section where lie buried eighteen thousand confederate soldiers.

Capstone to the pyramid atop Monument to Confederate War Dead at Hollywood CemeteryA chapter (Oct. 1996) in Harry Kollatz Jr.’s book, True Richmond Stories, retold the tale of the capstone’s placement, and how prisoner Thomas Stanley — assumed to have come from the nearby state penitentiary on Gamble’s Hill — volunteered to perform the dangerous honor:

And thus it was that a horse thief came to be on the work gang for Dimmock’s pyramid. The knots in the hoisting ropes were tied too close to the top and the stone wouldn’t go past them. Stanley poured water on the ropes, causing them to shrink the needed inches. Then, as a breathless crowd watched, the prisoner put himself between the mass of hanging rock and the pyramid and righted the stone to its seat.

Everyone that has heard of this legend assumes that Stanley went free after this accomplishment. Kollatz’s story cleared that up, somewhat:

In the release box of his prison schedule, the simple penciled notation reads “transferred.” There is no mention of when or where. A romantic notion suggests itself: the warden opened a gate and told Stanley to go and never come back…

Pyramid at Hollywood CemeterySeeing this monument is an essential to anyone that visits Richmond. The first time I saw the pyramid, I was shocked by its size and towering presence in the scenic cemetery. It can be seen from many points near Oregon Hill. It is easy to imagine the stones being brought in from either the Kanawha Canal — located just below Hollywood — or Belle Isle — just a bit further below the canal and across the James River.