Access Week: Connecting Brown’s Island to Manchester via VEPCO levee

The VEPCO levee could connect Brown's Island to ManchesterPhil Riggan – James River News Hub

Access Week! One of the first complaints most people have when discussing the James River in Richmond is that there aren’t enough access points. This is Day 5 as James River News Hub tackles the topic of access points.

There is a scenic footbridge that runs over the old VEPCO levee between Brown’s Island on the north side and the Manchester climbing wall on the south side of the James River. Chris Hull, president of the James River Outdoor Coalition, has suggested for years that it could be renovated and returned to use. I have spoken with many more people over the years also in favor of this renovation.

VEPCO levee, viewed from the Robert E. Lee BridgeThe first portion of the walkway (maybe 1/10th of the span) has been repaired and is part of the April 3, 1865, Civil War historic display-a great place to see the river and the Richmond skyline and an easy walk from the Richmond National Battlefield Park Visitor Center and the American Civil War Center at Tredegar Iron Works.

VEPCO levee, viewed from opened portion accessed from Brown's IslandFrom this vantage point, visitors can see trains running the double-track CSX Viaduct; the granite pillars that remain from the Richmond & Petersburg Railway Bridge (a major Confederate supply and escape route); the rapids created by the Manchester Dam that runs all the way across the James, under the Manchester Bridge to the Southside rapids at the Floodwall.

The original purpose for the span was to control water to be guided into the Haxall -Canal for a power station on Brown’s Island — likely powering the street cars of Richmond.

VEPCO levee structure looks intact, but may need some workToday, the remainder of the rusty walkway is mostly intact, with one section removed to keep people from trespassing on the metal walkway. I’ve spoken with kayakers that have surveyed the concrete pillars up close and shoring them up might require some engineering, but if the total cost of the project was in the range of $200,000, that does not seem ridiculous for the value the city would get for an attraction in this vital location.

Renovating it could create many more ways to enjoy and view the river and the downtown skyline. Imagine all the fun ways this walkway could be used with all the fantastic events and adventure games that Richmond hosts, not to mention the daily walkers that frequent the area.  Connecting the SunTrust complex could help relieve parking for some popular downtown events as well.

Once the span reaches the south bank, the Manchester Climbing Wall and the Floodwall/Canal Walk will be connected and part of the loop.  There is also a rustic trail that runs from Manchester that connects to Belle Isle called the Missing Link.

VEPCO levee spans the James River, viewed from Robert E. Lee BridgeIt might be difficult to make it safe enough for bikers and walkers to enjoy at the same time, similar to the pedestrian walkway to Belle Isle.  A bit of responsible “recreationing” might be easier on the “VEPCO Levee Trail” since Richmonders are already well-practiced on that walkway. 

Come to think of it, I think that awesome scenic suspended walkway under the Robert E. Lee Bridge was one of the most bold and forward-thinking plans the city has had at the river, and another bold move might be needed to get approval for any of the access points discussed this week.

Who else dreams of crossing the river here? The views of the river will be fantastic, right? What would it take to make this happen?

Your comments are valued, as members of the Friends of the James River Park, JROC and other volunteer groups that work to help maintain the river discuss these issues often and need input from dedicated river-goers. Want to make a difference? Join one of these groups!

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13 responses to “Access Week: Connecting Brown’s Island to Manchester via VEPCO levee

  1. I can tell you I would be more likely to visit Manchester if this was connected.

  2. I absolutely would be for this. More connectivity for our parks and riverfront attractions. The last group to take on a similar project was Richmond Renaissance (now Venture Richmond I believe)… think they’d want to take part?

  3. I think this is a fantastic idea. One of the greatest issues the JRP has is accessibility to and connectivity within the park. I think of the Millennium bridge in London when I hear this proposal.

  4. I’ve often stood at the end of this bridge, which is already a great destination, and looked longingly at the gap wishing I could walk across. I know more that a few people unwilling to use the Belle Isle footbridge. This would make a great alternative for the acrophobic amongst us. A solid (not grate) surface underneath would provide a little extra confidence.

    I’m a regular spendthrift with other people’s money, but this would be a great addition to the park. In time I think it would be famous. How many places do you get a chance to walk across a wild river like the James just a few feet over the rapids. Except for special events, Brown’s Isle is vastly underused and hard to get to. I’d like that to be addressed.

  5. Connecting residential areas downtown will attract more and more residents to the area. I too have stood here many times and wanted to walk across. Also sites that tell a historic significance like this does will attract people as well.

  6. Jeff E., I dare say that the Belle Island pedestrian bridge is STILL the best thing that Richmond Renaissance did. Venture Richmond’s National Folk Festival running a close second.
    That said, there have been many, many groups clamoring for more greenways for many, many years. To imply that ‘greening Richmond’ was solely Richmond Renaissance’s work is greenwashing, in my mind.

  7. Well it certainly wasn’t my intent to rile anyone up with that statement but there IS a difference between clamoring for and actually finding the money to get a project done. Any idea how the Belle Isle pedestrian bridge was funded?

  8. Connecting the VEPCO levee is part of the Downtown Master Plan. Think now the city is working on the Riverfront Plan. Sure hope RVA moves from plans to action. Getting people out on the river is key to raising Richmond’s self-image and profile.

  9. Yes. Everytime I walk out on that restored section I wish it would continue across. The river is very beautiful through there with a lot of wild life. The bridge if not too wide or covered with wire mesh would be a great way to see it.

  10. Pingback: Was Belle Isle pedestrian bridge last bold move by Richmond? | James River News Hub

  11. This idea came up in discussions of the Mayor’s Bike, Pedestrian, and Trails Commission. The basic infrastructure is there and it’s an ideal location. I’ve always wondered why it didn’t go all the way across.

  12. Michael Achilles Bellone

    I can remember before the levee was severed. People would try to access Browns that way to gain entry to concerts for free. I all for leaving it alone or removing completely Let’s leave the flora & fauna alone. I’m sure it would be a great place to take photos from but why not jump in a tube, white water raft or kayak from the west end of Belle Isle and take photo while heading east.
    I can remember those beautiful days when there was no pedestrain bridge to Belle Isle and you had to enter the river bed at River Tower and make your way across the semi/wet/dry riverbed to make it to the island. How peaceful and clean it was back then.

  13. Pingback: Is there no chance for Downtown Master Plan with Flynn gone? | James River News Hub

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