A week or so ago I hopped on my mountain bike and headed over to Powhite Park. It’s not far from my house, but like a lot of Richmond MTBers, it doesn’t often occur to me to choose Powhite over better known parks and trails, like Buttermilk, North Bank and Forest Hill Park. Every time I go there I’m reminded of why it keeps drawing me back: the solitude, the likelihood of an animal encounter, and the spiderweb of singletrack options that keep me pedaling until I’m sure I’ve ridden them all.
On the park’s west side, at its lowest point, Powhite Creek runs along Chippenham Parkway and forms a large wetland. It’s usually pondlike, with grasses and water-loving plants and trees ringing it, but on this day the marsh was as dry as I’ve seen. I’m not exactly sure why, but where the trail came near the creek, I gave in to impulse, hopped off my bike and bushwhacked in to find the creek.
I’d explored this area before. It’s one of my favorite places in any Richmond city park. The creek trickles through the woods, meandering toward the James, cutting the soft sand that forms its banks here. There were deer tracks everywhere in the sand and trails leading down from the forest. It was obvious this was a favorite watering hole for whitetails, a place where they are rarely disturbed.
Then I rounded a bend and came upon something I’ve never seen in the city before: a perfectly-built, fully functional beaver dam. If you spend time in Richmond’s parks, you’ll see evidence of beavers all over the place — gnawed sticks, downed saplings, etc. But this was the first true beaver dam I’d come across. Above it a deep pool snaked back toward the wetland. Below it a tiny rivulet — Powhite Creek — escaped through the mesh of sticks and leaf matter.
I sat there taking pictures, listening to the cars rush by on Chippenham and the Powhite parkways, and I couldn’t help but smile. How many places like this exist under the noses of 1 million Central Virginians, I wondered? A lot, probably. We just have to be in the frame of mind to find them.