Pocahontas: Not free, but worth it

January 17, 2013 · 3 minute read

A beaver lodge is among the treasures Pocahontas State Park offers.

Pocahontas State Park was established in 1946 but was administratively combined with the surrounding state forest in 1989, making it the largest park within the state system. Nearly 60 miles of interconnecting old logging roads and pathways are now designated as hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails (open to the latter two in varying degrees), with some of the routes wide and level, and others narrow, less used, and somewhat challenging.

Being so close to the large populations of Richmond and Petersburg, the park is often viewed by its neighbors as more of a municipal than state park. However, unlike most city parks, there is a fee to visit Pocahontas (it’s called a parking fee, but you have to pay to enter). I’m sure many of you, including RichmondOutside.com webmasters, may disagree, but I have always felt it unfair that you and I, the owners of the parks, have to pay to visit them. I know there are the arguments that parks need the money to be maintained, that benefactors of the facilities should pay for their upkeep, and so on. Yet, it is these fees that can discourage the very people that the parks are trying to attract, especially those on a limited income. And yes, I know some of you are going to say that the parking fee for Pocahontas is only $5 a day on weekends. But if Virginia’s neighbor, West Virginia, a state that certainly has fewer financial resources, does not impose a fee to enjoy the vast majority of its parks, cannot the Commonwealth also afford this little bit of benevolence?

Now that my little rant is done, I do want to say: Try not to let this matter of fees keep you from visiting the state parks, including Pocahontas. Laurie and I went there this past fall and had a great time hiking one of the main pathways, the 2.5-mile trail that encircles Beaver Lake. 

There’s an observation deck near the start of the trail that let us look upon the thousands of water lilies crowding the surface. Pawpaw trees and sensitive ferns grew near the pathway as it crossed a number of footbridges. While the spores of many ferns develop on the bottom part of their leaves, those of the sensitive fern grow upon a separate, fertile frond. Making use of another observation platform, we watched a couple of ducks paddling around and an egret trawling the water for a meal.

A few hundred feet later, a boardwalk delivered us across a wet area where ironwood and beech trees inhabit the moist soil. Sadly, the beeches were marred by the inevitable graffiti and love messages that thoughtless people just seem unable to refrain from carving into the bark. The small brown balls we found on the ground were the fruits of the sycamore tree. Made up of numerous tiny nuts covered in tufts of hair, the balls come apart as the temperatures cool in the winter months.

I was happy to see that two of the things I always look for when near a lake or pond in Virginia were here at Pocahontas. The first was a beaver lodge. Constructed primarily of sticks, mud, and leaves, the inside of a beaver’s lodge, which is above the water’s surface, is lined with soft grasses and shredded bark. A small hole in the top lets fresh air in. If you are here in early morning or early evening, and if you are lucky, you might spot one of these rodents swimming toward you or scurrying rather clumsily across the land.

The second thing I always look for appeared just a few moments before the hike came to an end—an osprey in search of food circling twenty feet above us. The male osprey brings a fish back to the female to feed the couple’s young. This can be hard work as each fledgling requires two pound of flesh per day to develop into a healthy adult.

So…even though I don’t particularly like the idea of a state park fee, I didn’t let it stop me from enjoying the natural beauty they offer… and I hope it doesn’t stop you, either.


Please note: A portion of this description is adapted from 50 Hikes in Southern Virginia, available through www.habitualhiker.com.

Getting there: Take I-95 Exit 62 about midway between Richmond and Petersburg. Follow VA 288 west for approximately 7 miles, turn left onto VA 10, and make a right onto VA 655 in an additional 1.3 miles. Bear right into the park on VA 780 in another 4.2 miles. Continue along the main park road and turn left 1.8 miles later to leave your car in the lot next to the CCC Museum.