Belle Isle celebrates first big day of ‘river season’

First real big warm day at Belle Isle in 2011The vernal equinox and the official arrival of spring is a couple of days away, but spring has already begun at Belle Isle. River season! With the temperature in the lower 80s and the sun shining, the time for hanging out on the rocks has hit Richmond.

This is when becomes a spectacle as it is overrun by youth. The people take over the show from nature for a while. This is the crowd that takes the winter off from going to the river. They stay inside during the cold month in hibernation. They show up when its warm and time to party, and now they are hungry for fun in the sun. 

Southside rocks at Belle Isle, March 18, 2011The sights. Girls in bikinis. Guys with their shirts off and wearing jeans. Un-tanned bodies turning bright shades of red. Flip-flops. Bad fashion. Dogs galore. Kayakers surfing the rapids. Tattoos. Creepy dudes on rocks people-watching. Regular people on rocks people-watching. Bikers. Good looking people. Ugly people. Students. Teenagers. Workers on lunch break. Workers playing hookey. Freaks and punks. All races and walks of life. And of course, Richmond city police officers patrolling on bikes.

The smells were there too.  Flowering buds on trees. Mud exposed after the big rains last week. Wet wood. Wet dog. Hippies. The smoke from cigarettes (and who knows what else). Stale beer. That weird fishy smell.

The sounds! The roar of Hollywood Rapid. Children. Trains. Dogs barking. Music. Loud conversations. Inappropriate comments. Banter. Laughter.

The rocks on both the north and south side of the island were packed. Most of the rocks on the north side were still covered or too risky to reach. The Belle Isle parking lot was full and the streets of the Spring Hill neighborhood were lined with cars.

The water level in the James River was at around 7 feet Friday afternoon, but I still overheard several overzealous young men talking about “getting in the river” and “I could swim in there.”  They may have been able to before the beer, but I didn’t witness anyone actually getting in the river besides the kayakers.  It’s best not to tempt the James River in the spring – too cold and way too early in the year to try to impress anyone.

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