By virtue of being barely more than a mile away from the grocery store I frequent, Rockwood Park on Hull Street has become my default Tuesday walk. Like many Richmond area parks, it is bordered by four-lane highways and housing developments, but with approximately five miles of trails winding through its 163 acres, it is possible to hike into its inner reaches to obtain a feeling of being in a more isolated area than it really is.
If my time is limited, I’ll begin at the nature center and follow the circular route of the 1.3-mile paved White Trail. If I have the extra minutes to enjoy myself as well as get some exercise, I’ll start on the paved Blue Trail, but in .1 mile turn onto the circuit of the natural-surfaced, 1.5-mile Orange Trail that meanders along the shore of 45-acre Gregory Pond. Several interconnecting paths make for numerous variations on the two loops.
I enjoy finding new places to hike as much as anyone else, but there’s also something comforting about visiting a place time and again and becoming familiar with its natural rhythms, as well as those of its visitors. It’s joggers, runners, and those out for a serious cardiovascular workout that I encounter on early morning walks. If I don’t make it out until mid-morning, my trail companions are groups of young stroller-pushing moms conversing with one another. Late afternoon trail users tend to be families with children old enough to appreciate a walk in the woods, while it’s joggers and runners once more as the daylight begins to wane.
However, it’s the seasonal changes that keep drawing me back to Rockwood. By now, of course, the natural world has awoken from its winter slumber and various oak, gum, beech, and hickory trees have fully leafed out. Birds have returned to the area or have passed through on their migration further north. Not long ago, I was lucky enough to catch a rare Richmond-area sight—a loon taking a rest break in Gregory Pond. The white flowers of the arrowhead plants that grow along the pond’s perimeter now add dots of white to the water’s surface. Later summer walks will be brightened by the darting antics of dozens of dragonflies.
With the acrobatic contortions they have to go through to mate, it is a miracle there ever get to be so many dragonflies. The male flies slightly behind the female, and, if she is amenable, he fastens a clasping organ located at the end of his tail into a slot in the back of her neck. This, however, places his sex organs far from the female’s, which are located at the end of her tail. In order to complete the ritual, he must twist his sex organs into a pocket in his abdomen and fill it with sperm. She then swings her abdomen up and puts the end of her tail into his pocket, thereby fertilizing her eggs. Some species of dragonflies do all of this while continuing to fly!
The hot, humid days of late summer will bring forth a plethora of mushroom species, while the mosses covering the rocks of the small streams will be at their most vibrant stage.
Woodpecker sounds will resound throughout the woods when temperatures begin to cool again, as the birds will furiously be trying to fatten up before their insect prey die off in winter. The mixed hardwood forest takes on a new appearance as the leaves begin to change in the fall, and, obviously, the rare Richmond snowfall brings a whole new look to the park.
Of course, many of these natural world changes can be observed in just about any Richmond-area park, but you have to make the effort to get out there to see them—and Rockwood Park’s proximity to a place I have to visit at least once a week makes it easy for me to do so.
Getting there: Take the Hull St./US360 exit from Chippenham Parkway (VA 150), go south on Hull St. and turn into Rockwood Park in not quite 4.5 miles.