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Triangle Rock Club Arrives on RVA Climbing Scene

There’s a new player on the Richmond climbing scene.

Triangle Rock Club opened it’s first climbing gym outside of North Carolina in late March in the former Richmond Athletic Club building at 4700 Thalbro St. It also has gyms in Raleigh, Morrisville and Fayetteville.

Triangle Rock Club offers climbing and so much more. Credit: TRC

But Triangle aims to be more than just a place to practice rock climbing. The 24,000-square foot facility boasts a dedicated yoga room, a 2,400-square foot fitness center (with Rogue rack, cardio machines, free weights, and more), separate sauna and steam rooms and a hot tub. On the climbing side, there is 5,000 square feet of bouldering terrain, “Walltopia” climbing walls with 8,000 square feet of top rope and lead climbing, a Hydraulic Systems wall (which angles to 45 degrees), a premier climbing flooring system from Futurist, and a full retail shop.

And all of that is just Phase 1. Triangle hopes to complete Phase 2 of its build-out before the end of 2018, which will bump the total climbing terrain up to 15,000 square feet. When complete, TRC RVA will be the second largest indoor climbing center in the state of Virginia — second only to Earthtreks Crystal City.

The time is right for the indoor climbing industry, and TRC RVA hopes to take advantage. Industry publication Climbing Business Journal reports that 45 commercial climbing gyms opened in 2017, bringing the total number of commercial climbing gyms in the U.S. to 457. Forty-six gyms announced they will open in 2018.

“What’s allowing our business to grow is that indoor climbing has become more mainstream. Climbing walls have become regular features of college campuses, and rock climbing is now an Olympic sport,” said managing partner Joel Graybeal. “People are drawn to climbing because there’s something special about the experience: it’s community-oriented.”

“Our members are our greatest advocates,” said fellow managing partner, Andrew Kratz. “Climbers bring their friends to visit, and then they’re hooked.”

The industry shows no signs of slowing down, and neither does Triangle Rock Club. With a newly announced fifth location to open in 2018 in a repurposed Walmart shopping center in Durham, NC, Triangle Rock Club is poised to ride the rising tide.

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48 Hours

The current of life is unrelenting in an East Coast metropolis. Even as I vainly grasp for an isolated moment, the urgent flow pulls my attention downstream. In full servitude to the Western mind I’ve inherited, I become so focused on the flow, and the relationship between where I’ve been and where I’m going, that quiet suspension in time and space is difficult to achieve. Seldom is it that I truly understand where I am. The fully present me becomes an illusive phantom.

Contemplating Back Creek. Credit: Scott Turner

Scouting Back Creek. Credit: Scott Turner

My friend Jeff is a gifted fly fisherman. He drove down from his post at Colgate University last week to guide me on a fly fishing expedition to the headwaters of the James, deep in the Appalachian Mountains near the West Virginia border. I am not a fly fisherman, or at best an awkward and clumsy one, but if I’m going to fail at something, I figure I might as well fail in a rare and beautiful place. Anyway, I like to watch Jeff’s gift.

So early on Friday morning we fight our way upstream on the human river known as Interstate 64. The tapering of the massive strip of asphalt mirrors the tapering of the James as we travel west. Five lanes wide leaving Richmond, then three, then two, with smaller traffic tributaries fanning away north and south into the Virginia piedmont. Somewhere east of Charlottesville, the blue wave of Afton Mountain rises and slowly crests above the western horizon. Our 250 horses groan a bit as they pull us over the swell, but then relax on our descent into a large valley surrounded by blue waves of earth on all sides. More tapering, until we find ourselves on a narrow ribbon of pavement allowing the passage of only a single vehicle in each direction. Ample room, it turns out, because west of the Shenandoah Valley and into the Mountain-Valley region beyond, the flow of humanity reduces to a pleasant trickle.

Plying the Jackson. Credit: Scott Turner

Plying the Jackson. Credit: Scott Turner

The human tributaries in the high country aren’t typically named on the whim of some real estate developer. In Bath County if you turn onto Johnson’s Farm Rd you can be fairly certain you are on the way to Johnson’s farm. The place we seek is Warm Springs, named for the warm springs bubbling from the earth there, and located at the terminus of a narrow ribbon of hardened petroleum known as Warm Springs Road.

Rare is it to sight a human separated from a vehicle in these parts, though human dwellings are common where gravity pulls water into the narrow valleys between ridges. I suppose the occupants are either working or are invisibly not working. They aren’t playing soccer in the front yard, or walking dogs, or at coffee shops, or out shooting money at the big red Target. Nothing seems to be happening. That’s good. That’s why we came.

Warm Springs is a special type of ghost town. The residents eat and breathe like you and me, but are lifestyle ghosts of an older, simpler America. In Webb’s Store we encounter the first pedestrian human we’ve seen for many miles. The thin, pleasant looking clerk is sweeping when we walk in. Slow, quiet sweeping, and by the lack of swept things gathered in the dustpan I gather for myself that her sweeping is more a routine than a necessity. The store is empty. The streets are empty. There is more room in the store than is needed, and long shelves are sparsely stocked. In her quiet, measured drawl the young lady asks, “You boys going fishing?” After the affirmative she offers, “It should be real nice when the rain stops.”  We grab some supplies, and on the way out I say, “I guess we might be back in for ice tomorrow evening.”

“I’ll be here,” is her simple prophecy. No guess. Jeff and I look at each other and share a smile. More of what we came for. Tomorrow is mostly the same as today in Warm Springs, Va. Past, present and future more stable, and homogeneous. The calm, predictable float of the Webb Store ghost wheedles us away from the awkward downriver tumble of our modern American lives. She was here, she is here, and she will be here. Tomorrow too. Now I am here, in this quiet spirit world. It feels good.

Tangled line on Back Creek. Credit: Scott Turner

Tangled line on Back Creek. Credit: Scott Turner

We pitch our tents at the Blowing Springs Campground, where most of the sites are invitingly empty. The campground is just through a valley and over a mountain from Warm Springs, reached by following the Mountain Valley Rd.  We camp beside Back Creek at a place where water tumbling from a mountain takes an erratic 180 turn back on itself.  The air always seems to be blowing through this deep groove in the mountain, and there are springs oozing and exhaling from hidden sources to join the surface flow of air and water.  Jeff and I have been here twice now to fish, and we both find it to be a place of rare earth magic.

Our fishing the first afternoon on Back Creek is unsuccessful if measured by the contents of our creel. I splash the water a lot relearning how to cast, and my streamers are so unfaithful to their design that a fish would have to be either really desperate or responding to some double-dog-dare from a friend if he were to touch his mouth to it.

Mostly I watch Jeff.  He is using a rod with a long line attached to the tip, but no reel.  Bare angler necessities. On the end of the line is the imitation of an aquatic nymph, made with his own hands and things you might find in your grandmother’s sewing box. Jeff ties his own flies, an entire art unto itself, wholly independent of the art of infusing them with life on the river.

When watched from any distance the work of an expert fly fisherman on a mountain stream seems more the work of a sorcerer or maestro than that of a common angler. After a stealthy approach to a pocket in the stream where these easily-spooked fish make their food selections, the wand is raised, waived through the air, and finally the fly and its tether are made to fall simultaneously on the surface without so much as a ripple to betray the landing. Hunched in a predatory stance, Jeff trolls the streamer through one pocket with slight flicks of his wrist, then lifts it quietly from the surface and in one beautiful wave of the wand drops it just as softly into another. This all done with such precision, rhythm and beauty that one almost expects to hear the response of violins and flutes rather than the appearance of fish. It is in this way that Jeff is able to conduct one beautiful, translucent rainbow trout into his hands on Back Creek. It is an early catch, and the only catch of the afternoon. Later we hear from other fisherman that the fishing is real tough right now on Back Creek.

On the Jackson. Credit: Scott Turner

On the Jackson. Credit: Scott Turner

We cross back over the mountain to fish the Jackson River on the second day. The Jackson flows through Hidden Valley and is joined downstream by Back Creek. Far east of these high places, and much increased in stature by the watery suggestions of many other tributaries, this same water flows through our great town under the surname “James” (named to honor the home base for one of the greatest real-estate ventures and developments of all times). The previous name had been Powhatan, or PowWow Hill. Indian names are always better.

A mile or two up the Jackson River from Hidden Valley, deep in the backcountry, and after nine hours of fishing over two days, I catch my first and only rainbow trout of the weekend in a bubbly, white tumble of water that probably serves to conceal my lack of prowess. Anyway, as they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day. The fish feels clean, like congealed water, and leaves my hand smelling strangely fresh. I place the tangible fruit of my whole weekend of fishing back in the stream. It floats upside down as if dead for a moment, or maybe just embarrassed, breathing in water as a man breathes air. A slow twitch starts at the tail and wags life into the body, and the fish disappears back into its element.

We do revisit Webb’s Store on the way back to Blowing Springs. The streets of the town are still empty and quiet. Ghostly. As was foretold, the pleasant-faced prophetess is there, and is again the only flesh and blood human we see.  She asks, “How ya doin out there?”  I tell her how l haven’t had much success, but my partner is doing ok. Peering into the future again, she offers the consolation of her smile and predicts,  “Ah, you’re just waitin for the big one.” I smile again. Whenever she speaks it makes me smile. When she speaks I believe her.

I would indeed catch the big one on Saturday evening — the one that’s hard to catch, and even harder to hold onto. Jeff and I take our camp chairs to the edge of Back Creek and sit them down on the beach of smooth rocks facing upstream and west.  Jeff fumbles with rocks, fascinated with the varying textures.  Jeff’s hands, I think, are more important to him than his eyes. We notice small, grayish white insects beginning to swarm slightly above the surface. Jeff identifies them as mayflies, and digs under a rock in the stream to find a nymph. He knows their life story, as any successful fly fisherman must. After fighting the current underwater for as many as two years in the form of rock-crawling nymphs, they emerge to the surface where the underwater bodies must be shed, and an adult, flying form assumed. Their wings are still soaked, and must be flapped and dried before liftoff is possible. It’s the most vulnerable moment of their lives, and one that many will not live through. Rainbow trout are watching for this moment, and snatch the flies from the surface, sometimes even launching into the air to snatch a mayfly just lifting off.   The ones that escape the danger have no mouthparts. Their only purpose above the surface of the flow is to fly, mate, and reproduce. After mating, the females descend to the surface to lay eggs and surrender themselves back to the flow. Their whole adult life transpires in a fleeting, 48-hour period. The weekend of a man is the lifetime of an adult mayfly.

At Back Creek on Saturday evening, these short-lived romantics hover in clouds above the stream, adding vibrance and shimmer to the mountain gloaming. The sinking sun turns the river we face into a sparkling carpet of gold. A cool ooze of air following the water down the mountain brushes over me. All is in motion — insects, river, sun — and yet all seems enduring and purposeful. There is a serene stillness in the motion.

And it is here, squinting my eyes into an irresistible brightness, that I meet my own ghost. The me that isn’t striving and trying to change things. The me that isn’t confused by the past or anxious about the future.  My ghost is quiet and content about this existence. My ghost whispers to my flesh, “Just Be.” I listen. I comply. I am where I am, and catch the big one – my own ghost.

We make a last stop in Webb’s Store before descending. I wish my new ghost friend was here, so I could tell her about my catch, but in her place is a much older man. Also, thin, also tall, also very pleasant, and something about the voice suggesting to me that the younger spirit has been nurtured and calmed by the older. I am certain it is her father. He offers advice to improve our fishing, but it’s not new information to Jeff. Anyway, our time is almost up. Time to descend.

Already joined by multitudes of our fellows, we surf down the eastern face of Afton mountain and into the smaller swells of the piedmont. A merge of traffic. Another merge. The radio begins to receive XL102. When tumbling along in Richmond I enjoy that music, not always recognizing its true nature. But on re-entry from higher places, I find the angst and dissatisfaction splashing from the surface of our society unsettling. The pavement widens. Gaskins Road (don’t know why). Broad street (broader all the time). Parham Road (unknown). Staples Mill Road (historical). I-195 (???). Exhaust, concrete, glass, and heavy human turbulence. 48 hours after our hopeful separation from the surface, we surrender ourselves back to the flow.

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Not So Secret, Secret Spot: Chapel Island

The cove on Chapel Island. Credit: Veronica Reddic

The cove on Chapel Island. Credit: Veronica Reddic

Hello trailheads, the weather has been funky out there lately and it’d be nice to see some consistency come along. This should keep you in the mood to continue checking out spots that the James River has to offer and get you pumped up for that warm weather to spend much needed time at the river hanging out. The spot I bring to you today — Chapel Island — is awesome; it doesn’t offer too much in terms of hiking distance, but you and your pup will love what it has to offer.

Chapel Island is a piece of land that runs along 14th street to Pear Street in the Shockoe Bottom area of downtown Richmond. Throughout the island and along the way to get there, you’ll see lots of history from when it was used to as a harbor and boat-building area in the early 1800’s. To get to the island you’ll need to cross over the canals at Shiplock Park. Once you cross you will be stepping foot into history. If you make your way down the stairs, you’ll run into a nice calm cove where the water from the canal overflows into. Along this cove are plenty of beach spots that give you access to the water for a nice swim. The water here is shallow, and you can walk quite a ways out into the river. When there hasn’t been rain for awhile, the water is clear, and you’re able to see where you’re walking. This is a perfect place to take water-shy dogs for their first swim since the water here is calm and you’re able to get in with them and help them along.

Swimming off of Chapel Island. Credit: Veronica Reddic

Swimming off of Chapel Island. Credit: Veronica Reddic

There are several trails along the island that you and your pup can check out. Off to the right of the cove is a trail that leads further into the island. The trails split off in many directions giving lovely views of the river. Along one trail you will run into large concrete walls, this is what’s left of the Trigg Shipyard where warships were built. The area isn’t a very big hiking sight, but the trails do go all over and you can go through thick brush, hop over fallen trees and even climb over a few. Toward the back of the island, you’ll find a trail that leads out and goes upriver towards Browns Island. This trail will take you all the way around to the Canal Walk where you can walk along the canal and enjoy the city.

Be advised, after a good rain the area can get very muddy and very slippery, so take caution if you visit after a heavy rain. This is such a beautiful place to visit any time of year, but more fun during the warm days of summer for a nice dip in the water.

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Bad Fruit?

My daughters aren’t very young anymore. Or maybe you wouldn’t agree. They can still tally their  earth years using the original abacus- human digits. Shouldn’t one be considered young, you might contend, if in common American parlance that one is referred to as a “teenager?” OK. Conceded. From the vantage of a fully earth-cultured adult, I recognize that 13 and 16 must still be considered ages of youth.

But these finishing ages for my young ladies only foster in me a greater appreciation for that period of life when ages were still counted without taking off shoes. Adolescent youth. The fewer the digits the better.  Pre-knowledge, still in the garden youth. I refer fondly here to the great “Wow!”-not-”Why?” age of puerility!

An early tree climb with Anna.

An early tree climb with Anna.

I even recall the sense of loss I experienced when my first daughter began to speak. We taught her to apply these secondhand symbols to the manifold sensations of her experience. Then, during frequent adventures into the lowland behind our house, I began to have word questions to answer. Silent but expansive communion was compressed into audible words, and then partly spoiled by communication. “Why is the sky blue?” she began to ask in a narrow, seeking way, where before was only a wide-eyed and wonder-filled gaze into the heavens that celebrated, “Wow!, the sky is BLUE!” And to honor that silent exclamation I had only to piggyback on her wonder, lifting old, green eyes in a parallel gaze that screamed silently, “Wow! It sure is!” In those pre-word or limited vocabulary days we quietly revered the quality of our surroundings, and I think it possible that Anna and I will never be as close as we were before stiff-arming our spiritual embrace with words.

Old pictures tell it one way, but in reality I was the piggy-back rider when my daughters were young, hijacking their spirits to steal glimpses of the creation through youthful eyes. A 2016 January snowstorm reminded me just how different is this “teenaged” stage of youth. A snowstorm used to be one of the biggest things that could happen in our Richmond lives. Many other winters have passed here with hardly a dusting. The 12-inch blanket of white crystals laid over us this past January was an extra big snow, probably the biggest of their lives, and set the stage for a big experience. But my girls are older now, and being cultured to value knowledge over experience.

We tried sledding, but we’re too big now for tandem sledding. Taking turns is not the same, and as we stood around awkwardly between one-at-a-time runs it became obvious that the “together” part had been 95% of our prior sledding fun. Back in the house we watched a movie by the fire, and then my young adults disappeared into their rooms to chat with friends and get to work. Their teachers had emailed assignments to make sure this rare natural event would not fully interrupt their learning. Poor kids. A snow event was better protection from forced knowledge back in my day.

With the girls in their rooms and me wandering uncomfortably through old snow day memories, the bright, white present was about to slip by without proper homage from the Turner family. But then I saw Cinna sitting expectantly by the door.

Cinna on ice.

Cinna on ice.

Thank goodness for dogs! Ignorant dogs. Innocent dogs. True children of the earth, and reverent garden dwellers. Always available to give an old man or woman a spiritual lift and piggyback ride. Isn’t that why we love our dogs? Knowledge never interferes with their desire to bathe in nature’s eternal spring. To wallow in it, even. They certainly never miss a chance to play in it. I think we love our dogs mostly because we find their immature mental condition peaceful and contagious.

I call Anna and Brooke from their rooms, we pull on warm clothes, we climb on the back of Cinna the mutt, and we chase off into the lowland bounding through snow up to our chins. Wow! The air is so cold! So invigorating! It makes us run back and forth and around in wild circles until we don’t even know where we’re running anymore.

Brainfreeze! Wow! The white stuff is so bright, and so tasty. We eat it until our teeth hurt. We plop down in it, rub our backs in it, stick our faces in it. Wow! We can walk on water! The creek was wet and runny last time. Cold, hard and slippery this time. Go figure! Woops! Fell right through the hard part and back into the wet. Now it crunches. Now we crunch it under our paws. Did you see me jump all the way across? Ok, not all the way but almost. Watch this time! Wow! Do you smell that!? Do you see that!? Do you hear that!? Do you feel that!?

My daughters and I ride Cinna’s youthful spirit downstream along Rattlesnake Creek, sometimes walking on ice, sometimes balancing on rocks, laughing, playing, and revering. It has become our more mature tradition on snow days to hike the Rattlesnake through the lowlands to its confluence with the James just east of the “Huguenot Woods” section of the James River Park System. There was a time when a canine escort was optional, back when the young ladies provided all the lift. But theirs is a different youth now, more complicated, and slightly heavier in spirit.

Me and Anna today.

Me and Anna today.

Frowns or sadness, once brought about only by fear or physical discomfort, can now spawn from bad thoughts or bad ideas. On their bookshelves, “Brown Bear Brown Bear what do you see?” has been replaced by “The Catcher in the Rye,” “The Lord of the Flies,” and “Hamlet.” They gain spiritually dangerous knowledge, sometimes, and knowledge that leads to that worst of all human conditions — anxiety. That overcast of uncertainty, that anxiety, brought on by knowledge, begins to intercept the bright experiential sunshine of earlier youth. This is no mere conjecture. I assure you I’ve seen it first hand and studied it closely, and concluded from evidence that the first great loss of innocence comes long before the biological transformation of puberty. My own children were first unsettled during their adolescence, partly evicted from the garden when we began feeding them fruit from the tree of knowledge.

Today Cinna leads us back in. 95% of our laughter relates to our youthful escort and the uninhibited way she bounds down the creek. 95% of our wonder is related to what she shows us in our surroundings. 95% of our playfulness is in imitation of her, and 95% of our contentment is the result of hijacking her spirit, and looking through innocent eyes into a snow-covered garden of immense beauty. Our dog brings us together, and on a snow day, together is 95% of the fun. And so I say again, thank goodness for dogs!

As we move across Riverside Drive and into the narrow “Huguenot Woods” section of the park system, we begin to hear a strange, soft sound. Wow! Odd for me at my age to hear an unfamiliar sound. Like rain on a tin roof? Na. Not gravelly enough. Like light rain on open water? Nope. Not the same consistency. Like river rapids? Almost, but not urgent, white and fuzzy enough. It’s a scratchy, slightly variable, and sandy hiss that we hear. Strange and without compare. Subtle and distant, but also everywhere at once, softly filling the air. Intrigued, we press ahead to where our creek joins the piedmont’s major tributary.

At the mouth of Rattlesnake Creek.

At the mouth of Rattlesnake Creek.

At the mouth of Rattlesnake Creek we find the surface of the James scaled with small plates of ice, all moving gently eastward.  There is only a slight gradient here, and at normal water levels the flow is almost imperceptible. Today the mottled skin allows us to clearly see the river’s slow crawl. The scratchy hissing noise has grown louder, but only when we follow Cinna close to the frozen edges do we discover its source. Those floating scales are making tiny scratching sounds as they scrape along the frozen edge. Individual scrapes are barely audible, but in concert with millions of other tiny scrapes the sound grows to become a subtle but pervasive hiss.

The untravelled Huguenot Bridge is silent. The woods are silent. But on the first day of the 2016 snowstorm, the James River hisses strangely as it crawls its way through a frozen landscape on its way to downtown Richmond. A sound like no other. Wow!

A hissing crawl.

A hissing crawl.

Back in the house, exhausted Cinna does her post-adventure dead animal impersonation — long and flat prostration. The girls go back into their rooms to gain knowledge. I sit in the armchair by the fire, my head filled with thoughts of gardens, snakes, and bad fruit. And then, because I’m hopelessly human, the thoughts become words.

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To Rock, or Not to Riverrock? That is the Coal Ash Question

What would the impact be if all of us, together, said, “No thanks.” Credit: Diana DiGangi, Capital News Service

What would the impact be if all of us, together, said, “No thanks.” Credit: Diana DiGangi, Capital News Service

My daughter made the suggestion. I was tired and eager to be home, but I heard myself say, “Great idea. Where on the river? The Pipeline?”

She was right, of course. We HAD to end the day at the river. I mean, she’d spent her morning seated on the floor with poster board printing out “We love our river” on one side, and on the other: “My playground,” above of a self-portrait, splashing on river rocks.

In the hours between the sketched river play and our actual visit to the James, we drove downtown, to carry those signs in the March for Our Rivers. The rally – rescheduled from a freezing-rain Monday to the most beautiful Saturday in months – was organized to protest Dominion’s plans to release hundreds of millions of gallons of coal ash wastewater upriver from Richmond, into the James.

Now I love a good rally; especially on such a day. And the families with children lent a festival air — dozens of river lovers rolling down the grass hill in front of the Capitol (This is what Democracy looks like.).

But after the impressive and inspiring speakers took their turn at the megaphone, and after the drum-charged march looped through downtown and back to the capital, I felt unsettled.

For starters, I’d lost all patience for the day’s most popular chant: “No Coal Ash. The James is Not for Trash.” That’s really not the point. We HAVE the coal ash. And no one is suggesting we dump it in the James. On the contrary, the reason Dominion is draining the wastewater is so it can obey new rules and move the coal ash to a safe place away from the river. But it’s awkward to chant, “Don’t release wastewater into the James until/unless it reaches truly safe levels and don’t try to tell me it’s safe when it’s not.”

Awkward.

I even fantasized, briefly, about taking a turn at the megaphone to say:

Richmond gets its drinking water from the James River. In the summer we go there to soak. When I asked a friend at the Department of Environmental Quality if the wastewater from Bremo Power Station posed any threat to my daughter’s safety, he couldn’t say no; only that the allowable limit for heavy metals in this wastewater is really, really low.

Maybe so. But here’s my concern: That little allowed bit from Bremo? What happens when it adds to the little allowable bit released at Dominion’s plant in Chesterfield? And the little allowable bits both already release into the air? And then there’s the little allowable bit from the Reynolds factory. And the DuPont factory. The planned Shandong Tralin paper mill. These also have permission to release “just a little bit” of poison in the James.

012And how about the fact that heavy metals – mercury and lead and cadmium and arsenic; these bioaccumulate. They concentrate as they move up the food chain; in oysters and muscles and fish. And once in your body, they stay in your body. So what does that mean for a ten year old? One’s who’s been splashing in the river since day one?

That’s what I imagined saying. Instead, I left the crowd to their chanting and told my daughter, Sure. I’d take her to the James.

Again, I love a good protest. Citizens walking through streets to support a shared belief is a universal gesture of freedom. It draws attention to an issue. It can inspire, and pump us up to act. But these secondary actions are what really make change. So, what to do next? What step to make clean drinking water the number one priority of our leaders and laws?

Boycotts can work, but not on monopolies. We want lights on and phones charged, so we plug in, and Dominion gets paid.

Petitions get attention. Letters to the editor educate. Calls to elected officials are counted. Actual meetings count for more. But this is Dominion Power. How can a citizen – especially one with a job and a family and all the time those require – compete with teams of lobbyists, lawyers, and political donations to the General Assembly alone?

So what’s a water drinker to do? Or not do.

If we can’t stop giving Dominion our money, what if we stop taking theirs? While Dominion lobbies to loosen pollution regulations with one hand, its other is offering Richmond gifts. Look around. They sponsor everything. What would the impact be if all of us, together, said, “No, thanks.”

The James River Association already did so. As of this month they’re not asking Dominion for program funding anymore. The conflict was just too obvious; the hypocrisy too great.

Speaking of which…consider Dominion Riverrock.

I’m proud to call some of the scheduled musicians friends, and I know that for some, this is a pretty big gig. Dropping out would be a sacrifice. But imagine the public pressure an empty festival could bring. Or don’t imagine…remember. When bands from around the world rejected offers to play the whites-only resort Sun City, the embarrassment to the South African government helped speed the end of Apartheid. And they didn’t call it a sacrifice; it was an investment in a higher cause.

Last Saturday afternoon, the Pipeline parking lot was too crowded, so Chapel Island was my daughter’s second pick. I watched her do her 10-year-old monkey-thing on a sycamore growing horizontally over the river, and started to protest. Then I stopped myself. She was wearing play clothes. The day was warm. If she fell in, she’d get wet. What’s the harm in that?

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The Trails of the Nickel Bridge (Southside): Trail Dog Heaven

Hello outdoor enthusiasts, I am back with another secret (but, really, not so secret) set of spots to share with you guys. Today’s secret spots to take your dog are the Buttermilk (West) Trail and the Main Trail off the Boulevard (Nickel) Bridge. This is such a wonderful and peaceful area to take your pup and hang out at the river. I first went here during the season of river goers and there was hardly any foot traffic in the area during my midday visit.

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Pump House Park is another great not so secret spot to take a dog. Credit: Veronica Reddic

To get to the trails, park on Riverside Drive in Westover Hills (south side of Nickel Bridge) near where it runs into Westover Hills Boulevard. From that intersection, head down toward the bridge and you’ll see the trailhead on your left. There’s a great kiosk here were very accurate signage. Definitely check that out before you head into the trail. Follow the singletrack for a few feet until your reach your first fork. There are two ways down, the more simple way goes off to the left, the steep way goes off to the right.

Either way, you’ll make your way down the path and run into another fork. The right trail will lead you down to the tracks towards the river and the Main Trail that leads towards Reedy Creek. This area just across the tracks offers a nice hangout spot to relax in shallow waters. There are parts of the area that can be a bit risky due to some high currents since there is a pipeline under the water. This location would be best for a dog that is a strong swimmer, but it’s also good for those who like to get their paws wet in the shallow areas. The beach is mainly a mixture of rocks, sand and pebbles so barefoot action is possible and the water is nice and clear in the shallows so you can see where you’re stepping.

The trail continues to the right and will lead you all the way towards Reedy Creek and Belle Isle. There are several more river access spots along the way and also a few rock-hopping locations that are always a hit with those pups that have a knack for it.

Now the second trail option that you run into, which forks off to the left will have you following the tracks going upriver. The Trail is called Buttermilk West. It’s a beautiful trail to hike; it leads under the tall cliffs of the Westover Hill area, where you’ll see beautiful homes situated on top of those magnificent rock walls. The trail goes a pretty good distance, and there will be several other trails that split off and take you across the tracks to nice river access areas. The area gets very, very muddy, especially after a good rain, so bring some shoes you don’t mind getting dirty. This is a very secluded and large area with loads of sticks to throw in the water for your pup to chase after.

Since I’m not sure how busy this part of the area gets during the warmer months, I’d suggest going during the morning to separate yourself from any increased foot traffic during the afternoon hours.

Both locations are a real hit to my dogs, especially the ones that don’t mind the mud. I advise bringing a few towels if you have a mud lover. These spots will definitely offer a day full of fun and give you a great hiking experience.

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Not So Secret, Secret Spots of the James River

Have you ever taken a trip to the river and just felt like there was a lack of space for you and your pup to just hang out together and enjoy the nice pristine scene of the river? Yea, I’m pretty sure all of us James River goers have experienced those times at the river where the crowds are too much to handle. Well, never fear, Ms. V is here to set you free!

I will be sharing with you guys some of the best sweets spots along the river that will allow you and your pup that relaxing alone time you guys so desperately seek. Whether you’re a new-comer to the city looking to explore this great river or someone who is just looking to get out and relax by the water, the info I’ll share with you  will be worthwhile and will have you wanting to hit the river more often.  To keep this more interesting, I’ll share a few sweets spots every month and will give direction to these spots as well as descriptions on what you can do there. So let’s get this started!

Sweet Spot No. 1:

Pump House Park

This is probably my absolute favorite spot to take almost all of my adventure-loving dogs. Pump House Park is home to a gorgeous Medieval-looking building, which is the Pump House. The building was constructed in the late 1800’s, and it was used to pump water to the William Byrd Park (formerly “New Reservoir Park”). The Pump House also provided a huge open air space on the top level that was used for social events. The building was abandoned in 1924 due to a newer and more sustainable building being built just east of it. In the area, are three canals that run to the east and the west, there are reading posts at each canal providing descriptions about the use of that canal.

This park offers trails that lead down to the river, historical self-guided nature trail tours. And directly across Pump House Drive are the Dogwood Dell hiking trails, which are amazing for tiring out an active dog. Now this place is pretty easy to navigate, some parts of the trail can be a bit difficult when you want to get to the river, other parts are easy-peasy.  The first and best way that I have found to get to the great spots of the river in Pump House Park are right across the bridge over the canal and down the stairs. Pass over one canal and turn to the right,  you will soon come upon a trail to your left that will have black tar-like gravel to lead the way.  You’ll want to follow that path and take it all the way across the tracks and then to another path. From the tracks you will soon be at the river. There are plenty of different spots to hang out and take a dip in the water.  The first area you come upon is perfect for rock hopping and making your way over to the island where you have access to some swimming spots and sunbathing spots. Farther down you’ll find great spots for some swimming as well as fishing.

Basically, this location is perfect for just about anyone, and it’s easily accessible by all fitness levels. A forewarning to those with dogs whose prey drive is pretty high, there are deer in the area so it’s best to have an open ear and eyes on your dogs, especially around the train tracks. Look out for the next portion of this segment coming very soon. Happy tails!

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Forest Sunset

At the end of an earth day, when the intensity of light and heat fades, just above the western horizon an observant human is allowed to see the softer shades of our Sun’s radiation. Rust, orange, rose, and pink are by heavy atmospheric refraction gradually separated from the day’s hot white. And just after The Great Light has revealed the softest, most gentle side of itself, darkness falls. There is sleep.

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Sunset in the trees.

I love the way the October and November fall of the Richmond forest performs its best sunset impersonation. In autumn, when the magic potion of chlorophyl is siphoned away from the leaves of our trees, that same observant human is allowed a six week or so study of what our forest is truly made of.  Maples show their orange and red origins. Hickorys and poplars herald the yellow of their maker. Rust, orange, rose, and pink gently blush the forest canopy before cascading to the ground in awkward, tumbling flakes. One day not long ago, the forest impersonation of sunset was so convincing that when the prototype cast its warm glow of dusk over us, one and the other were almost indiscernible. I tried to take pictures, but was unable capture the double, soft glow of sky and forest. Pictures of nature often suffer this fate. There is always something extra there, a wild and free fullness that refuses capture. On the screen of my phone I could see the color, but not the glow, so I put it back in my pocket and savored the fullness first hand. Yes, I love the color and softness of autumn’s sunset impersonation, but in the end, both sunsets fall to earth. When the fall has fallen, our deciduous trees are left standing dark and bare. There is forest sleep.

As Richmonders we are lucky. We have an opportunity afforded only to people who can rapidly change altitudes. If a Richmonder so desires, even while our home forest is at the peak of its sunset, he and his family can enjoy a glimpse ahead into winter.  Here’s how you do it.

Brooke cuddles up with a friend.

Brooke cuddles up with a friend.

Each fall my family and our best family friends take advantage of the opportunity. We wake up before dawn on a Sunday to meet at a gas station before I-64-ing our way west to the mountains. We don’t do this much, or as much as I’d like, but it’s pretty darn nice to know that when I need the high places, they are not far away. A mere two-hour ride from my driveway, and I am at one of the most ancient places on earth – the peak of the Blue Ridge Mountain range. We start our little day trip just above sea level, and climb gradually away from the rouge and yellow of Richmond’s fall towards the grey and brown of winter 4000 feet above.

This year we drive to the Skyland Resort north of Big Meadows along the Skyline Drive. After our dark and early start from Richmond, we arrive at the dining room of the resort just as those who saw the sky grow bright before getting out of bed step their way over from quaint lodgings to join us for a breakfast buffet. I’m mildly jealous of them. Mostly of the younger couples.  Why didn’t I ever bring my significant other to this place overlooking the Shenandoah valley for a true piece of earth perspective by day, and the warmth of love by night? I feel like I can almost tell which of the pairings most recently separated from close embraces by the look of happy contentment on their faces. Good living for the young ones at Skyland Resort. I’m mildly jealous, but mostly just happy for them.

Hiking in the Shenandoah NP forest.

Hiking in the Shenandoah NP forest.

Then I turn to the simple, old fashioned breakfast buffet. The bacon is OK. And the sausage, the scrambled eggs, and the fruit and the grits. But the crown jewel of the meal for me is the biscuits and gravy. I eat and scrape, reload. I eat and scrape again, and then I reload and eat one more time but cannot complete the scrape. That means I’m done.

After breakfast, a short drive south from the resort brings us to the Hawksbill Summit Loop trailhead.  My older daughter, a junior in high school, feigns disinterest in the prospect of a hike. She says that hiking is nothing more than dangerous walking. Anna is very tall, and finds herself unable to cultivate the same working relationship with the earth below her as most of us have. For her it can be an awkward, long distance relationship with frequent ups and downs. But I know her complaint about hiking is a feign. I know that, like me, she gets something important from the high places. Don’t we all?

It’s a short hike to the peak of Hawksbill Mountain, which at 4049 feet, is the highest peak in the Shenandoah National Forest. The loop is 2.7 miles long. Not too harsh, not too steep. But on the way to the peak each step separates us farther from the drone of cars and civilization, and with each step, we gain altitude and move farther into winter.

Anna looks into a Blue Ridge winter.

Anna looks into a Blue Ridge winter.

The view itself isn’t particularly noteworthy. We could enjoy a similar view from any number of vehicle pull-offs. It’s the position of the view that’s noteworthy, and makes the hike worthwhile. It’s a position only reached by foot, and only reached with a climbing effort. Those two requirements alone make it a much less frequented or popular position for perspective than most positions in modern culture. Sure, their are others humans up there, but these others are different from the normal or work-day others in my life. These others are also in a state of peace and revery after the exertion of the hike, and the reward of the 250-degree-or-so view. There is a healthy human atmosphere at the peak of Hawksbill mountain. An atmosphere of respect and admiration for the creation below. An atmosphere and perspective that is worth a dangerous walk. I look at Anna sitting quietly to herself and experiencing a moment of respect and admiration, and I experience one of those rare moments when a parent knows they are doing just the right thing for their child. I look thoughtfully at Anna. My 16 year-old daughter looks thoughtfully into the grey and brown winter of the Blue Ridge Mountains in mid-November. No tweets, twitters, instas, or snaps. Quiet reverence.

It’s always a peaceful ride home from our fall hike. I should be taking scientific data to prove this fact rather than just talking good sense, but a child or youth, or an adult for that matter, who has eaten a wholesome breakfast and hiked to a special high place on earth is just more likely to find themselves in a peaceful state of mind in the aftermath. My daughters rarely tread together on common ground, but on the way home they leave off tormenting each other to quietly scan the passing country and farmland on either side of the car. We drive our way down from winter and backwards in seasonal time.

We’re back in Richmond at 3:30 p.m., and after our glimpse into winter, every warm, soft shade of the forest is even more beautiful. In Richmond I get back to properly enjoying a forest sunset.  I have seen our near future with my own eyes. Winter is close above us.

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Free Fallin’

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Leaves conceal the trail. Credit: Brad Morrison

By salvaging parts from several pairs of decommissioned, yard work-bound running shoes (laces, two soles, one tongue), I’m able to patch together one sturdy pair. Then it’s out the door, truck, 64 East, 195 South, Downtown Expressway, Roseneath Exit, Boulevard Bridge (where I learn there’s only enough change in the armrest for one pass through the toll), and over the James River (passing the cyclists on the footbridge as they pass pedestrians.)  I weave and wind my way to Riverside Drive (without a doubt the most popular name for river-adjacent streets), and park at Reedy Creek.  Stretch, walk, stretch a little more, walk a little more.

It’s November, and autumn is moving quickly from the trees to the ground. Leaves that a few months ago hid the river from view are now attempting to conceal the trail. The cool air is noticeable but not unpleasant. When I breathe I can see my breath. I pull the chilly air in through my nose, jut out my chin, and exhale a cloud the size of a volleyball.

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Buttermilk Trail. Credit: Brad Morrison

I pick up a walking stick, but since I don’t really need it for walking I swing it around like a baseball bat, like a sword. To anyone watching I’m dueling against an invisible foe. My forward progress makes it look like I’m winning. When I lob the stick into the bushes, it looks like we decided whatever (or whoever) we were fighting over wasn’t worth it.

 I needed to get out and run today, but not at the gym (TV, TV, TV, TV), and not through a neighborhood again (house, house, house, another house), but outside, along a wooded trail, beneath ivy-gripped trees and chirpy, branch-hopping birds, lit by the purple and orange glow of an early morning sky.
Out here I can traverse, navigate, estimate, manage, negotiate, wander and dodge. Rain-slick boulders are sidestepped. Half-fallen trees are ducked. Stone-riddled creeks are hurdled. The steady, sandy tap of my Frankensteined shoes jabbing into the dirt of Buttermilk Trail feels like a second heart beat. Tree roots appear, and I step on each one like fingers walking up the keys of a piano. Up ahead there’s a steeply banked turn. I accelerate, and my center of gravity unfurls like wings.
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Say “No!” to Muddy Paws

Summer is over once again, and the cooler weather is becoming dismal and dreary more often than not. All the autumn and winter rains can foul up your best plans to get outside and play with your four-legged buddy. After a good storm you may be hesitant to take poochie out somewhere that he can romp due to the mud and murky puddles, causing him and all your surroundings to need a bath. Ever wonder where to take your pup to get some much needed exercise after being cooped up inside during the foul weather?

Working for a local dog-walking company, I’ve had a great time exploring new trails around Richmond where I can take my four-legged clients for adventure hikes. Many of these I never knew existed until I was in need of a fairly mud-free trail that was also near my client’s home. Below I’ve compiled a short list of a few of my favorite hikes where you can take your furry pal and be assured of staying reasonably clean in the great outdoors.

Belle Isle Loop
300 Tredegar St.
Richmond VA, 23219

 

On the way to Belle Isle.

On the way to Belle Isle.

Parking in the lot near Tredegar, you can take the footbridge over the James River and onto Belle Isle. Once you step off the bridge you’ll see a doggy potty station just to your left.  It usually has plastic bags stocked in the little box for your convenience. Don’t forget to pick up after Fido! While the path is not actually paved, it does have a substantial layer of gravel on the loop trail to fend off most puddles.  As you hike the trail you get a great view of Richmond’s skyline downtown as well as the dignified headstones from Hollywood Cemetery that overlook the river. There are plenty of opportunities to head out onto the rocks with your buddy if you’re interested in rock hopping. Continuing along, the path has a gentle incline that leads to the western side of the island and you’ll end up on the downward slope as you return. The trail is 2.1 miles from start to finish.

The James River Park System rules state that all pets must be kept on a leash. Remember, even if your dog is friendly, not everyone (other dogs included) is OK with your dog running up to them off-leash.

Forest Hill Park
4021 Forest Hill Ave
Richmond VA, 23225

One of many stone walkways in Forest Hill Park.

One of many stone walkways in Forest Hill Park.

This park is beautiful any time of the year. The main trails are all paved, so there is minimal chance of tracking mud into your life. From either parking lot you can walk down and around the scenic lake and make the loop back up to the gently rolling hills that are visible from Forest Hill Ave. The lake loop makes up a little less than a mile, but the distance of all the main walkways ends up totaling about 2 miles. There are some decent inclines and several sets of stairs in the park if you really want a good workout. You can help him burn off all those rawhides and bacon treats your pup loves so much. There are other paths through the woods that are very steep, slick, and muddy after a rain so be sure to stick to the blacktop. Several pet waste bag stations line the main trail, so you can grab them as needed.

Huguenot Park
10901 Robious Rd
North Chesterfield VA, 23235

I stumbled upon this great little park while I was searching a Google map one day. Huguenot Park’s entrance is on Robious Road, and it backs up to Johnston-Willis Hospital. If you live near Midlothian Turnpike and Courthouse Road, then this is a most convenient place to walk your dog. It boasts 2.32 miles of winding paved and gravel trails under pine and oak trees, and even features an azalea garden if you happen to go when they’re blooming. The terrain is very flat so if you have an older dog and want a gentle walk in the fresh air, this is the place to go.

Rockwood Park
3401 Courthouse Rd
Midlothian, Va. 23236

The paved path at Rockwood Park.

The paved path at Rockwood Park.

I’ve saved my favorite for last.  I just recently discovered this park, although it happens to be the oldest in Chesterfield County. It’s a bit of a trek from the city center to this gorgeous 161-acre woodland habitat, but well worth it, in my opinion. There are numerous rolling hills throughout the heavily wooded park, and the large main trail is paved for your convenience. A map at the trailhead (and also located at intervals throughout) illustrates color-coded trails with corresponding blazes along the way, so you’ll have a hard time getting lost. On the eastern boundary lies Gregory’s Pond, which is private, but offers a nice view of lilly pads and turtles resting on logs. Your dog will go nuts sniffing the tracks of all the small woodland creatures that scurry along the forest trails in solitude. Finally, if you’re not feeling particularly energetic, you can take your mutt to the dog park located on the south end of the property. The Ruff House Dog Park is one of the best perks here. You can let your dog play off-leash with his new best friends in the large fenced enclosure but be aware that there may be some muddy areas here.

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