The James River Association made it official on Thursday: The Chickahominy River in Henrico County is open for business. About two dozen people showed up to dedicate the new public river access spot that RichmondOutside.com first wrote about last Friday.
The Grapevine Bridge Access Site is located beside the bridge where N. Airport Road (State Route 156) crosses the Chickahominy, and utilizes a Virginia Department of Transportation commuter parking lot near the bridge as a parking area and trailhead. It includes a dedicated path down to the river’s edge just west of the bridge, as well as a new sign that indicates the project is part of the John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. The trail is the first and only access point along the Chickahominy in Henrico County and will also be a part of JRA’s Chickahominy Water Trail.
“It won’t be anything like the James,” said Jamie Brunkow, Lower James Riverkeeper with the JRA. “It makes for a real adventure.”
He noted that paddlers can easily navigate three to four miles downstream and back without any real challenges. Going further requires comfort with traversing water-level trees and beaver dams, but he says it is possible to navigate all the way to the James, 30 miles downstream, if you’re up for the challenge.
“This has been over two years in the making,” Brunkow said. He added that the new ramp would not have been possible without the cooperation of Henrico County and the VDOT. Both entities will assist JRA in maintaining the site in the future. Brunkow pointed out that the site isn’t just for paddlers, as it makes for a great spot for fishing as well as nature photography.
The National Park Service also was involved in the project. According to John Davy, outdoor recreation planner for the NPS Chesapeake Bay Office, the NPS provided a small grant to get the project going and helped with the historical sign placed at the trail’s entrance. Otherwise, Davy, who was at the ceremony, emphasized that the site was entirely the work of JRA working with Henrico County and VDOT.
Among the attendees was Ryan Mayer, a local Eagle Scout who made a substantial part of this access point his Eagle Scout project. The path from the parking area to the river’s edge includes a 30-foot-long wooden ramp that helps would-be paddlers navigate the steepest part of the walk from parking area to put-in. Mayer oversaw the entire process of creating and installing the ramp. “It took a lot of work,” Mayer said, telling the group that he enlisted help from up to 20 different people, including members of the Deep Run High School Air Force ROTC.
Also attending was Lynn Wilson, who originally suggested that the JRA look at Grapevine Bridge as a place to put a public river-access site. Wilson is a volunteer with JRA’s Chickahominy Swamp Rats program and is the director of the Henricopolis Soil and Water Conservation District.
The Grapevine Bridge Access Site starts at the northern corner of the VDOT parking area with a wood-chip trail that runs through the woods to a steeper part of the Chickahominy’s banks. This is where Mayer’s ramp is. At the water’s edge is a large geo-textile mat that runs into the water and is held in place by metal rivets. According to JRA Outreach Manager Justin Doyle, the mat is made from recycled tires and the rivets were custom made by a local welder.
There are also two new benches, one on the side of the trail and one at the river’s edge, that Brunkow says are made according to a Henrico Parks and Recreation standard that allows them to hold up well in floods. And the final touch is a fishing line recycling bin that is already full of line. Brunkow noted that every part of the project was put together 100 percent by volunteers.
Brunkow acknowledged that the area around the bridge has been used for years by boaters and fishermen to access the river, but doing so meant navigating trails that could be muddy and teeming with poison ivy. And technically, anyone venturing past the chain-link fence surrounding the parking area was trespassing on VDOT property. This project elevates the area around the bridge to that of a small park.