Posts Tagged ‘James River’

This weekend is a busy weekend for holiday activities in the Richmond area.  You are probably best off doing the scheduled activities this weekend and saving the other ongoing favorites for during the week.  Just my humble opinion!  One of my family’s favorite activities, the James River Parade of Lights, will be held Saturday night, December 11, at 6pm.  The 18th annual parade begins in Richmond up by Libby Park and travels along the James River through Henrico and Chesterfield, ending at Henricus Historical Park.  There are several viewing sites along the route where you can find various fun activities to pass the time.  There are 5 main viewing sites:


Libby Hill Park (Corner of 28th and Franklin St)- 
Entertainment begins at 4:30 p.m.  There will be holiday music, hot cider and cocoa, hot dogs, roasting marshmallows, bonfire and a big count down to the lighting of the boats.  The actual parade doesn’t start until 6pm.

Intermediate Terminal Dock/Rockett’s Landing (Dock & Water St.)- You can also view the parade here at 6pm.


Osborne Park and Boat Landing – Entertainment begins at 5:30 and will include a bonfire, fire dancers (I have no idea what this is, but it sounds awesome), Jonathan Austin Juggling and Magic (if you have kids, you know him, he’s great and the kids love him), holiday music, and concessions.  Santa will also be there giving glow bracelets to the kids.  The parade is expected to arrive here between 7pm and 7:30pm. 


Dutch Gap Boat Landing – (441 Coxendale Rd) There are no planned activities at this location that I could find so if you are looking for a quick view this might be the place to go.  The parade is expected here between 7:30 and 7:45pm.  

Henricus Historical Park (251 Henricus Park Rd) – Entertainment here begins at 5:30pm with Zebo the Clown, face painting, arts & crafts for the kids, music and concessions.  There will also be complimentary cider and cookies. You can tour the 1611 Citie of Henricus and talk with the settlers about their lives and holidays in the 17th century.   The parade is expected here between 7:45 – 8:00 p.m.


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For the sake of full disclosure, I must tell you that Belle Isle is one of my favorite places in all of Richmond.  I’ve been waiting to write about it so that I could make another trip there and have everything fresh in my mind (ok, I admit, I really just wanted to go again!).  Aside from its amazing beauty, incredible convenience, and utter peacefulness, the island also has a long detailed history (but really, I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you).  Don’t be turned off by the fact that summer is over.  This is an even better time to go –without the crowds. The fall colors on the island are incredible.

Belle Isle is a 54-acre island on the James River that is owned by the City of Richmond.  It is said that the island was first explored by Captain John Smith in the early 1600’s.  Later in the 1600’s the island was owned by William Byrd I (but really, what wasn’t?).  In the 1700’s the island was home to a fishery.  In the 1800’s the Old Dominion Iron & Nail Company built a factory on the island.  By the 1860’s the island was inhabited by an actual village with a school, church, and general store.  During the Civil War, the island served as a prison for Union soldiers (this is the story I had always heard).  Between 1862-1865 the island held approximately 30,000 POW’s.  After the war, the nail factory reopened and operated until 1972.

In 1904, Virginia Electric Power Company built a hydroelectric power plant on the island which operated until 1963.  The shell of this building still stands on the bank of the James and on warm days you can watch crazy people with no fear (or too many beers in them) jump from the building into the water.  The island was designated a Richmond city park in 1973.

Today Belle Isle is one of the most popular parks in Richmond with areas for hiking, mountain biking, fishing, picnicking, sunbathing, exploring, kayaking, and more.  It is also home to the Xterra Challenge Mountain Biking Tournament which is a testament to the quality of mountain biking opportunities available.  The island is accessible by a suspension foot bridge from the north bank, under the Lee Bridge (watch out for the bikes crossing over).  I know it looks scary, but trust me, you’ll make it.  If you are driving, park over by Tredegar (don’t expect to find parking on a warm summer day). If you are feeling more adventurous (and the River is low) you can hop the rocks across the James River to get to the island.

Once you come off the pedestrian bridge go straight for about 100 yards and then bear right to the river. This is the main trail that loops around the island.  You can continue following this path along the river, or veer off on one of the many  side paths that will take you over to the rocks where you can sunbathe, picnic, swim, or relax.  Just remember, the rock is a rock — its hard, hot, and slippery so wear good shoes and bring something to sit on (trust me here).  If you continue on the trail, you will come to the quarry and pond on the left.  I’ve spent many days fishing there.  Can’t say I ever caught anything, but the relaxation was satisfaction enough.  Not too far from this point is a picnic area (if you don’t find the rocks appealing).  After you are done eating, continue on the main loop about 150 yards and there will be a side path that will take you to remnants of the power plant dam, oh, and more rocks.  As you keep walking on the main trail, you will also see the power plant and the iron mill.  Continue circling around until you see a steel framed building right before the foot bridge, which is the old iron foundry.  If you stop to explore on the way, the entire loop will probably take you about an hour.  It is an easy path with markers and historical notes along the way.  If you are looking for something more challenging (hiking or biking) head to the thinner trails on the interior of the island.  Wherever you go, do not miss the fantastic views of the Richmond skyline, Hollywood Cemetary, and Tredegar Iron Works.

The park is open from sun up to sun down.  Alcohol is supposedly not allowed, but evidence of how much Richmonders care about that law is littered all over the park.  As an aside, please pick up your trash when you leave.  I was very surprised at how much trash I saw everywhere!  Dogs are allowed on the island, as long as they are on a leash. Admission to the park is 100% free!!

You can walk the 2 mile + trail in just about an hour, but plan to spend the whole day so you can really explore the island, and get some relaxation time in!

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I know I’m going to hear about it, posting this activity on the same day its scheduled, but I just heard about it and it sounded so unique I couldn’t resist!  Today, Saturday from 9am to 5pm (see there is still plenty of time) Richmond is hosting its first ever Dragon Boat Festival.  Dragon boats are similar to a 40ft canoe that is painted like a dragon with a dragon head and a dragon tail.  There is a drummer in the boat and 20 people rowing to the beat of the drum. For a much better description, click here.   The boats are colorful and beautiful to watch.  The race is free to watch. 

There will also be a Dragon Boat Festival (does Richmond do anything without a festival?) at the Boathouse at Rockett’s Landing.  There will be food vendors, a beer garden (I’m pretty sure we don’t do anything without a beer garden too), and Chinese music and dancers.  Here is a fantastic map of the race route and the other festival activities. 

If you want to watch with air conditioning (although at 85 degrees outside, who needs a/c) you can watch from the Boathouse restaurant.  The parking lots at Rockett’s Landing condo complex are open for free parking.   

This sounds like it will be a great unique activity in Richmond and hopefully this will be the “first annual” of many.  Thanks to SportsBackers for bringing it here!

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I spent Saturday afternoon doing one of my favorite activities from my college days . . . jumping the rocks on the James.  The James River Park System is actually made up of many parks spanning 550 acres on both sides of the river.  It stretches from Ancarrow’s Landing on the East end to Huguenot Flatwater on the West end and can be divided into seven main areas:  Huguenot Flatwater, Pony Pasture, North Bank Park, Belle Isle, the Wetlands, the Pumphouse, and Ancarrow’s Landing.  The park has been recognized as the Southeast’s Best Urban Park and was named Best in Dirt for its running trails.  The river has something for everyone:  canoeing, kayaking, tubing, walking, jogging, hiking, rock-climbing, mountain biking, fishing, boating, swimming, sunbathing, and even bird -watching.

The river, however, was not always so beautiful.  Raw sewage and industrial waste used to dump right into the river.  Public access to the river was prohibited because it was a health hazard and of course there was almost no wildlife.  In 1972 the sewer line was completed and the river condition began to improve.  Belle Isle was acquired in the mid-1970’s, but did not open to the public until 1991 when the suspension walkway was completed.  Belle Isle is the most popular part of the park and is a day trip in its own right, so I’ll cover it in a separate post.  In 1981, the Pony Pasture section opened after citizens saved it from a plan to destroy the area and build a highway.  Previously a horse meadow, this is also one of the most popular parks on the James. 

In 1982, the City acquired 14 acres East of Maymont.  This continues to be probably the most natural and isolated part of the park.  In 1984, the Huguenot flatwater was established on either side of the Huguenot bridge.  There are steps here which give you access to the only completely calm water for canoes and kayaks.   

Ancarrows landing is at the East end of the park and provides motor boat access to the river.  This is also the site of the first building in Richmond, Williams Byrd’s Trading Post, the first railroad in Virginia (the wooden railed coal line from Midlothian), the Confederate Naval Shipyard and, the slave docks – site of the greatest import of enslaved people in America.  

In the early 1990s, the 3-Mile Locks/Pumphouse Park was acquired by the James River Park System. This complex includes the first operating canal system in the United States (1789) and a beautiful stone building.  The city continues to acquire more land and add it to the park system.   

Whitewater rafting is a very popular activity on the James, one I am definitely not brave enough to try.  There are all classes of rapids here broken into two main sections.  The upper section is the easier level with only Levels I and II rapids (most of the time).  This section runs from Pony Pasture to Reedy Creek and can get crowded on the weekends when the weather is nice.  The lower section has much more difficult rapids ranging from Level I to Level IV.  This is definitely not where you want to go rafting for the first time.  River levels of 4-6 feet seem to provide the best rafting experience.  River City Rafting offers white water rafting trips on both sections of the river for $50-$70 per person.   

Mountain biking is also a popular activity for thrill seekers (aka Not Me!) on the James.  The trails range from shorter (1 mile) trails that are fairly easy for off-road biking to informal trails that mountain bikers create on hills, paths, and even the rocks.  Either way, be prepared to carry your bike at least once during your trip.  An overview of the biking areas can be found here.  You can also find opportunities to rock climb (I will cover this in a separate post) and fish. 

Probably the most popular activity on the James is simply hiking/walking and swimming.  There are miles of trails winding through the park for people to walk on.  Some are dirt or gravel, some are paved.  You can get a full overview here.  Whichever trail you pick, wear good walking shoes.  Inevitably part of it will be “off-road” and you will be climbing over tree roots and rocks.  Take it from me, no matter how hot it is, flip flops don’t work.  Many of the trails are shaded, but once you get on the river, whether swimming or rock jumping, you will get baked so be sure to wear sunscreen. 

For an especially scenic route, try the Buttermilk Trail.  This trail follows the river’s shoreline from the Lee Bridge to the railroad bridge.  The trails in the wetlands are also interesting with a lot of wildlife and a pond.  Good access points for swimming are at Pony Pasture and further down around the dry rocks and Belle Isle.  Pony Pasture is nice because it is shaded and fairly shallow, but this area can get very crowded on weekends.  There is also a lot of kayak and tubing traffic so you usually have to stay fairly close to shore.  There are some rocks here, but most are on the shore and not very flat.  The trails in this area are great for finding little hidden nooks for privacy and picnics.  There is a much better location,  at 22nd street on the dry rocks across from Belle Isle.  Now, purists are going to call this Belle Isle, and I get that, but for now we’ll just call it part of the river.    

The entrance to this area is off 22nd street on the South side of the river.  There is a parking lot here, but as the many signs say, you are going to want to lock all your valuables in the trunk while you are out.  Follow the trail up to the bridge and across.  There are A LOT of stairs, so be prepared for some exercise.  The view at the top is beautiful.  Look straight ahead and you will see Hollywood cemetary.  Once on the other side, follow the trail over to the river.  As long as the river levels aren’t too high, you’ll see the rocks.  These aren’t little pebbles we are talking about, these are gigantic flat rocks.  They are close enough in most locations to walk across the river, most of the time all the way to Belle Isle.  This is a great area for sunbathing, picnics, swimming and hanging out.  If it is hot, just be prepared for the rocks to be incredibly hot.  Wear shoes and bring a towel or blanket to sit on.  There are a lot of little areas here where the water runs through that are great for dipping your feet in and/or swimming. Just stay away from the stagnant pools.  This water is usually disgusting and filled with trash (unfortunately).  Look for the moving water.  Again, it can be crowded on a busy warm day, but there is so much room here you will usually be ok to find a spot for yourself.  Some of this jumping may be too much for the kids, so judge accordingly.  Otherwise, this is a great way to enjoy the river without actually submerging yourself in river water!  You also get a beautiful view of the Lee Bridge, Belle Isle, Hollywood Cemetary, and the old Power Plant.  Ok, the Power Plant isn’t beautiful, but if you are lucky there will be a group of insane people jumping out of it into the river which can be entertaining to watch.        

This is the best map of the park I could find that lays out all the main areas and activities.  It also highlights all the parking areas and main entrances.  This is a great time to talk about the James River Park because this Saturday, June 12 from 9am-1pm is the 11th annual James River regional cleanup.  There are pre-determined clean up locations all around Richmond, including in Henrico, Chesterfield, and Goochland counties.  For more information on how to volunteer click here.  The James River is one of the iconic features of our city and it is, in my opinion, one of the reasons our city is so beautiful.  If you want an authentic Richmond experience this is it, and it doesn’t cost anything but gas money.  I’m looking forward to hearing what your favorite river activity is!

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With all of the recent activities taking place on Brown’s Island, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about the island itself.  It is a beautiful place located on the James River, downtown, which makes it a perfect afternoon getaway. 

First, the history.  Brown’s island was formed in 1789 with the beginnings of the Haxall Canal. For many years, there were two islands, Brown’s and Johnson’s Island with a spillway in between. The first person to acquire the land was Elijah Brown who bought it in 1826.   The island played a big role in the Industrial age.  In 1894, the Richmond Union Passenger Railway (trolley) opened a coal power plant on the island.  Not to be outdone, in 1899, Dominion Power opened a hydroelectric power plant on the island (funny, I don’t really see it as that big).  In 1916, the Dixie Paper Mill opened on the island in place of one of the failing power plants.  In 1970, the spillway between Johnson’s and Brown’s Island was closed forming one larger island. The power plants continued to fail and the final plant was closed in 1975.  

In 1987, the island became part of the James River Park system.  In 1993, the bronze Headman sculpture was put on the island’s East side (the original fiberglass version of ‘Headman’ was stolen in 1989 and found in Hanover County, shot full of holes and vandalized).  The current statue stands 9 1/2 feet tall and commemorates the contributions of the black boatmen on the James River.  Today the island is centrally located downtown and is part of canal walk. 

The island’s convenient downtown location makes it the primary target for outdoor concerts (Friday Cheers), festivals (World Beer Festival &  Folk Festival), races, and other activities.  The island is also a popular place for sightseeing since you can see Belle Isle, the Manchester Bridge, and the ruins of the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad Bridge from the island.  You can also get beautiful views of the city and James River.  If you want to visit at a less hectic time (when no events are going on), steal away from work for an afternoon walk during lunch.  Besides a beautiful setting, the walking trails on the island are great for a little lunchtime exercise — they are mostly flat and only a few miles (there are 2 trails to choose from).   

If you do decide to visit on a weekend, be prepared for parking problems, especially on a nice day.  Parking for Belle Island, Canal Walk, Brown’s Island, and Tredegar Ironworks is all together.  Sometimes its better to find parking up higher in the downtown area and walk.  The main public entrance is located at the corner of 7th and Tredegar streets.  Because the island is surrounded by other landmarks, it can be a fun day trip to take in Brown’s Island, Canal walk, and Belle Island.  If you are still going after that you can hit up Tredegar Ironworks, but that would be a lot. 

The park is open sunrise to sunset and there is no admission fee (except when there is an activity on the island).  There isn’t a lot of shade so be sure to bring sunscreen and pack some walking shoes.

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The second annual Dominion Riverrock festival takes place this weekend on Brown’s Island and celebrates everything River!  There will be the requisite music, food, and exhibits, but this festival has some very unique sports features.  The festival is two days and will take the place of Friday Cheers tonight.  Trust me when I tell you, this festival is not for the faint-hearted! 

Riverrock kicks off on Friday with the 5k Filthy Mud Run at Brown’s Island which will continue over the Lee bridge and onto Belle Isle.  This race is similar to the Muddy Buddy race at Pocahontas Park in that there are plenty of obstacles, mud pits, and at one point even a run across the James River.  The race ends in another mud pit back at Browns Island where the festival has already begun!  There will also be live music from Grace Potter & the Nocturnals (after some local opening acts) and a freestyle bike competition.  These bikers will be doing all kinds of crazy tricks and flips on their bikes.  I’m sure there will even be a few wipeouts for all you hard-core fans.  And if watching humans do crazy things isn’t enough, from 6-8pm you can catch the Ultimate Air Dogs jumping, catching, and performing other tricks.   

There is another race on Saturday, the James River 10k Scramble which begins on Brown’s Island at 5pm.  This race takes runners across some of the most scenic river routes including Canal Walk, Manchester bridge, James River Park, Belle Island, and more.  It is definitely not a race for walkers!  The race will finish up back on Brown’s Island, hopefully with enough time left to enjoy some of the festivities.   For all you mountain bikers (and there are plenty here in Richmond) there will also be two Urban Assault mountain bike races (8 mile or 15 mile) starting at 4pm.  And, while we’re covering some favorite Richmond sports, we cannot leave out kayaking.  On Saturday at 4pm there will be a kayaking boatercross race on the James River.  If that wasn’t crazy enough, at 6pm there will be some kayakers doing tricks and flips (yes, in their kayaks) off a ramp.  The ramp will be over by the pedestrian bridge next to Tredegar Iron Works.  The Ultimate Air Dogs are back again on Saturday as well from 3-8pm.  There will also be live music from 4-9pm at which time Saturday’s headliner, Robert Randolph and the Family Band will take the stage.  You can get the full music lineup for both days here.  All live music concerts are free!

If all this extreme sport activity is not for you, there is also a more civil photography contest sponsored by the Richmond Times Dispatch.  All levels, beginner to pro, can enter.  Just take pictures of something or everything during the 2-day festival, turn it in, and see if you win one of the cash prizes!  Details of the contest are available here.

If you do like sports and want to get in on the adventure but not risk your life, than perhaps the Interactive Village is for you.  In this area, you can participate in plenty of activities including raft rides on the James River, kayaking in the canal, and more.  There are supposed to be activities for all ages here. 

The festival runs from 4-7:40 (when the main concert starts) on Friday and from 1-9pm (when the main concert starts) on Saturday.  All events and concerts are free to onlookers, put there are fees for participants.  In addition to all the fun, there is a purpose behind the festival as well.  All proceeds from Dominion Riverrock go to support the James River Fund, which provides grants to organizations working to enhance recreational use of the public parks along the James River by improving river access, cleaning up, constructing and maintaining trails.  This looks to be a family friendly activity, and all for a good cause!

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That’s right, you heard me, its Friday Cheers time!  Friday Cheers is a (formerly free) series of outdoor Summer concerts held downtown on Brown’s Island and has been one of Richmond’s great traditions for the past 26 years.  The concerts can average 3000-5000 attendees every week.  This year, Friday Cheers starts Friday, May 7 and runs until June 25th.  One of the best things about these concerts was the ability to go down and enjoy a free waterfront concert after work.  This year, however, there will be an admission fee.  Yes, its only $2, but I wonder how much it will change things.

Featured bands usually include a good mixture of well-know national bands and local favorites.  This year’s lineup is:

May 7: Lee Brice with Puddleduck
May 21: Railroad Earth
May 28: Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers
June 4: Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe w/ DJ Williams Projekt
June 11: Emmitt-Nershi Band w/ a Good Natured Riot
June 28: DeerTick w/ Former Champions
June 25: The Dynamites Feat. Charles Walker w/ Whirlybyrd

Gates open at 6pm and concerts run from 6:30-8:30pm.  Concerts are usually held rain or shine, although they have been cancelled in the past when the weather was really bad (especially lightning).  Like I mentioned above, this year there will be a $2 admission charge for anyone ages 13 and up.  There are usually a couple of beer trucks at Friday Cheers, and last year James River Wine Cellars was there as well.  Last year, attendees purchased drink “tickets” for $4 a ticket (with a 5-ticket maximum).  I’m assuming it will be the same this year, although Venture Richmond, the sponsor hasn’t mentioned it at all.  It goes without saying that there are no pets, coolers, or outside drinks allowed.  Blankets and chairs are welcome, although you’ll find that this is very much a walking and mingling event. 

$2 admission and questions about drinks aside, it’s very hard to go wrong with an outdoor concert, downtown, on the river, in the Summer.  I have a feeling Friday Cheers will survive just fine.

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