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.
The 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.
From 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.
Today, 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.
It 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!