‘Hike for Kids’ an Adventure for the Whole Family


Blue Sky Fund kids on a hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Credit: Blue Sky Fund

If you’ve got a hole in your schedule for the upcoming weekend, I’ve got an event your outdoorsy family will love.

The Blue Sky Fund is an East End-based nonprofit which seeks to enrich the lives of Richmond’s urban youth through transformational experiences in the outdoors. One of its annual fundraisers is the Hike for Kids, and it’s happening this Saturday!

Choose between 5ish-, 10ish- and 17ish-mile hikes, all starting and ending at Legend Brewery in Manchester and employing the world famous James River Park System trails. There’ll be a party with food, beer, music, a raffle and much more at the finish line. The cost is only $35, and kids 12 and under hike for free!

Don’t think your 5-year-old can handle a 5-mile hike? The short hike is an out and back on Buttermilk Trail; turn around whenever the little tyke gets tired and get the party started early!

Check out the event page for more info on this one-of-a-kind event.

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High Bridge Trail State Park Offers Variety of Great Ways to Explore Farmville

High Bridge Trail State Park in Farmville

This past weekend I spent the day hiking and biking the High Bridge Trail State Park in and around Farmville. The weather was perfect and the trip wound up being a rewarding physical challenge.

High Bridge Trail State ParkThe trail is a former rail bed and the surface is crushed and compacted limestone, suitable for whatever bike style you prefer. At 31 miles long, it’s primarily programmed for hiking, bicycling and horseback riding. It is approximately 10-12 feet wide (think double track) and there are no steep climbs or downhills – remember, trains once ran this hills and trains don’t like steep climbs and descents.

It is easy to know where you are at all times as the trail is well-marked, with distance markers every half mile. Most of the entire corridor is at least partially shaded and there are few road crossings due to the power that railroad companies have always had in limiting interruptions to safe passage for their trains.

The most significant feature of the park is the High Bridge itself. It is more than 2,400 feet long and 125 feet above the Appomattox River. It is the longest recreational bridge in Virginia and among the longest in the United States, according to the Virginia State Parks.

If you are hiking, most visitors park at the River Road trailhead and walk about a mile to the bridge. The view of the valley below and the Appomattox from the bridge is fantastic and certainly the highlight for most visitors.

High Bridge Trail State Park in Farmville

In my handful of previous visits to High Bridge, I had only biked the trail. I usually park in Farmville and bike the 10-mile round-trip to the bridge and back. This trip, I had more time (and my family didn’t come with me), so I decided to hike 4.5 miles from Farmville, after leaving my bike at River Road for the return trip.

I was ambitious, hoping to bike the entire trail (62 miles, out and back) after hiking 8 miles. I fell short, calling it quits after biking 37 miles. It was a lot hotter than I expected and I ran out of water (dumb) and energy (I shouldn’t have skimped on lunch). I never made it east of the High Bridge, missing out on the towns of Rice, Moran and the east end of the trail, which is located just shy of Burkeville.

Because the trail is a former railway line, it is a better match for the speed of a cyclist or on horseback. Other than the bridge, there just isn’t as much to see for hikers and the distances are too great, but Virginia State Parks is working on that.

Under the bridge at High Bridge Trail State Park in FarmvilleThis summer, they opened a spur trail (not bikeable) on the south end of the bridge at Camp Paradise, an earthen fortification from the Civil War. The loop trail offers a chance to see the structure from underneath the bridge and to walk along the banks of the Appomattox.

Seeing the massive bridge from below was amazing. It was originally built in 1853 and has been through many upgrades and repairs and has obviously seen its share of history. The steel girders and ancient brick piers are so much more impressive up close from underneath.

From a cycling standpoint, one thing I’ll say about trying to bike the entire trail – it is mentally tougher to tame than I expected. I’ve biked that distance before, but not after first hiking 8 miles. That wasn’t it. Maybe it was the lack of cold water or hunger messing with me, but the trail west of Farmville has a monotonous sameness to it. And it seemed like it was uphill both ways.

Headed west from Farmville, as I rounded each bend, I continually expected some downhill. When I reached the end of the trail in Pamplin City, I figured I’d turn around and coast back into have a beer once I got back to Farmville. Didn’t happen. Even after looking at the topography after my ride, I’m still not convinced the trail isn’t uphill in each direction.

Enough about me. I witnessed lots of families out for perhaps their first distance bike ride. One such family said they made it about halfway from Farmville, decided it was too long and turned around. The mother promised they would be back, saying that they were working on improving their endurance.

If you go, Farmville is about 60 miles from Richmond. Expect a parking fee at the state park trailheads ($2 to $3 depending on the day of the week). Parking at the trailhead in Farmville was free.

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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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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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Urban Adventure After Dark (With Your Dog)

As the daylight hours dwindle, it can be a challenge to get your dog out for a nice walk in the sunshine, especially if you work until 5 or 6 p.m. Since you can’t venture out into the James River Park System at night, here is a list of places in the city that are well lit and not super busy. These destinations can provide an opportunity for your dog to get some exercise and for you to take in some of the interesting sights our fair city has to offer.

Jefferson Park

Jefferson Park is a small greenspace in Church Hill. Although it’s not that large, what makes it a great place to walk after dark is the beautiful view of the city. There is plenty of grass for dogs to enjoy and it is pretty well lit throughout without any dark patches. The nearby streets are also well lit so a longer walk is definitely possible.

Main Street Station

Downtown and Shockoe can be fun to walk at night. If you and your dog start at 9th and Cary streets and walk down Cary through the cobblestones to 15th and then cross over to Main St, you can check out Main Street Station and the empty 17th St Farmer’s Market. Walking that route is a bit over a mile, and it’s easy to continue on as long or as short of a walk as you want. This route is well lit and has a good amount of foot traffic.


The VMFA is one of my favorite places to walk at night. It is really pretty with all of the outdoor sculptures, fountains and a reflecting pool. As you walk up the stairs up the hill, there is water flowing down the other half of the stairs, and it is always funny to see dogs’ reactions to it. If you bring a long leash, it’s also a nice place for dogs to get to run around in the grass. I like to start at Monument Avenue and walk down Boulevard to the VMFA down to Grove and then come back, which is about a mile.


Around VCU can be a great place to walk around later at night because it’s not as busy as it is during the day or early evening. The wide walkways are great for dogs that prefer having more space in passing by people. I often walk my reactive dog around VCU because I find that we’re less likely to see a bunch of dogs. The bonus of walking around VCU is that my dogs always get complimented for being cute!

These are just a few options for city dog walking after dark, but the possibilities are endless! Carytown can also be a nice place to walk around at night, and Forest Hill Park is decently lit, although with some dark patches, so it can be great to walk closer to dawn or twilight. Get your dog out for some fun urban adventuring and they will be so grateful!

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Tuckahoe Creek Park to be Completed by April

Years ago, I wrote a column in the Times-Dispatch about Tuckahoe Creek on the Henrico/Goochland line, describing it as a hidden gem more accessible for wildlife than humans. Well, it looks like that could change, although luckily not too much.

The T-D’s Laura Kebede wrote in Wednesday’s paper that 26 years after it was approved in a bond referendum, Tuckahoe Creek Park soon will become a reality. Construction of the park, about 20 acres along the creek at the end of Ridgefield Parkway in western Henrico, is slated to start in December and be completed in April, Kebede wrote. Several attempts to develop a larger swath of land suitable for parking, access to the creek and other amenities failed, said Neil Luther, director of the Division of Recreation and Parks.

I remember seeing mallards, wood ducks and other waterfowl when I visited for my column back in 2009. And the landowner talked about the beaver dams in the area and bass fishing from the bank. The creek in that area is wide, shallow and marshy, creating incredible wildlife habitat. Only after rains is it navigable for canoes and kayaks, but when it’s up, it’s a gorgeous float, I was told.

From the T-D: The Henrico Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a $397,793 contract for construction of a 525-foot boardwalk along the creek and wetlands. The park will be accessible only by walking and will not include a parking lot or boat ramp, Luther said. The department’s plan calls for a park “very passive in nature” for walking and fishing after residents in four community meetings expressed a desire for a neighborhood park. The boardwalk trail will be accessible for people with disabilities and include sitting areas.

Keep an eye out next spring for Tuckahoe Creek Park’s opening. It’ a hidden gem worth uncovering.

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Henrico, Chesterfield Candidates Questioned on Bike/Ped Issues

The Sports Backers have come out with a handy map in an effort to educate Chesterfield and Henrico County residents on where their Board of Supervisors candidates stand on walking and biking issues. To generate the map, Bike Walk RVA distributed a questionnaire to all candidates running for Board of Supervisors in those two counties and asked them five questions about the future of walking and biking in their communities.

(Bike Walk RVA, a program of Sports Backers, stressed that it is a non-partisan, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization and does NOT support, or oppose, candidates or political parties. Bike Walk RVA’s candidate questionnaire is strictly educational in nature.)

The five questions had to do with generally improving walking and biking in the counties, issues of health and equity, the future of policies and plans that lead to walking and biking infrastructure on the ground, and funding of those projects.

Bike Walk RVA received responses from 12 out of the 17 candidates running in Chesterfield and Henrico Counties, and compiled the responses in their interactive online map. The map can be viewed directly at this URL: http://bitly.com/BikeWalkRVACandidateQuestionnaire

“In Chesterfield and Henrico Counties, many of our plans, policies, and funding decisions are shaped by the Board of Supervisors, including the future of paved trails, bike lanes, sidewalks, safe neighborhood streets, and other infrastructure that would make walking and biking safe and convenient,” said Max Hepp-Buchanan, Director of Bike Walk RVA. “Our goal here is not to endorse candidates, but rather educate voters on where those candidates stand on walking and biking issues prior to the November 3 election.”

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New JRPS Audio Tours Feature Ralph White

On a recent mountain bike ride, James River Park Superintendent Nathan Burrell told me about some audio tours recently developed featuring of different places in the JRPS. They’re narrated by Ralph White, he said. History, ecology and geology discussed as well as other noteworthy aspects of places like Pony Pasture, Belle Isle and the Floodwall (and more). I had intended to write a piece about the tours then, but it totally slipped my mind until today when the Friends of the James River Park mentioned them in their monthly newsletter.

There are layers of history on Belle Isle that the walking tour will help you discover. Credit: Ed Holden

There are layers of history on Belle Isle that the walking tour will help you discover. Credit: Ed Holden

Here are the details from their post: For your free walking-tour pleasure, you need only a mobile device and an internet connection. You’ll hear about what you are seeing, how it got there, and some of the reasons why the JRPS is special and worth preserving! Listen to any of the tours listed below at www.righthereonce.org:

The first three tours were written and narrated by Ralph White and produced and developed by Vaughn Whitney Garland with financial support from The Friends of the James River Park. The two geology tours were produced by Anne Wright for the Science In The Park website, developed by Vaughn Whitney Garland, and narrated by Ralph White.

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Va. Capital Trail: ‘It’s a Place to Exhale’

I spent a good part of yesterday morning on an old school bus, chugging down Route 5 next to the brand spanking new Virginia Capital Trail. I was part of a media contingent brought together by Beth Weisbrod, head of the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation, to see the finished product and ask questions of those along the way who have a vested interest in its success.

We started at Great Shiplock Park in Richmond, stopped at Rocketts Landing, then went out to Ronnie’s Barbecue in Varina and on to Henrico County’s new trailhead just past I-295 at Four Mile Creek Park. Weisbrod and VCTF board chair Charlie Donato led the way, giving us the history of the trail and telling us about the series of parties that will take place this coming Saturday up and down the trail’s length to commemorate its completion. We met Rocketts residents who are already seeing the quality of life benefits and a Stone Brewing spokesperson who told us how excited Stone is to have the trail so close to its East Coast operations. We met Ronnie and Darrell Logan, of Ronnie’s BBQ, who have seen an uptick in traffic since moving to their location right on the trail in Varina in May (“It’s a place to exhale,” said Ronnie). And we met Henrico Co. officials who spoke about the linkages the trail provides between communities and the future plans they have for the path.

It’s was an interesting morning, but what I really wanted was to get on the trail with my own two wheels. So later yesterday afternoon, despite the impending rain, I hopped on the mountain bike with a friend, Dave Salley, and we pointed our wheels in the direction of the trail. It started raining around Brown’s Island and by the time we reached the trail’s beginning at the Floodwall across from Bottom’s Up Pizza, we were soaked.

But it was also nice. We had this gorgeous ribbon of freshly paved asphalt all to ourselves. We rode to Ronnie’s before turning around, a round trip of about 12 miles. (Then we rode up Libby Hill, 23rd St. and Governor’s St. because…you know.) There’s just something about looking down a path like that and thinking, “If I felt like it, I could ride all the way to Jamestown.”

After 10 years and $74 million, the Virginia Capital Trail is finally here, Richmond, and let me say, it is awesome. I know the weather looks horrendous, but there’s an official ribbon cutting at Great Shiplock Park on Friday (the governor will keynote) and a big old party the following day. Click here for those details. If riding in the rain isn’t your thing, I get it. But whenever this rain breaks, get out there and check out the trail. Like those bike races that just left town, it’ll make you excited to see what we can accomplish when we really want to.

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Take a Walk in the Woods and Support RVA’s Urban Youth

Participants in last year's Hike for Kids. Credit: Blue Sky Fund

Participants in last year’s Hike for Kids. Credit: Blue Sky Fund

In the dark predawn of October 17th, a small crew of hikers will be preparing. They’ll don their headlamps, eat breakfast, and stretch before hitting the trail — the start of a strenuous, 26.8 mile marathon hike through the wooded hollows and rugged cliffs of Shenandoah National Park. This crew won’t be hiking just for fitness or recreation, though they will get those things thrown in; this crew will hike for a purpose.

These hikers are a part of Blue Sky Fund’s Hike for Kids, an annual fundraising event that focuses on getting supporters out and active. Supporters sign up to hike one of three distances—26.8 mile Marathon, 15 mile Half-marathon, or 6.5 mile Finale—and commit to raising funds for the organization independently. The funds raised by the event support Blue Sky’s programs, such as weekly outdoor clubs and summer leadership programs, which seek to provide transformative experiences for urban youth. Blue Sky youth will join for the final 6.5 miles of the hike, providing a space for donors to get to know some of the students that their fundraising and donations support!

Following this year’s hike, everyone will gather for a grand celebration with food, drink, and festivities at Devil’s Backbone Basecamp Brewpub and Meadows. You can find more information and register today at Blue Sky Fund’s website.

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