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Big North Bank Trail Project to Begin in the New Year

The project would create close to a half mile of new singletrack (red dotted line).

Earlier today I spoke with Mike Burton, city trails manager and interim James River Park Superintendent, about the future of the proposed North Bank Trail segment that would take hikers and bikers between the stone switchbacks next to Maymont and the Texas Beach entrance to the JRPS entirely off Kansas Avenue and on trail.

We wrote about this recently, and a volunteer day was even scheduled to begin the large undertaking. But then some neighbors, specifically those with property contiguous to the project, raised concerns about trail traffic and making sure users don’t come on to private property. Burton said he and his staff met with those property owners and everything looks good to break ground on the project soon.

“That’s priority one after the first of the year,” he said.

So, check back here for updates about how you can get involved when the time comes.

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Start 2019 Right with a Hike in a Virginia State Park

The Bay View Trail at Mason Neck State Park along the Potomac River. Credit: DCR

Ring in the New Year with a special First Day Hike in a Virginia State Park. All state parks will offer free parking all day, while the first 100 visitors to each park will receive a special bumper sticker.

Two contests give visitors two opportunities to win gift certificates valued at up to $500. Participants can be eligible to win prizes by simply registering, hiking and then recording the hike on Jan. 1. An annual photo contest is also an opportunity for visitors to win gift certificates that can be used for camping and cabin reservations or to purchase annual passes.

For complete contest details, visit https://vasp.fun/2019firstdayhikes. For a list of scheduled hikes and programs, visit https://vasp.fun/1stdayhikes2019.

Some choices include:

Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield offers an adults-only ranger-led night hike on a trail usually reserved for biking, with a bonfire to celebrate the countdown. The park also offers a variety of hikes and even a guided bike ride for different ages and capabilities.

Fairy Stone State Park in Stuart will host a New Year’s Eve celebration and a ranger-led mile hike the next morning. The whole family will enjoy finding the hidden ornaments left by the legendary Christmas Opossum at Caledon State Park in King George. Three ranger-led hikes at Claytor Lake State Park in Dublin include a hike in search of vernal pools and a dog hike. The park also offers several self-guided and self-paced options. Mason Neck State Park in Lorton offers three hikes ranging from a leisurely stroll to a fast-paced heart-pumping hike. Explore the newest addition to New River Trail State Park, the Hoover Mountain Bike area, for a hike or bike. Virginia’s newest state park, Widewater State Park in Stafford County, offers two guided hikes, one on the history and unique aspects of the Widewater peninsula and another on the animals who winter at the park.

To find a state park near you and plan your First Day Hike, visit www.VirginiaStateParks.gov.

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Just 80 Miles from RVA, Widewater Becomes Virginia’s 38th State Park

Governor Ralph Northam today officially opened Widewater State Park in Stafford County, the Commonwealth’s 38th state park. Widewater State Park covers 1,100 acres, including two miles of water frontage along the Potomac River and Aquia Creek.

Widewater State Park in Stafford County is just 1 hour and 30 minutes from Richmond. Credit: Va. State Parks

“Virginia’s state parks attract millions of visitors each year, serving as affordable vacation destinations and adding to the economic vitality of the communities where they are located,” said Governor Northam. “With the dedication of this new state park we build upon Virginia’s legacy of conservation and environmental stewardship and expand opportunities for the public to experience our Commonwealth’s natural beauty and renowned system of state parks.”

The property was originally purchased by Dominion Energy as a site for a proposed power plant. The property was later approved for development of 700 residential units, a resort conference center and extensive infrastructure. Dominion sold the property for $1 million less than the assessed value in 2013. The Trust for Public Land and Stafford County assisted in the transaction.

“The development of a low-impact state park on waterfront property significantly reduces the possibility of increased water quality degradation,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew Strickler. “More than 73,000 acres of Virginia are protected as state parks, and only a small fraction of the property is ever improved or developed. We are pleased that this land will be protected for generations to come.”

The visitor center at Widewater State Park. Credit: Va. State Parks

Funding for the $6.1 million property was from Virginia Public Building Authority bonds and a federal appropriation of $225,000 secured by Virginia’s congressional delegation through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program.

“State parks host 10 million visitors each year,” said Virginia State Parks Director Craig Seaver. “Widewater State Park allows us to provide water access in one of the most heavily populated areas of Virginia while maintaining the serenity people expect when they visit one of our 38 state parks.”

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Saturday To-Do List: 1) Donut at Farmers Market. 2) Re-Build Trail

The crossing is just below the “R” in “Reedy Creek on the map.

All of the rain we’ve received lately has done a number on the Reedy Creek crossing in Forest Hill Park. Heck, it’s done a number on pretty much every trail segment in the James River Park System (and other assorted trails in the region), but this spot is particularly bad. This Saturday, RVA MORE and the city trail crew will be having a work day to do some repairs to the crossing.

If you want to contribute to the rebuilding effort, meet at 9 a.m. on Saturday, October 13th at the creek crossing. You can enter the trail where it crosses the paved path at the southern end of the park close to Forest Hill Ave. From there it is a short walk down to the creek crossing.

Bring gloves, sturdy work shoes and water. Keep in mind that the farmers market will be running at Forest Hill Park, so parking could be tight closer to the Stone House parking lot. That also means delicious donuts (and other goodies) will be available as pre-trail-building fuel. Street parking further down Forest Hill Avenue near the Patrick Henry School could be another option. Any cancellation will be sent out via email and posted on the rvaMORE facebook page.

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Hike4Kids is Perfect Way to Spend a Fall Day

Soon enough this warm, humid weather will dissipate, and I don’t know about you, but it can’t come soon enough.

Crisp. Of all the weather-related words — literally, all of them — crisp is my favorite. Crisp is flannel and camping and pumpkins and pumpkin beer and apples and apple cider and hard apple cider and outdoor fires. Crisp makes me want to get outside and stay there. If you feel similarly, and you want an excuse to get your family outside, too, join me at the Hike4Kids, the annual hike-athon fundraiser from our good friends at Blue Sky Fund, on Oct. 27th.

Last year over 200 participants chose three different distances — 3, 8, and 14 miles — all on trails in the James River Park System, started/finished at Virginia War Memorial, and generally had a blast. This year should be much the same.

All hikes start and end at the Virginia War Memorial. The after party features local food trucks and beer from Vasen Brewing. And your participation benefits an incredible non-profit dedicated to enriching the lives of Richmond’s inner-city kids through experiential outdoor education.

To learn more and register, click here. Then join me and my family for what hopefully will be a beautiful (and crisp) morning on the trails!

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Waterfall Roadtrip: Hazel Falls a Shenandoah Hidden Gem

(Thanks to VirginiaTrailGuide.com for all the pics in this entry.)

Right now it doesn’t exactly feel like waterfall hunting weather. But it will again soon, I promise. And when it does, you need to be ready. A couple of weeks ago, I featured a road trip to Nottoway Falls, an entry in my 2015 book — Hiking Waterfalls in Virginia – A Guide to the State’s Best Waterfall Hikes. That one is only about an hour from Richmond. Today’s entry is further afield — in the northern part of the Central district of Shenandoah National Park — but it has a little bit of everything and is totally worth the drive.

Taking in the beauty of Hazel Falls. Note the caves to the side of the falls. (Credit: VirginiaTrailGuide.com)

Hazel Falls isn’t one of Shenandoah’s most well known waterfall hikes — that title probably goes to Whiteoak Canyon — but it should be. In addition to the respectable 20-foot drop on Hazel River, you’ll find a moderate/strenuous, 5.1-mile hike; a gorgeous swimming hole at the bottom; and a broad, deep cave behind and next to the falls. What’s not to like, right?

Ok, so I’ve sold you. Here are the directions to the Hazel Mountain Overlook, which is just north of Hazel Mountain Trailhead, where the hike begins. Like most hikes in SNP that start on Skyline Drive, this one is a relatively simple down the mountain and back up, about 2.5ish miles each way. But if you’re the kind of person that could get lost in Costco, here are the miles and directions:

0.0 Miles: Begin hiking on the Hazel Mountain Trail (the concrete post at the trailhead calls it the Hazel Mountain “Road.”); 0.4: Buck Ridge Trail forks off to the left. Stay on Hazel Mountain Trail; 1.6: Go left onto the White Rocks Trail; 2.4: Turn right onto the Cave and Falls Trail; 2.5ish: Arrive at Hazel Falls.

Back in 2014, when I did the hike, it took me about 2.5 hours. But with the swimming hole and the cave to explore, I recommend taking a lunch and hanging out by the falls for as long as you can. You will not regret it!

The swimming hole at Hazel Falls is surprisingly deep. (Credit: VirginiaTrailGuide.com)

 

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Pocahontas State Park Receives $30,000 for New Trail System

The Friends of Pocahontas State Park has been awarded a $20,000 grant from REI Richmond along with a $10,000 grant from Dominion Energy. The combined $30,000 was given with the express intent of adding more hiking-specific trails to Pocahontas State Park’s already flourishing trail system.

Grant Smith, Store Manager from Richmond REI, presented a check to Friends member Jeff Samuels and Park Manager Joshua Ellington Thursday, July 5. Samuels, who has been with the Friends group since 2007 and is currently serving as the Director of Hiking Trails, explained the funding would go toward the construction of a new trail on the north shore of Swift Creek Lake.

Ellington has been park manager at Pocahontas State Park since 2015 and is extremely grateful of the community support. Opening new trails is a labor intensive process, says Ellington, “We couldn’t do it without our volunteers, the friends group and corporate beneficiaries…Thank you for continuing to make Pocahontas State Park a better place for this whole community.”

Development for the new trail system is scheduled to begin in August. Completed sections of
new trail will open to the public as early as September 2018.

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Head to a Va. State Park for Special Programs on National Trails Day

Walking and hiking are the top activities in Virginia’s 37 state parks, according to visitor surveys. That makes Saturday (June 2nd) — National Trails Day — the perfect day to head out to a state (or local) park and hit the dirt.

Join Va. State Parks as they participate in the American Hiking Society’s annual National Trails Day celebration. All 37 state parks are offering some sort of special trail programming and/or volunteer projects to help keep the trails in great shape for the more than 10 million annual visitors.

To find special programs at a park near you, check this listing. There are three state parks — Pocahontas, Powhatan and Bear Creek Lake — within an hour of downtown Richmond. But if you’d rather stay more local, check out this previous piece we ran that has some options for trail volunteering on Saturday.

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Celebrate National Trails Day on June 2nd

It’s not too early to start planning for National Trails Day on June 2nd, and RVA MORE, Richmond’s mountain biking/trail building club has the scoop on a number of events happening in the James River Park System and Pocahontas State Park. Information below:

Trail work with REI and Friends of Pocahontas State Park
Enjoy breakfast and then work on a hiking trail alongside REI and the Friends of Pocahontas State Park. Click here to find all the details for this event.

James River Park System 
Mountain Bike Ride with RVA MORE
Location: 21st Street parking lot
Along with the social mountain bike ride, there will be many other events happening around the river including guided hikes and trail runs! Booths will be set up in different areas where you can learn more about the outdoor organizations and programs involved with supporting the JRPS! Click here to view the full schedule for this event.

Pocahontas State Park
Trail work with rvaMORE and Bell Joy Ride.  After working on a mountain bike trail, there will be a women’s social ride and cookout with Molly’s Bicycle Shop. Click here to register for this event.

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New Events Highlight 2018 Riverrock

(Home page image courtesy of Riverrockrva.com)

Every year the Sports Backers have the challenge of keeping Riverrock, the annual outdoor recreation and music festival, feeling fresh for the 100,000 or so Central Virginians who will descend on the Brown’s Island area in mid-May. This year is no different. The three-day event will feature several new events and challenges over the course of the May 18-20 festival weekend.

Bouldering at Riverrock. Credit: Sports Backers

New events taking place on Friday, May 18, include the Mountain Bike Time Trial and Belle Isle Blitz. In the Mountain Bike Time Trial, participants will set out to get the fastest finishing time on a rugged course on the James River Park System trails. The time trial starts at 6:30 p.m., and riders will go off in one-minute intervals. At 7:15 p.m. on Friday, the Belle Isle Blitz is a chip-timed race over a roughly 5k course that will offer a fun and unique challenge to hard-core trail runners. Starting on the south side of the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge and finishing in the Belle Isle parking lot, the Blitz also features a dog wave for participants who want to take on the trails with their four-legged friends by their side.

On Saturday, May 19, the inaugural Sierra Nevada Down River Paddle takes place at 11:30 a.m. Using their kayak, canoe, or SUP, participants will take off in one-minute intervals, starting at Reedy Creek. They will battle some of the river’s most challenging rapids as they race to the finish at the 14th street takeout, with the fastest male and female times winning.

On May 20, the Sunday Funday Ride allows bike riders of all ages to take part in a casual cruise while exploring the best of RVA. Setting off at 1:30pm, the Sunday Funday Ride features a 10-mile and 25-mile course option, and, for those still in need of a little friendly competition, the ride will feature several timed segments through Strava, where riders can compete for bragging rights. Both courses will start in the Belle Isle parking lot and will include one on-course aid station.

These new additions to Dominion Energy Riverrock will also help form two new weekend-long challenges: the River Rumble and Trail Trio. The River Rumble, a combination of running, paddling, and biking, is comprised of the James River Scramble 10k trail run, the Sierra Nevada Down River Paddle, and the Urban Assault Mountain Bike Race. A male and female will be crowned River Rumble champion based on the fastest combined time in all three events, and the Rumble will challenge participants’ endurance on Richmond’s signature trails and rapids. River Rumble participants will also receive a discount on their overall entry and a unique River Rumble participant shirt, while the champions will earn additional, and well-deserved, bragging rights.

The Trail Trio, incorporating the Belle Isle Blitz, James River Scramble, and Bust the Banks trail half marathon, will be a true test of trail running skill over a three-day span. The Trail Trio offers challenges at a variety of distances and takes participants to the North Bank Trail, Buttermilk Trail, Belle Isle, Potterfield Bridge, and Brown’s Island in pursuit of the special Trail Trio finisher medal and legendary status, among other finisher items.

Registration for all Dominion Energy Riverrock events and challenges is currently open. Click here for more information and to register.

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