Trailblazing a Reedy Creek retrofit

August 9, 2014 · 2 minute read

Editor’s Note: Richard Chittick is freelance writer and photographer living in Henrico County. He’ll be reporting and writing for This, his first piece, follows our report on the washout of a bridge over Reedy Creek two weeks ago.

Volunteers work the east bank of Reedy Creek in Forest Hill Park where the bridge once stood.

Volunteers work the east bank of Reedy Creek in Forest Hill Park near where the bridge once stood. Credit: Richard Chittick

For the second time in as many weeks last Saturday, a flood hit the trails of Forest Hill Park. But this time, the flood wasn’t water, it was people.

Several dozen volunteers showed up for a trail-maintenance session sponsored by the James River Park System and Richmond MORE. City trails manager Mike Burton estimates between 30 and 35 people came to help remove a bridge that had been swept from it’s base and washed about 75 yards downstream during a storm the previous week. After getting all the parts of the bridge out of the creek bed and up to a field near Forest Hill Avenue, work continued as volunteers helped clear out the banks on both sides of Reedy Creek so that park officials could take a closer look at a new option for a trail.

To that effect, Burton says he and other park officials are considering several options for replacing the trail. And while a new, stronger bridge is the ultimate goal, he says that may be ways off. “The right bridge in the right place is a big challenge,” he said. “It’s a big process and has to be built in a place that has no machine access,” meaning that cranes and other large equipment cannot be used to help lift a new bridge in place.

“In the short term and probably for the mid-term, there will be no bridge; there will be a creek crossing,” Burton said.

He is confident that a viable crossing is possible at creek level. Burton said he and his crew are looking downstream from where the old bridge was by about 25-30 yards. “We’ve got a really nice, super-scenic spot” for a new trail, he said.

Mike Burton (red shirt) takes a chainsaw to a beefy vine. Credit: Richard Chittick

Mike Burton (red shirt) takes a chainsaw to a beefy vine. Credit: Richard Chittick

The only catch with the short term goal of putting in a creek-level crossing is the steepness of the east bank. “It’s probably going to be a hike-a-bike,” he said, noting that the only possible options may be a series of rock steps that most mountain bikers will not be able to ride. This is the best plan given that any trail created along this stretch of Reedy Creek must withstand the torrential currents that form during thunderstorms, which are more common than people realize.

Burton added that the park’s staff hope to reuse the wood from the old bridge in projects in other parts of the James River Park. All of the old lumber has been taken to park headquarters where it will be inspected and reused if possible.

Burton was not able to give a solid timeline for work to be done, but pointed out that volunteer work is “critical” to getting things done. “We got a lot of work done, but we still have quite a bit of work in front of us,” he said.