RVA’s best hike

When I moved to Richmond four years ago I immediately discovered the trails by the James River and found meaning in hiking there. A Monday-through-Friday routine quickly formed in which I hiked to the river from my home in The Fan — 11 miles beginning before dawn. It was a fantastic way to start my day as I trudged early into the darkness with a goal of witnessing the rising sun over the James River and the city of Richmond as I crossed the suspension bridge leading to Belle Isle.

Armed with my hiking sticks, my IPod and headphones, listening to my recorded book in the solitude, at one with nature, the only companion an occasional Canada goose, I was at peace with the world and myself.

For twenty months I continued this routine alone. I had discovered something incredibly special, but I wanted to share it with someone else.

Try as I did, however, I could find no one who would go hiking with me. The reasons were many, but the answer was always the same. My feet hurt. It’s too hot, too cold, too early, too far or too dangerous.

My 13-year retirement has been successful in part because I have adhered to these three principles: 1. Every day have a mission to accomplish.  2. Do something for others.  3. Do something unimaginable.

The unimaginable part has come home in spades, as I now am leader of a 1,250 person-hiking group. I finally found someone who will hike with me.

Ours are serious hikes, five to ten miles, many on the trails of the James River Park System, but also all over historical Richmond. We’ve become as much a history club as a hiking club as we explore and learn together the rich history of this city.

Of all the hikes, however, my favorite is the one I started with four years ago. I schedule it once a month. We make a big production of it, calling it IHWDATJRH-HWHOTTBTJRSEIWD or “I hiked with Dennis and the James River Hikers – Hiking With History on the trails by the James River so early it was dark”.

Each of the twenty James River Hikers who has completed the journey has been formally knighted into The Most Noble Order of the IHWDATJRH-HWHOTTBTJRSEIWD.

The journey begins at the southeast corner of Riverview Cemetery where there is plenty of parking on the grass, and the river is visible from your car. Here’s what we do. I invite you to explore it yourself.

Step down onto the trail and head east downriver onto the switchbacks that deliver us to the backside of Hollywood Cemetery. Continue to the pedestrian suspension bridge leading to Belle Isle and circumnavigate it around its western tip. Pause at Hollywood Rapids, and take in the scene and sound. Explorer John Smith witnessed this spot in 1607 and described the roaring turbulence to his friends back in England as “Louder than a scolding wife’s tongue.”

Continue around to the bridge that takes you to the south side of the river.  The foundation of that bridge is the same that supported the railroad and the traffic that transported to Union enlisted prisoners of war to Belle Isle during the War Between the States.

Just after crossing to the south side of the river, make a turn downhill back to the river where you’ll find a covered pipe trail that will lead you west and upriver. When the river level rises to seven feet, this pipe will be underwater so you’ll then need to take the high trail along the train tracks. Check out the massive logs and trees that liter the riverbed to your right and visualize how those same trees were floating downriver just a few months ago when the river was over flood stage of 12 feet.

global_243657622Take the stairway and then the bridge up and over the train tracks. Pause at the top before you do to view Hollywood Cemetery across the river and then look left where you’ll see your car parked at Riverview Cemetery. Then look upstream to Boulevard Bridge; that’s where you are headed.

The train track beneath you is where the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus train parks when they are in town.

Next you’ll join one of Richmond’s favorites for serious mountain bikers, Buttermilk Trail. You’ll find a port-a-potty there and another at the Reedy Creek parking lot a mile and a half further up the trail.global_276372352

When you get to Boulevard (Nickel) Bridge take the trail straight ahead and beneath the bridge.  Then circle back around to your left as you get on Boulevard Bridge. About 70 percent of the way across the bridge is where we have our apple core-throwing contest.  A bull’s-eye is for your core to land on the combo of rocks from which a few shrubs grow.

After crossing the bridge, turn left and walk to the 1882 Victorian Gothic pump house, the second level of which was an open-air ballroom where late 1800’s debutantes in hoop skirts danced the evenings away.

global_276371162A path behind the pump house leads to a normally open gate on the edge of the very active double train tracks. Use much caution there when crossing, and make your way to the path that borders the tributaries along the river.  Then head back east toward Richmond and be prepared to explore a most beautiful nature-blessed part of Richmond that few have ever witnessed.

Eventually you’ll get to the Foushee-Ritchie Mill constructed by Dr. William Foushee in 1819. That’s the same Foushee who was Richmond’s first Mayor, whose namesake Foushee Street from which 1st, 2nd and 3rd east and west streets radiate and who was the doctor at the bedside of Thomas Jefferson’s mentor George Wythe at his death.global_260190122

Soon you’ll walk across a live railroad bridge and have your own mini experience reminiscent of the epic scene in the movie “Stand By Me.” Soon you’ll rejoin the trail that will lead you back to the starting point at Riverview Cemetery.

Many believe this is the best hike we do.  It’s long, it’s all about the river, nearly all of it is on trails, not roads, it includes intriguing history, it takes you to places even experienced Richmond hikers have never seen, and much of it is a fabulous presentation of nature’s beauty.

global_260190202We completed our 8.8 mille journey in 4 hours 12 minutes. How about join us next time and experience it yourself?

You’ll find all the details at our site: http://www.meetup.com/James-River-Hikers/

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Special birding opportunity on the James

This is still a month and a half away, but if you’re a birder, it should be on your calendar. On April 28 from 7-10 a.m., good friend Capt. Mike Ostrander and local birder Arun Bose are offering a special birding tour of the tidal James River from where the Appomattox River enters the James and on up toward Jones Neck.

Bald eagles are regulars on the tidal James.

Bald eagles are regulars on the tidal James.

As Ostrander writes: “Experience the thrill of spring migration from the James River. See a magnificent osprey dive down into the river with a mighty splash, interupting the spawning run of a three-pound hickory shad. Or spot a green heron patiently fishing from a rock or log.” And do it all from the JRA, the James River Association’s 40-foot pontoon boat.

Not convinced yet? Here’s another sweetener: “Participants are guaranteed a unique birding opportunity with the addition of a second special guest on board.  Ralph White, recently retired James River Park Manager, will ride along and share some of his observations from the river, only miles from where he spent the last 32 years changing the way the City of Richmond looked out upon the incomparable James.”

The three-hour tour costs $55. Click here to learn more. To purchase your tickets click here

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James River Parade of Lights

Credit: JRAC

Each year Richmond boaters decorate their vessels and converge on the James River for a boat parade marking the holiday season. Next Saturday (Dec. 8th) spectators will line the shorelines at several viewing sites along the parade route, which runs from Richmond to Henricus Historical Park in Chesterfield County. If you’ve never been down to the river for the Parade of Lights sponsored by the James River Advisory Council, you’re missing a god time.

The time for registering a boat has passed, but after-celebration activities will be held immediately following the parade at the Richmond Yacht Club. Awards will be presented and winners will be recognized at the celebration. Awards are given in several categories based on the judges’ results. In addition, raffles prizes will be awarded to boater participants. All boaters along with their guests participating in the parade are welcome to attend the after-parade celebration at no cost.



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The James River Hustle

One of my favorite things about being an outdoors lover in Central Virginia is discovering the communities of enthusiasts that exist because of their particular outdoors passion. I’ve done plenty of canoeing and even some standup paddleboarding on the James River, but I’ve never really been plugged in to the whitewater paddling community here in Richmond. This week I found out just how close knit paddlers in RVA are while working on a story for tomorrow’s Times-Dispatch column.

For five years, whitewater enthusiasts have gathered every first Saturday in December to celebrate the past year of boating — on the James and elsewhere. It started as “Retro Movie Night” — where participants would show the home movies they made of the water they ran that year at The Camel — and quickly became a day of paddling, grilling out at the 14th St. takeout and movies.

14th St. takeout. Credit: Phil Riggan.

According to event founders Hunter Davis and Ben Moore, usually about 75 or so whitewater lovers would show up and have a great time catching up on what everyone was up to. This year, Retro Movie Night has morphed into the “James River Hustle.” Saturday will still be a day to celebrate all things paddling in Richmond, but there will also be a 5k, a silent auction and gear sales – all to benefit a longtime member of the community.

Greg Hawkins was the head of the VCU Outdoor Adventure Program for 13 years. He left two years ago to take the same job at Boise State. This past September, despite never being a smoker, he found out he has lung cancer. Hawkins will have to take a leave of absence from his job to fly to Houston for treatment. The bills will mount and his friends in the Richmond whitewater community wanted to do something for him. The proceeds from the 5K and the silent auction will go toward helping defray Hawkins’ medical expenses. It’s the least guys like Moore, Davis and others say they can do to help a friend who helped so many discover Richmond’s outdoor opportunities.

Click here to learn more.

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Richmond Riverfront plan under attack?

The James River Association has been on top of the Richmond Riverfront Plan throughout its development, providing due diligence on the details and acting as a watchdog. Tonight City Council votes on the final adoption of the plan, and the group has some serious concerns about last minute changes that would alter a couple of key aspects.

According to a JRA email blast this morning: A last minute amendment proposed by land developers would delay the draft plan beyond the December 3 deadline and send the plan back to the beginning of the plan approval process. The delay would mean that current funding to begin implementation of the plan would be lost. Additionally, the amendment proposes to change the language in the plan on two key land parcels – Mayo Island and the UST site – from the carefully negotiated language included in the already approved Downtown Master Plan and remove reference to public parkland on these two parcels that are critical to the overall Riverfront Plan.

If you value the vision the Riverfront Plan lays out, make your voice heard at tonight’s City Council meeting:

Richmond Riverfront Plan Public Hearing Information: Monday, November 26, 6:00PM

Council Chambers, 2nd Floor, City Hall

900 East Broad Street, Richmond, Virginia, 23219

If you can’t make it to City Hall, see below for the contact information on your councilperson. Let them know that the James is an integral part of Richmond and that you support approval of the Riverfront Plan!

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James River Run 5K: Reedy to Belle Isle and back

The first James River Run 5K is a fundraiser 5K run/walk through the heart of the James River Park at Reedy Creek & Belle Isle. Proceeds of this event will be used to help Greg Hawkins, former director of the VCU Outdoor Adveture program who was diagnosed with lung cancer, with medical expenses and start funds to install a water fountain at the Reedy Creek access.Read More

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Volunteer opportunities this weekend

First of all, there is the North Bank trash clean-up and graffiti removal organized by Phil Riggan (Richmond.com) and Tricia Pearsall, both of whom are members of the Friends of James River Park, JROC, Richmond MORE, and on and on.

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Richmond Riverfront forum includes outdoors showcases

Are you following the proposals for the downtown Richmond riverfront? There are plenty of things to like for outdoor enthusiasts, including some very impressive ideas for kayaking, biking, boating and more.Read More

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How to find all the parks in the Richmond region

The Richmond Regional Planning District Commission recently released a map of all of the parks in the Richmond region on the James, Appomattox and Chicahominy rivers.Read More

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