In contrast, the great expanse of granite bedrock and huge boulders on the southside of Belle Isle are more of an acquired taste, but the sun shines just as brightly and the setting is every bit as satisfying to the adventurous soul.
It’s a great place to explore and see nature. On a recent autumn visit after a period of heavy rains and high river levels, the rocks were full of puddles and dotted with driftwood. I saw a great blue heron, a few turtles and plenty more signs of wildlife. The shallow pools held plenty of little water creatures to observe.
When the river levels are below five feet, the southside rocks are mostly dry excepting little trickles of water. But after a big storm it can become flooded. Recently, some students had to be rescued from the rocks as they didn’t realize the water levels were quickly rising and they became trapped.
At normal river levels, water is directed away from the southside by the Belle Isle dam, which was built by VEPCO in 1905 to direct water into a canal to help generate electricity at their power station. There are small leaks in the dam, so there is a small amount of water flowing through. There is also a large debris field collected above dam.
The area is for the more hearty river-goers, not the party scene on the north side of Belle Isle, but you are just as likely to find people sunning or picnicking on a warm day. There are endless rocks, holes, nooks, creeklets and interesting driftwood — of which people have been known to illegally pile and burn.
The best way to reach the southside rocks is by the 20th Street tower off Riverside Drive or by crossing the pedestrian bridge to Belle Isle and following the trail to the southside.