The earliest European explorers established Richmond on America’s founding river when the James River’s rapids prevented them from navigating farther inland. Later, entrepreneurs built the Kanawha Canal to move raw materials and products in and out of Richmond’s rapidly growing industrial center. As industry flourished along the James, residents turned their backs on the waterway, unfazed by its increasing pollution and oblivious to its existence unless seeking a bridge to cross it.
For over twenty years, I lived in Richmond barely aware of the James River because views of and access to it were so limited. Not until we acquired private access and purchased a boat did my family finally appreciate the beauty of this magnificent river. While two city riverfront parks, the Pony Pasture and Belle Isle, draw loyal visitors, their locations hinder access to the everyday citizen.
Over recent years, outdoorsy types have embraced the one-of-a-kind urban whitewater rapids that roll through Richmond. Extreme races take place regularly on Brown’s Island and its surrounds, and bikers somehow manage to navigate their way through our narrow cobblestoned roads. Sports enthusiasts have so embraced the hidden treasures of Richmond, starting with the James, that Outdoor magazine named RVA the Best River Town in 2012, and the UCI selected Richmond to host its bicycle racing World Championships next September – the first time that it has chosen a US city in almost 30 years.
So outsiders love our city, but how do the non-extreme sports-types amongst our residents get to enjoy the river? Enter Capital Trees and two adjoining waterfront parks near Church Hill, Richmond’s first neighborhood. In partnership with the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation, which is building the 50+ mile bike trail between Richmond and Williamsburg, the City of Richmond and private businesses, Capital Trees has worked its magic to welcome us regular folk to see the James River and the Kanawha Canal like we never have before.
Great Shiplock Park
Last year, in the area where the locks control the water depth of the Kanawha Canal,
Capital Trees beautified Great Shiplock Park by planting riparian gardens to clean storm-water drainage before entering the river
and creating an inviting entry to Chapel Island, which marks the southeastern starting point of the Kanawha Canal. With other volunteers, Capital Trees helped clean up invasive plants that had been choking out natives on this tree-filled island that long ago was home to the Trigg Shipyard.
How amazing to find a true fishing hole
so close to downtown businesses and Shockoe Bottom nightlife. Whether you are a mountain biker,
or budding waterman,
Great Shiplock Park welcomes all to a peaceful refuge near the heart of the city.
Even more inspiring is the current transformation of the five acres of land running northwest of Great Shiplock Park along the banks of the Kanawha Canal and separating it from Dock Street. Much of this land lies under CSX’s elevated railroad tracks and has been covered in high brush for as many years as anyone can remember. The Virginia Capital Trail Foundation installed a biking trail from the flood wall along this narrow strip five years ago, but no one could see the waters of the Canal that lay just beyond the weeds and overgrowth.
This summer Capital Trees hired graduates of the Richmond City Jail’s new work-study landscape program to clear the debris, and the metamorphosis was swift.
You can now see the Canal as you drive along Dock Street.
The juxtaposition of industrial and natural makes this a perfect place to celebrate Richmond’s past and future,
and with the blessing of the City, which does not have the means to do it alone, Capital Trees and its partners are planning to turn this swathe into the Low Line.
Its name gives a nod to New York City’s inspirational High Line, which sits on top of abandoned railroad tracks.
The timing for the Low Line seems serendipitous. Portions of the UCI World Championships will be raced in Church Hill, and the Low Line is perfectly situated to welcome the thousands of expected race spectators.
Funding, though, to complete the first-phase of the Low Line in time for plantings to withstand the crowds is critical.
Capital Trees needs to raise about $1,000,000 by early spring to transform this unique spot into a memorable location for our visitors.
I have lived in and loved Richmond for nearly 30 years, but in that time I have never felt as excited about what is bubbling up in our area as I do now. RVA’s reputation is rising meteorically thanks to the culinary, artistic and medical talents of our fellow residents and the natural beauty of our historic location.
A project like the Low Line is one more highlight for us to share with our fellow Richmonders and the world, not just in 2015 but for years to come. You can help make it happen. Visit Capital Trees outstanding website to find out how.
Make it gorgeous and they will come; keep it that way and they will help you.
November 17, 2014