Beavers living wild within the city limits of Richmond? Long-time residents may not be surprised by this, but I would never have thought such a thing existed when I moved to the area a few years ago.
It was on my first visit to Powhite Park — around 100 acres of land that exists incongruously as a natural area squeezed by housing developments, a hospital, and Chippenham Parkway—that I first encountered the beavers. Within sight of the culvert that carries Powhite Creek underneath the four-lane highway, these industrious rodents have created a wetlands environment suitable to their lifestyle.
A large percentage of the park’s users are mountain bikers and the trail network that is there can be quite bewildering to figure out. Within the hundred acres are scores of junctions and short pathways, but the good thing is that they all connect in some way or another—and you can’t get lost since you are almost always within sight, or at least sound, of houses or roads. My guess is that it would be about five miles if you were to walk each little trail segment without retracing any steps.
It’s on the more western, flatter side of the park that you will encounter the work of the beavers, such as gnawed trees and branches (although on my last few visits here it seems I’m seeing fewer and fewer signs of them). Of course, the park is also home to other wildlife, so keep an eye and an ear out for deer, turtles, skinks, and woodpeckers.
You might spot a belted kingfisher make a swooping dive into the slow-moving water of the creek in search of food. If successful, the bird will emerge a few moments later with a fish in its beak, sometimes emitting its distinctive dry rattle as it flies off to consume the meal.
An ancient Greek tale is the basis for a modern-day term and tells of the origin of kingfishers. Halcyone, daughter of the King of the Winds, threw herself into the sea to drown upon hearing of the death of her husband. She did not die, but rather she and the spirit of her husband were turned into kingfishers—birds having the power to calm tumultuous waters. Thus, our use of the phrase “halcyon days.”
The main portion of the trail system loops along the perimeter of the park, eventually doing a little bit of up and down in an oak and hickory forest. It’s nothing very strenuous, but at least enough to feel like you are getting in a bit of exercise. Once you’re familiar with the park, start to explore some of those interconnecting side trails and you’ll find some interesting things, such as the dried stream bed that the bikers use as a “half-pipe” riding course.
Getting there: Headed westbound on Chippenham Parkway, get off on the Jahnke Road exit. The park entrance is across the road from the exit ramp. Coming from the west, you will take the Jahnke Road exit, go under the parkway, and have to make a U-turn at the first light to come back to the park entrance.