Choose Your Adventure!

from the JRP e-news

These appear occasionally in our E-news (sign up available in the left hand column). We thought it might be good to collect them for future reference.

Pumphouse Park

Pumphouse ParkPumphouse Park includes one of the city's most iconic buildings, an impressive granite Victorian Gothic structure built in 1882-3, which once served as Richmond's primary water pumping station. This small area of the park system also includes three historic canals, two granite canal locks and an 18th-century canal archway constructed to commemorate a visit by George Washington. A small granite quarry lies to the right of the park's entrance. The northernmost canal, the Power Feeder canal, fed the turbines for pumping water to Byrd Park. The middle canal was part of the Kanawha Canal System, which was constructed to go around Richmond's rapids, and the lowest canal was the beginning of the James River Canal System, the first in the country. Wooden bridges provide access over the canals.

Although the building is not usually open to the public, there are occasional tours and there are dreams of rehabilitating the upper floor, once the site of society dances. A few trails pass through the wooded portions of this park and make it an interesting and historical destination for a walk. Please watch your children in this area due to all the hazards. Note, too, that you cannot access the river from here; CSX owns land between the park and the water. On-street parking available. 1627 Pump House Dr., 23221.

Main Area

Main AreaThe largest and least developed section in the JPRS, the 2.6-mile long Main Area extends from the iconic railroad bridge near the Powhite Bridge to the Manchester Climbing Wall and lies between the river and Riverside Drive.

This heavily wooded section includes near-shore islands, side channels, great outcroppings of rocks where you can jump across to Belle Isle, side trails to the shore, the Buttermilk East and Buttermilk Proper trails, meadows, a bug garden next to park headquarters, wetlands, rapids, a kayak and canoe takeout, and a service road giving access to Belle Isle.

Wildlife is abundant, the nooks and crannies allow for more secluded river experiences, and remnants of the past, such as part of a small canal lock and old mill foundations, are present. There are three entrances with parking lots off Riverside Drive at 43rd Street, Reedy Creek and 21st/22nd Streets.

Pipeline or Trestle Trail

Pipeline or Treastle TrailSadly, most of us know by now that the heron rookery visible from this overlook has been abandoned by its denizens. However, the pipeline still offers a grand view of the Pipeline Rapids, which are ranked as Class IV and are as much of a challenge as Hollywood Rapids.

As well, nearby islands host nests of different species of birds. According to one blogger, nature writer Rex Springston has seen various migrating river species, including blue crab, from the pipeline. Although you can get there from the east end of Brown's Island, there are 7 parking spaces off South 12th St. From that parking lot, you walk to a metal ladder to descend to the metal catwalk atop the pipeline, which carries storm water to a holding tank located beyond the Mayo Bridge. Please pay attention to water levels for safety's sake. And maybe cock an eye at the CSX railway viaduct overhead.

Ancarrow's LandingAncarrow's Landing

Popular with fisherfolk of many nationalities, Ancarrow's Landing -- the easternmost section of the park system -- has recently undergone a major renovation. ExxonMobil, the legal successor to a chemical fertilizer plant that occupied the site for decades, removed a large volume of contaminated soil, expanded and improved the parking lot, including new lighting, and extended and enhanced the trails leading from the lot. Once the DEQ and Corps of Engineers issue a permit, the boat ramp will be dredged.

This park section is a prime spot for the running of the shad every spring. Ancarrow's also includes the beginning of the Richmond Slave Trail. 200 Branders Street, Richmond 23224.

Belle Isle

Belle Isle rockThe infrared park counters have confirmed what most of us had suspected: Belle Isle is the park's most popular site, attracting people of all ages to walk, bike, sunbathe on the rocks, fish at the quarry, climb a granite wall, and more. 

Back in the day, we could only get there by hopping rocks from the river's south side. In 1988 a pedestrian suspension bridge under the Robert E. Lee Bridge was added, providing greater access, although parking around Tredegar Street continues to be a problem. 

Due to the rapids around the island, swimming is not advisable although it's possible to wade at the western end. A few years ago, a bicycle skills area was added. The island is replete with interpretive signs because it has a rich history: Captain John Smith first explored it in the early 17th century, and it has contained a fishery, nail factory, a notorious prison for Union soldiers, and a hydroelectric plant, among other buildings and activities. The popular Passages summer camp for children takes place there, as well. 

The Wetlands

taking out canoeThe aptly named Wetlands Park, 3401 Landria Drive, is just downstream of the Pony Pasture and is bordered on the east by the Willow Oaks Country Club and to the south by Stratford Hills, a residential area.

There are only seven spaces for cars on Landria Drive, but this wooded, swampy parcel is an easy stroll from the Pony Pasture lot. Although the sandy beach provides some access to the water, it also affords a good view of Williams Island and the river.

The Wetlands include walking trails, a bird-watching shelter, a large meadow surrounded by swamp forest, and a shallow pond with wildlife viewing blinds. One of the three trails within this parcel follows the raised berm of the old quarry railroad, and three footbridges help to keep your feet dry!

Huguenot Flatwater

taking out canoeA quieter part of the JRPS, Huguenot Flatwater Park is located directly underneath the Huguenot Bridge and is bordered to the east by Rattlesnake Creek and to the west by Old Southampton Road. Accessible by two parking lots, this 37-acre park parcel includes river access steps, a wooden boat ramp for canoes, kayaks and inner tubes, and a series of footpaths, as well as a changing room. A set of stairs leads to a viewpoint of the remains of the Old Westham Bridge, another reminder of the city's past. Several side paths lead to the shoreline, providing access to bank fishing, one of the park's most pleasant activities. Photo credit: James River News Hub.

Pony Pasture Rapids

playing on the rocks at Pony PastureOne of the most popular spots in the JRPS, Pony Pasture Rapids receives almost a quarter of a million visitors annually. The main entrance is located off Riverside Drive two miles east of the Huguenot Bridge. This entrance has the largest parking lot in the JRPS, with space for 80 cars. Still, on nice days it can be difficult to find a parking spot. Be prepared to wait in line or find an alternate method of travel to the park (bike, walk, carpool).

Possibly the biggest attraction to Pony Pasture is the rapids. Rated at class II, the rapids are part of the James River's main channel. With the aid of park volunteers and funding from area recycling projects, the JRPS built steps that lead directly into the river and are fully equipped with a canoe launch, also suitable for kayaks and rafts. While most people swim and play in the rapids or sunbathe on the rocks, there is much more to do in this outdoor gem.

view of the river from the trailThere are miles of trails in the park, offering views of the river, inland meadows, wildlife and a wide variety of trees. The main trails are gravel and are good for trail runners and cyclists. Along the banks you find fishermen. Other frequent visitors are birdwatchers and dog walkers. This park also connects to The Wetlands park, located just to the east of Pony Pasture.

All of this could have been lost if not for the actions of local citizens Louise Burke and Dr. R. B. Young who in 1966 formed the Scenic James Council to oppose a proposed highway along the south side of the James. In 1967 they hosted a "Farewell to the River" hike for a Girl Scout troop and a newspaper reporter. Resulting publicity galvanized public support to protect the natural beauty of the property that became the Pony Pasture Rapids and Huguenot Flatwater portions of the Park.  

Riverside Meadows

Riverside MeadowsAbout a half-mile west of Pony Pasture on Riverside Drive is a 2-acre grassy parcel known as Riverside Meadow Greenspace. It's a small but active part of the JRPS. Groups like Riverside Outfitters and True Timber Tree Service launch rafts and climb trees here. The Richmond Fire Department practices river rescues from this meadow. Patient wildlife watchers can see bald eagles, otters, osprey and great blue herons.The Z-Dam connects the meadow to Williams Island across the river and kayakers often surf the powerful notch in the dam.

It's also common for people to set up chairs, blankets and even grills, then settle in for the day. The area is well-attended by walkers, joggers, bikers, bird-watchers, fishermen and paddlers. The view of the James River and Pony Pasture Rapids from the meadow is unmatched. This is a walk or bike-in spot only. No parking, but nice fishing, wading, and, with Riverside Outfitters, recreational tree climbing.

North Bank Park/Texas Beach

Texas Beach boardwalkOn the north side of the James at 1941 Texas Ave. (south end of Texas Ave., near Maymont) you'll find the park section known to many as Texas Beach. Take the trail from the parking lot, cross the bridge over the train tracks and wander till you find a spot to your liking. Along with the newly completed wooden boardwalk over a wetland section of trail, you'll find many isolated sandy beaches, sunbathing rocks and shady spots. In warmer weather -- or for the brave -- the shallow waters and calm sands of Texas Beach are great for snorkeling. There is plenty to explore: fish, turtles, shells, snails and unusual river-bottom features.

If chilling isn't what you're about, Northbank Trail provides an excellent challenge for mountain bikers. The trail is part of the James River Trail loop and runs uninterrupted to the east all the way to Tredegar.

Another destination in the park is to cross the railroad pedestrian walkway and head west along the shoreline path (toward the Boulevard Bridge) to the site of the Foushee Mill. Directly south of Maymont, it can be hard to recognize due to trees and the train tracks. The mill, built in 1819 by Dr. William Foushee, was abandoned as a mill in the 1830s, and while there is nothing overly special about the mostly granite mill, or its history, the structure, at almost 200 years old, has survived flooding, vandalism and Mother Nature!


Manchester Climbing Wall

manchester climbing wallOne of the more unique aspects of the JRPS is the Manchester Climbing Wall. Although most climbers would not consider it a destination, for many it is the nearest outdoor climbing venue and an invaluable training tool. This climbing area, under the Manchester Bridge in downtown Richmond, is a series of abandoned train trestles that have been equipped with bolts and shutts. Here climbers can hone their skills of leading, both trad and sport, rappelling, and self-rescue. Climbers and non-climbers alike will enjoy a visit to this uncommon section of the JRPS.

Local climber Michael Greeby has produced a guide to climbing the Manchester Wall and pillars. Download the guide. (pdf)

NOTE: As of November 2014, there is currently construction work being done under the Manchester Bridge which might create parking issues.


Great Shiplock Park/Chapel Island

Great Shiplock ParkBelow the fall line, east of downtown Richmond, you'll find one of the lesser known, quieter sections of JRPS -- Great Shiplock Park and Chapel Island. The entrance to both is located at 2803 Dock St. (Dock and Pear streets) in Shockoe Bottom. From these parks you'll find unique and amazing views of downtown Richmond and amenities such as benches, shade structures, and bike racks.

The Great Shiplock Park section contains the trailhead for the western terminus of the Virginia Capital Trail, a dedicated, paved pedestrian and bicycle trail that will connect Jamestown and Richmond along the Scenic Route 5 corridor. As part of the trail's construction, GSP underwent a $450,000 renovation in 2013, courtesy of the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group working for the 52-mile trail. If you're not interested in walking or riding the trail, you can learn about the historic James River & Kanawha Canal with an interpretive display and working canal lock. Or fish in the tidal James for species such as shad, white perch, rockfish, smallmouth bass, herring, and several types of catfish.

Take the footbridge across the canal to Chapel Island, named for the early Episcopal chapel located there and active prior to the 1741 founding of St. John's Episcopal Church in Church Hill. Here you'll find a half-mile of winding, wide and flat single-track for hikers and bikers, and a non-motorized boat launch. In addition, the central gravel path continues west along the island through the retention basin owned by the DPU to the 14th Street boat take-out. The parkland also includes the former Trigg Shipyard, which was built in 1898 and went out of business in 1903. Interpretive signage aids visitors' understanding of these unique spots and their place in Richmond history.

RVA James River news

Richmonders love their river. There are many sources for James River specific current news.

Here's a sampling: