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Posts Tagged ‘Park’

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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It looks like the weather is finally starting to turn to what it should have been in June.  This will be the perfect opportunity to get out and enjoy some of Richmond’s outdoor activities.  Pocahontas State Park is a great place to do a host of outdoor activities.  Located in Chesterfield, its Virginia’s largest state park and includes parts of Swift Creek Reservoir and Beaver Lake.  Available activities at Pocahontas include camping, swimming, hiking, biking, picnicking, boating and fishing.  This is also the site of the Muddy Buddy and Run Like A Girl races.

The park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and was the first recreational park in the Richmond-Petersburg-Hopewell area.  The National Park Service then donated the park to Virginia State Parks in 1946.  The park is obviously named after Pocahontas, the daughter of Chief Powhatan.

Swimming – Merely calling it a pool, doesn’t really do it justice.  The aquatic center, as it is called, is open from 10am -7pm Memorial Day through Labor Day.  There are several pools with different depths, all with lifeguards.  There is also a sprinkler area and two 15-ft high water slides.  But best of all, there is a water-park like area that will keep the kids occupied for hours.  The pools are located in the northern area of the park with a large picnic area right next to it.  There are also locker rooms and a snack bar.  The fees to swim are: Weekdays ages 3-12 $5 and ages 12+ $6;  Weekends ages 3-12 $7 and ages 12+ $8.

Camping – It was a surprise to me (and I’ve even been to the park) that there are overnight camping facilities.  There are facilities for RV, pop-ups, and tent camping.  Each campsite has a fire ring for campfires. Campers have access to bath houses for showers.  Overnight campers also get access to swimming and the boat launch for free.  There are larger “camps” and dining houses for large groups (think your office retreat).  You do need to reserve a campsite in advance by calling 1-800-933-PARK (7275).  Same day reservations are usually not accepted.  There is also a “reserve now” button on the top right hand side of the website (its small, keep looking).  Camping fees run from $25-$78 which is a lot less than a decent hotel, and provide much more atmosphere.

Trails for Hiking and Biking – There are approximately 5 miles of hiking trails just around Beaver Lake.  There is also a 5 mile biking trail (it wouldn’t be Richmond if there weren’t biking trails as well) and scattered mountain-biking trails ranging from easy to difficult You can find more information on the biking trails here. There is even a  trail that is accessible for people with disabilities.  You can also find scattered winding trails throughout the park and horseback riding trails (sorry you have to bring your own horse).  Some of these hiking trails can be steep and rocky, so where good shoes.  There is more information on the different trails and maps/videos available here.

Boating/Fishing – Boating is allowed during daylight hours at the park.  Private boats are allowed on Swift Creek (no gas motors).  You can also rent rowboats, canoes, and kayaks from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  You do need a fishing license to fish at the park, and if the office is open you can purchase one there.

Pocahontas State Park is a great place to explore the outdoors right in our back yard.  Even though Summer is about to end, there is still plenty of time to explore this local gem.  At last check, there was a $4 parking fee on top of any other fees for activities in the park, definitely doable no matter what your budget is these days.

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Its events like these that remind me Richmond hasn’t lost its artsy flair, although its sometimes hidden under riverside marinas and downtown penthouses.  Throughout the summer you can enjoy the Festival of the Arts at Dogwood Dell.  Activities include music, plays, singers, dance, and more.  The variety is a large part of what makes this event so much fun for everyone.  The festival has been held every sumemr since 1956 in Dogwood Dell, a 2400 seat amphitheatre owned and operated by the Department of Parks and Recreation.  It is located in Byrd Park, on the Carillon side, near the entrance to the Maymont children’s farm. 

Here is the schedule for the remainder of the Summer.  All of these events take place on the main stage unless otherwise noted:   

July 23: VOCAL, original songs, 8 p.m.
July 24: Joe Tan, R & B, 8 p.m.
July 30-31: “Pippin” Musical, 8:30 p.m. 

AUGUST 

August 1: “Pippin” Musical, 8:30 p.m.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          August 3: Bill Wellington, songs & stories, 12:30 p.m.                                                                                                                                                                                            August 6-7: “Pippin” Musical, 8:30 p.m.
August 8: Groove Stu, R&B, jazz and funk 8 p.m.
August 9: “Twelfth Night,” Richmond Shakespeare, 8:30 p.m.
August 14: Latin Jazz Festival, Latino jazz, dance, 1-7 p.m. 

There is also the Ha’Penny Stage located behind the Carillon, which offers children’s theatre and entertainment on Sunday afternoons during the Festival of Arts. Programs include music, theatre, juggling, story-telling and more.  Here is the schedule for the remainder of the Summer: 

July 

25th – Dance for Joy:  A Chinese Celebration 4pm 

30th – SPARC Summerstarz: Willy Wonka, Jr. 11am 

August 

1st – Michael Hawkins Chorus – Gospel 4pm 

8 – Life Stage – Theatre

All events at Festival of the Arts are free and open to the public.  If you arrive early you may be able to get a seat in the amphitheater, but what is the fun in that?  Bring a blanket or chairs and enjoy the show from the park.  These productions do take place outside so be prepared for the heat/rain or whatever else the weather may throw at us these days.  Shows usually aren’t cancelled until showtime, to account for passing thunderstorms.  So, you can either show up and hope the storm passes in time or, hold off if there is bad weather and call 804-646-DELL to see if the show is cancelled.

The Dogwood Dell Festival of the Arts is another great Summer Richmond tradition, so try to get out to at least one show!

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If you have been putting off the drive to the Goochland Drive In, then this is the perfect activity.  For the second year, Richmond is hosting Friday Pictures in the Park where you can enjoy free movies in different parks throughout the city.  You really can’t beat free activities these days and these are not lame movies.  There is a good selection of fairly new movies, family movies, adult movies, and just plain fun movies.  Here is the schedule and the park where each movie is being shown:

Star Trek (Costume Contest)

Friday, July 9, 7:30 – 10:30 p.m.

Abner Clay Park, Brook Road and West Clay Streets


Planet 51

Friday, July 16, 8:30 – 10:30 p.m.

Mary Munford Playground, 211 Westmoreland Avenue


The Blind Side

Friday, July 23, 8:30 – 10:30 p.m.

Blackwell Community Center, 300 East 15th Street


Monsters vs. Aliens

Friday, July 30, 8:30 – 10:30 p.m.

Jefferson Hill Park, 21st and East Marshall Streets
This is It (Dance Contest)

Friday, August 6, 7:30 – 10:30 p.m.

Broad Rock Sports Complex, 4801 Old Warwick Road


Fame

Friday, August 13, 8:30 – 10:30 p.m.

Chimborazo Park, 2900 East Grace Street


G-Force

Friday, August 20, 8:30 – 10:30 p.m.

Hotchkiss Community Center, 701 East Brookland Park Boulevard
The Princess and the Frog (Costume Contest)

Friday, August 27, 7:30 – 10:30 p.m.

Forest Hill Park, 4100 Forest Hill Avenue

In an effort to change things up this year, there are theme nights.  For the movies with costume contests, the audience is encouraged to dress up like characters from the movie.  “This Is It” will also host a dance contest.  Theme night movies will start at 7:30pm, while the rest start at 8:30.

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So, no worries about cooking this weekend, food festivals do not disappoint.  On Saturday, get out and enjoy the Vegetarian Festival.  Meat or no meat, the food lineup looks delicious:

  • Africanne on Main Amira Concession
  • Boka Truck 
  • Caffespresso
  • Cous Cous
  • Deluca Gelato 
  • Edith’s Catering
  • Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market
  • Flynn’s Foods, Inc.
  • Ginger Thai Taste
  • Good Foods Grocery
  • Grapevine Restaurant
  • India K’Raja
  • Melody’s Sugar Shack
  • Nile Ethiopian Restaurant
  • Phoenix Garden
  • Smoothie King
  • Soul-Ice Vending
  • Sticky To Go Go
  • Sweet’n’Vegan
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Twin Oaks Community Foods
  • Whole Foods Market
  • Zukay Live Foods 

There will also be plenty of vendors representing everything from yoga to gardening and veterinary care.  You can get a full list of vendors here.  There will be lots of non-profit organizations as well, including vegetarian, animal rescue, and environmental groups.  This is a great way to learn more about the non-profits in Richmond.  You can get a full list of the expected organizations here.  Don’t forget live music and cooking demonstrations.  Maybe I should just write this post once and keep cutting and pasting each weekend?  You don’t need to be a vegetarian to attend of course, you don’t even need to be considering it.  However, if you want to learn more about its benefits, there will be a full line-up of speakers through the day.  Some interesting performers will be there to keep your attention as well.  Jonathan the Juggler will be there (he is awesome if you haven’t seen him, and the kids will love him).  There will also be a belly dancer and people dressed in star wars costumes. 

This festival is also kid-friendly with the Kids’ Patch set up where kids can play.  There will be 2 moon bounces, spin art, and arts and crafts to wear the kids out.  One unique feature of this festival is how pet-friendly it is. Your dogs are welcome (finally).  And if you don’t have one, there will be animal adoptions there too. 

The festival is held at the azalea gardens in Bryan Park from 12-6pm on Saturday, June 19.  Admission is free, although the food and goods cost money so don’t leave the wallet at home.  This is NOT a rain or shine event.  If there is severe weather, the festival will be rescheduled for July 10.  The festival proceeds go to support one of my favorite Richmond charities, the Richmond Animal League.  Organizers are requesting that people bring canned vegetable donations for the Lambs Basket Food Pantry and pop-top cans of dog and cat food donations for RAL.

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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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Memorial Day is traditionally the weekend for the pools to open, unless you are in Richmond it seems.  If you aren’t lucky enough to have a neighborhood pool or be a member at a private pool (after 10 years on the wait list) that leaves the Richmond public pools, which, unfortunately, don’t open until mid-June.  So are there any other options?  A few.  But here is one I found recently that looks very intriguing.  I found this a few weeks ago and hesitated to post since I hadn’t been there myself.  But everything I have found seems to be positive and I just come back to the idea because it simply reminds me of the places we used go when I was young. 

Hadad’s Lake is located on 40 acres in Henrico, East of 95, so why haven’t I ever heard of it?  For all of you 30 and 40 somethings, this is definitely going to remind you of your childhood.  It’s like a piece of summer camp right in our backyard!  There are 3 pools, a large lake, gazebos & pavilions, miniature golf, clubhouse, inside game room, concession stand, beach area, roaming clowns, crazy inflatables and yes, even more.  They seem to have thought of everything and everyone in the family.

 

First, the swimming.  There are 3 sand-bottom pool areas.  Two are shallow (up to 4 feet deep) and are open to everyone.  One of these sections has water volleyball and basketball while the other has giant inflatables in the water.  The largest pool section has a deep end and goes up to 16 ft deep.  This area has a water trampoline/bridge, rope swing, and inflatable water tower.  To swim in the deep end or play on the inflatables, you need to pass a swim test (just like camp!) or wear a life preserver.  They have some there, but definitely not enough so if you have one, bring it.  There is even a walk in beach area and smaller slide for the little kids. 

If you aren’t going to brave the water, there are plenty of other things to do.  There is an outdoor basketball court, horseshoes, volleyball court, paddleboats, miniature golf (not too fancy, but it’ll keep the kids busy), children’s playground (with a big pirate ship!), inflatables on land, and fishing (bring your own bait & tackle).  On weekends Bubbles the clown roams around and does face painting and balloons.  There is even a little train to ride.  If the heat gets to you there are places to cool off inside and a game room with pool and video games.  Are you tired yet?

Of course, this place would not make sense without a picnic.  Although there is a concession stand, picnicking is allowed here, just do not bring any glass.  Feel free to bring chairs, towels, blankets, coolers, and baskets.  Some people even bring grills I believe.  There are shuttles available in the parking area to help you lug all that stuff up to the picnic area. If you are going with a large group (we’re talking 35 or more) they have pavilions to rent at a reasonable price (esp. if everyone pitches in).  The pavilions have grills, electricity, and refrigeration which is really nice.  There are also several gazebos you can reserve.  There is no minimum number of people for these and they run $40.  Probably a good investment if you are planning on spending the entire day. 

Ok, so if you are anything like me, you’re asking “How much is all this throw back summer camp goodness going to cost me?”  Admission is $12/person (only ages 1 and under are free).  That price includes everything it seems, except for video games and the concession stand.  I think that is a good deal for a day trip.  If you are taking the kids to the museums in town, you are going to pay this much anyway.  Heck, even a meal for 4 these days runs about $40, unless you are eating at Cicis.  But I digress.  If you have larger groups the price per person goes down, and season passes are available. 

Starting this weekend the pools are open 7 days a week.  Sunday-Friday they are open  10am-8pm, Saturdays they are open 10-10.  So if you can’t get away to the beach, and you have no pools at your disposable, heck, even if you do, head out and enjoy a day here.  I am definitely going to try it out and I would love to hear from anyone that has already been there!

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