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Virginia State Parks Set to Reopen Campgrounds on May 22

Virginia State Parks are working toward a goal to reopen campgrounds for Memorial Day Weekend. The announcement to allow for the opening of campgrounds came Friday during Governor Northam’s press conference as part of the state’s Phase One reopening strategy.

Governor Northam announced that while state parks continue to be open for day use, overnight facilities will open following a phased approach beginning with park campgrounds. 

Guests should check the individual park’s website before their visit for the latest updates. Click here for the most up-to-date information regarding available recreational opportunities at Virginia State Parks.

Guests who had a camping reservation canceled with a check-in before May 21 and with a check-out after May 22 will have the portion of their stay after May 21 automatically rescheduled. Those who would like to stay during the available portion of their reservation must update their check-in and payment option. 

A campsite at Powhatan State Park.

Guests who have camping reservations beginning May 22 and later do not need to take any action. Those reservations are still scheduled. Restrooms and campground bathhouses will open beginning May 21. Other park facilities, including camp stores, museums, picnic shelters and visitor centers, will remain closed.

“This public health emergency has affected nearly every aspect of how we operate” said Virginia State Parks Director Melissa Baker. “While we work to safely navigate through the weeks ahead, we are happy to open more of our facilities to the public who will benefit from the increased access to the natural and historical resources the parks provide.”

“It remains very important that guests check the individual park’s website before their visit to get the latest park updates,” Baker added.

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10 Ways to Get Outside Now that Winter is Spring

We might need to update the old saying to, “February showers bring March flowers.” With some trees already blooming in this unseasonably warm winter, it’s been a little easier to get outside and enjoy Richmond’s urban wilderness this year. But with chillier temps and possible snow on the way before spring truly hits, we’ve put together a top-ten list of activities to get you outdoors as the equinox approaches.

Mountain bike the James River Park System and Pocahontas State Park trails

Be sure to check out RVA Trail Report on Instagram for the latest on trail conditions to ensure you have the best time and are helping keep the paths in good shape for everyone. You can also get dirty on upcoming trail maintenance days, like those this past weekend, organized by rvaMORE.

Climb at Manchester Wall

Manchester Wall and its adjacent pillars have beginner-to-intermediate routes for the novice and experienced climber alike. Climbing has inherent risks; before you head to the wall, be sure you know what you’re doing, go with someone who does, or have a local guide company like RVA Climbs show you the ropes.

Get the whole family outside for some citizen science

What’s citizen science? In a nutshell, it’s crowd-sourced data collection from volunteer participants; you contribute to real research projects. It’s a great way to engage your kids in environmental science, and there are plenty of local opportunities to get involved. Learn to identify frog and toad calls on the Virginia Herpetological Society website, and look for future FrogWatch training with local chapters. Register for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count (today is the last day!), or participate in NestWatch to help scientists document the trials and triumphs of nesting birds.

Practice mindfulness in your favorite park

Connecting with nature and practicing awareness are potent activities supporting holistic health, so why not take your meditation, yoga, or other practice of presence outside? If you’re new to bringing mindfulness into nature, Mindful Outdoor RVA is one place to start.

Pick up litter

RVA Clean Sweep and Keep Virginia Cozy are two local organizations dedicated to cleaning up our parks, neighborhoods, and river. Their calendars are both full of events with various themes and times, so get out there and pitch in. Alternatively, take a trash picker on your next hike!

Get certified in Wilderness First Aid (WFA)

MEDIC SOLO is the oldest continuously-operating school of wilderness medicine in the world. They offer a Wilderness First Aid course to equip everyday adventurers and outdoor instructors alike to better handle issues from minor complaints to life-threatening emergencies. What’s the difference between wilderness first aid and regular first aid? “Wilderness” in this context is defined as assistance that is given when definitive care (like a hospital) is more than one hour away. This can include in remote settings or in urban environments when disaster overwhelms the emergency medical system. Get prepared at one of MEDIC SOLO’s upcoming WFA courses in Virginia or nearby:

Go rafting in the off-season

Meltwater and spring rains often bring big water downstream to Richmond in March, and our raft outings fill up fast. We’ll outfit you with everything you need to stay warm and comfortable out on the water. If you’re looking for a unique whitewater adventure before the humid heat of summer, book a trip today.

Learn about local wildlife, volunteer to remove invasive species, and more through JRPS

There are countless workdays and family-friendly activities on the Park System calendar, from invasive species removal and native tree planting on Belle Isle to the Owl Prowl at Pony Pasture.

Hit the trails for some serious exercise

Trail running is one of the best ways to get outside, enjoy our urban wilderness, and get your cardio in. It also happens to have one of the lowest barriers to entry; minimal gear required! Check out REI’s Trail Run Project for local routes.

Connect with nature in less-than-ideal weather

It’s easy to let gloomy mid-winter conditions stop us from venturing outdoors, but some of my most rewarding experiences were those in which the weather wasn’t perfect. I love to gear up and head out to a favorite trail, park, or riverside sit spot when it’s bitterly cold or rainy. Of course, proper preparation and protection from the elements is key, and you should always heed trail closures and use your best judgment. But as our parks get busier and busier, I’ve found this to be a great way to find solitude, see more wildlife, and get more deeply acquainted with our woods and waters across the seasons.

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Melissa Baker Becomes First Woman to Lead Va. State Parks

This news broke just before the holidays when we were working on moving RichmondOutside.com to RiversideOutfitters.com, but I think it’s worth highlighting now. On Dec. 20th, Governor Ralph Northam announced Melissa Baker as the new Virginia State Parks Director, the first woman to hold the position in the park system’s 83-year history.

Baker most recently served as Director of the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department, a cabinet-level position. She will oversee 38 state parks and more than 270 full-time employees. Virginia’s state parks produce $24 million in tax revenue annually, provide 3,800 jobs, and attract 10 million visitors each year.

In North Dakota, Baker oversaw that state’s park system and administered grant programs, including Land and Water Conservation Fund grants. She previously served as chief of operations for Montana State Parks and as a recreation manager for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. She also was a professor of forest recreation at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and taught parks, recreation, and tourism at the University of Maine.

“As Virginia state parks continue to expand and modernize, including the upcoming addition of three new parks, it’s exciting to bring in a fresh perspective and new leadership,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler.

Virginia State Parks have an amazing history, and I look forward to being a part of the next chapter,” said Baker. “I was drawn to this position by the broad diversity of recreational and outdoor opportunities throughout the Commonwealth and by the dedicated and professional state park staff and I look forward to making Virginia State Parks a welcoming and exciting place for all Virginians.”

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RichmondOutside.com to Live on at Riverside Outfitters

As of today, RichmondOutside.com, RVA’s only outdoor recreation news source, will paddle its content down the James to RiversideOutfitters.com. This change has been in the works for months now as fellow RichmondOutside founder, Ryan Abrahamsen, and myself moved into an ownership role at Riverside Outfitters.

All that changes today is where you find us online. Richmond Outside will still be out there searching for great outdoor rec stories and reporting the news of the outdoor world in Central Va. Now you’ll just go to RiversideOutfitters.com to find us — and our related projects, like the View from Treehouse Podcast and the RVA Osprey Cam. Our social media — Facebook and Instagram — will remain under the Richmond Outside name.

As usual, we’d love to hear from you, Richmond lovers of the outdoors. What should we be reporting and shining a light on? We think RVA has an incredible outdoor scene, and we want to cover every angle of it. So, shoot me an email at andy@richmondoutside.com and let me know what you think.

Here’s to new homes and new beginnings!

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BridgePark Shares Broad Vision

The ambitious BridgePark project recently completed its Vision Stage. The design team went back to work, community meetings started back up, and the vaunted BridgePark architectural model went back on the road. We now have a plan as prodigious as ever and are in the process of sharing it with each of you in every way we can. So what is it?

BridgePark is a proposed linear public park that would span the James River and connect the riverfront experience to the city center on both sides of the James. The park would transform 9th Street and Commerce Street (including a portion of the Manchester Bridge over the beautiful James River) into a world-class destination for biking, walking, art, education, events, and community engagement.

The non-profit Richmond BridgePark Foundation proposes connecting downtown neighborhoods to the riverfront and each other by a series of park spaces, with a linear greenway acting as connective tissue. The park system aims to bring the wonderful James River experience to the city level of downtown and to neighborhoods far too long separated from this amazing natural wonder, creating key access points to viewsheds of the James, and pathways to the James River Park.

In total, the path of the park travels two plus miles from Leigh Street in the north, descending south along 9th Street, across the Manchester Bridge, and traveling on Commerce Street to Hull Street and beyond. The route represents a key north-south spine in the heart of downtown, with a goal of promoting related connective parks and paths along its way and at its edges. Discussions are already underway related to other community spaces the plans may prompt.

The currently proposed path includes VCU’s downtown campus, the John Marshall House, the State Capitol, Kanawha Plaza, Brown’s Island, the Manchester Climbing Wall, and the fine grain of the South side’s historic streets. In total, the route passes five national historic landmarks, and is within a short walk of five more. The park would also stitch the two sides of downtown together, effectively linking both the downtown business district and the historic neighborhoods on each of its edges to the river, and to each other, giving us an entirely new way to experience the City. At the park’s center is the soul of the city, the James River.

So, how does this work? In large part, the plans merely call for a rethinking of existing infrastructure. The Manchester Bridge, and much of the street grid on either side, is overbuilt and underused by motor vehicles. The plans envision a sharing of that space with bicycle and pedestrian paths and park spaces, employing a “road diet,” whereby traffic lanes are redone to accommodate multiple modes of transportation. In so doing, transportation options could be separated from one another by physical barriers, while at the same time bringing park features like plantings, benches, public art, and canopies for shelter. The system would both meet the multi-modal needs of a modern city and match our values as a river city defined by outdoor recreation.

Further, opportunities at Kanawha Plaza and the parking lot at 7th and Semmes could be leveraged to create large gateway parks to the river, essentially transforming those places from separated, sleepy spaces into connected, activated river-related parks. Finally, the underused and awkward concrete path in the middle of the Manchester Bridge would make quite a bicycle expressway. A point of emphasis for the project is making greenspace and the James River a “city-level” experience.

While the James River Park System is a spectacular and unparalleled experience, downtown itself lacks sufficient greenspace and a sense of physical and spiritual connection to the river. There is a jarring difference between how the river looks and feels versus parts of the city that are yards away from it. This feeling is the result of overbuilt roadways and inaccessible sidewalks at city level and the fact that the city sits five to seven stories above the river at the center of downtown. BridgePark aims to create new city-level views of, and paths to, the beautiful James. Similarly, stark parts of downtown with excess concrete would be rethought as green avenues to the river, in a nod to the way the watershed once was.

The plans propose public gathering spaces on both sides of the Manchester Bridge that would bring spectacular views of the river, serve as places of education, contemplation, and celebration, and emotionally and physically connect visitors to the river level. Thus, both city and park-level users could “choose their own adventure,” with, for example, all of BridgePark, Brown’s Island, the Potterfield Bridge, the Belle Isle pedestrian bridge, the Manchester climbing wall, and flood wall within their sites. We believe, wherever you are in downtown Richmond, the beauty, tranquility, and energy of the James should serve you.

BridgePark is first and foremost a park for the community by the community. To date, we have involved a wide array of Richmonders with intention, favored stewardship over speed and thoughtfulness over ease. Similarly, this series seeks to inform the public and create a dialogue that improves the project. We ask you to read and respond, and, in so doing, continue to help us elevate RVA.

Write us at info@bridgeparkrva.com; view the large project site model on the ground floor of the West Tower of Riverfront Plaza; sign up for our newsletters at Bridgeparkrva.com.

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Hop On Board For #BlueSkiesAhead!

Our friends at the Blue Sky Fund have a big 36 hours ahead of them, and they need your help! Their annual Blue Skies Ahead campaign began at 8 a.m. this morning with a goal of $25,000 over the next 36 hours. (Unfamiliar with the Blue Sky Fund? It’s an East End-based non-profit that offers transformational experiences for urban youth through outdoor education.)

BSF needs your help to put the wheels of their bus in motion – literally! The Blue Sky Fund bus is currently parked at their office in Church Hill, gassed up and ready to roll on new outdoor adventures for over 3,300 students … but before they can head to their first destination, they have to reach their first fundraising mile marker of $5,000.

Here’s how you can help them spin out of this concrete block and head on down the road to enjoy green space and blue skies at Chimborazo Park!

Your support is the fuel BSF needs to keep our wheels going round and round en route to our final destination – Brown’s Island – at which an additional $15,000 will be unlocked thanks to the generosity of Blue Sky Family of Supporters! Come along for the #BlueSkiesAhead ride!

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James River Rages to Historic Level

The James River is absolutely thundering through Richmond right now. If you haven’t been down to a bridge or (what used to be) the water’s edge, do it today. Why go check out this flood specifically? After all, the James has been plenty high many times this past monsoon-feeling year. Well, because this one is especially big.

I was looking back through the recent crests of the James River measured at the Westham Gauge and found that if the river reaches its predicted crest of 15.9 feet this evening, that would be the highest it’s risen since January 27, 2010, when it hit 18.1 feet. As of this writing, the river is coursing past Westham at 15.68 feet.

In other words, it’s been almost a decade since the James River has been as high as it will be this afternoon. That’s a spectacle you don’t want to miss!

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Virginia Tech Report: Va. State Parks Stimulated $250M in Visitor Spending in 2018

Virginia State Parks helped stimulate more than $249.1 million in visitor spending in 2018, according to a new economic impact report compiled by the Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business.

The report adds to the growing catalog of data documenting how Virginia State Parks contributes to Virginia’s economy.

“The economic impact of Virginia’s state park system has continually trended upward in recent years,” said report author Dr. Vince Magnini of Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business. “Because most Virginia State Parks are in rural areas, this impact makes valuable contributions in the state’s regions most in need of such economic activity.”

With 733 acres, seven miles of shoreline on the Northern Neck’s Rappahannock River, and access to Mulberry and Deep creeks, Belle Isle SP lets visitors explore a wide variety of tidal wetlands interspersed with agricultural fields and upland forests. Credit: DCR

Magnini cites numerous factors contributing to the increase, including the construction of yurts, the addition of parks, such as Natural Bridge State Park and Widewater State Park, and a system-wide focus on increased customer service.

According to the report:

– In 2018, visitors to Virginia’s State Parks spent an estimated $249.1 million in the state. About 46 percent, $113 million, of this spending was by out-of-state visitors.

– The total economic activity stimulated by Virginia State Parks during 2018 was approximately $338 million.

– The total economic impact of Virginia State Parks in 2018 was approximately $267 million. Economic impact is a measure of “fresh money” infused into the state’s economy that likely would have not been generated without the park system.

– At the individual park level, economic impacts range from $961,000 to $31 million.

– In 2018, for every $1 of general tax revenue allocated to state parks, $14.06, on average, was generated in fresh money that would not be there if not for Virginia State Parks.

– Regarding employment, the economic activity stimulated by visitation to Virginia State Parks supported approximately 3,858 jobs in the state in 2018.

– In terms of wages and income, the economic activity spawned by Virginia State Parks was responsible for roughly $133 million in wage and salary income in 2018.

– Economic activity stimulated by Virginia State Parks generated about $24 million in state and local tax revenues during 2018. As such, $1.26 in state and local taxes were generated for every dollar of tax money spent on the park system.

“The report documents what we’ve known for years: State parks are an economic engine in local communities and they provide an extraordinary return on investment for Virginia taxpayers,” said Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Director Clyde Cristman. “Last year, out-of-state visitors spent around $113 million as the result of our state park system – an incredible return on only $18.9 million in general fund appropriations.”

The report notes that state parks improved the lives of all Virginians. According to the report, parks have a substantial positive influence on the value of nearby real estate and attract a steady stream of visitors who insulate the economy from economic downturns. Parks are also valued by non-visitors.

For the full Virginia State Parks Economic Impact Report 2018, click here (PDF). For more information about Virginia State Parks, visit www.virginiastateparks.gov .

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Ahoy, Volunteers! Lend a Hand on the Northbank Trail Project

Work on the new Northbank connector trail is moving right along with another great turnout at the work day last Saturday. I went out the previous week to the new trail segment just below the houses on Kansas Avenue and was impressed both by how much had been done and how much work remained. Well, last Saturday, a big group of volunteers put in a full morning of moving rock and digging trail through what I could have sworn was an impenetrable stand of bamboo.

If you missed the first few volunteer days for this epic project, you’re in luck: work continues this coming Saturday at 9 a.m. This time crews will focus on creating some crib walls, trail bench cutting and doing some fence repairs. Meet at the Texas Beach parking lot (click here for map) at 9 a.m. with some sturdy work boots and a willingness to get dirty.

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Gift Protects 3 Appomattox River Islands

Check out this cool news from our friends at the Capital Region Land Conservancy:

Even for a land trust, it isn’t every day someone offers you a gift of an island, let alone three. In early November, the Capital Region Land Conservancy received just such an overture from Joan Cowan proposing a donation of Grape Island, Hyde Island, and Watson Glenn Island in the Appomattox River in southern Chesterfield County.

The islands that are part of the easement total nearly 9.5 acres of land.

CRLC’s staff and Board of Directors acted swiftly in the waning days of 2018 to take ownership of this property in the portion of the Appomattox River designated as a state scenic river since 1977. By the time the new year had begun, significant due diligence and the transfer of the islands to CRLC’s ownership were complete. In working with both Chesterfield County and another local nonprofit, Friends of the Lower Appomattox (FOLAR), CRLC was able to plan for the islands’ future. The change in ownership and the eventual public accessibility of the islands align with the Appomattox River Trail master plan FOLAR drafted in 2017.

“We were pleased to facilitate the connection between Mrs. Cowan, CRLC, and Chesterfield County as part of our mission to conserve and protect the Appomattox River for all to enjoy,” said Wendy Austin, FOLAR Executive Director. “We look forward to future opportunities to work together with CRLC to benefit the health of the river and our communities.”

The cluster of small, forested isles lies down river from Brasfield Dam and the Lake Chesdin Reservoir and total about nine and a half acres. The islands are visible from the southeastern side of the river from the wheelchair accessible Lower Appomattox River Trail System that runs from Ferndale Appomattox Riverside Park in Dinwiddie County to the west for a mile and a half along a historic canal tow path. On the northeastern side of the river, the islands are in close proximity to the 87-acre John J. Radcliffe Conservation Area and its canoe/kayak launch about a mile upriver in Chesterfield County. The protection of these islands therefore has great scenic value for visitors on the water as well as those who may never step foot on or paddle by the islands.

The magic attendant to islands, associated in the imagination and the arts with a sense of retreat and exploration, inspired the gift from their former owner and donor Mrs. Cowan who noted the many adventures they afforded family and friends while also allowing her “… to escape from all of the world for a week of peace and quiet while on my own little oasis … painting the peaceful settings of nature.” It is Mrs. Cowan’s wish that the islands be available to the public for their own respite and enjoyment without damage to their natural resources and no hunting of the resident wildlife.

Though the islands will not be open to the public during the time they are in CRLC’s ownership, CRLC is working to transfer them to Chesterfield County’s Department of Parks and Recreation so future nature lovers will be free to make any of the islands a stop on their excursions through a section of the river notable for its sense of remoteness. Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors’ member Steve Elswick said, “Every community has places of importance to them that deserve protection. It’s this part of our region that is particularly special to me and those in the Matoaca district that celebrate our river. We thank CRLC for working to preserve these islands and the many opportunities they afford us now and in the future.”

The Appomattox in winter repose.
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