The main Floodwall parking area is at the south end of the 14th Street Bridge (Mayo Bridge) in Manchester. Walk the eastern portion by walking under the bridge and the western portion from the parking lot. Both offer great views of the downtown Richmond skyline and the river.
The wall is popular for hikers, runners, bird watchers and kayakers. There are plenty of spots to stop and watch the river at the beginning of the Falls of the James.
In the spring, this area is a hotbed of activity, with great blue heron and osprey looking to feed off migrating fish. The wild and undeveloped islands in the middle of the James River provide wonderful protection for the wildlife and a chance to buffer themselves from people and predators.
Kayakers use the area at times to form a circuit, running the Southside Rapids down to the tidal James at the 14th Street Bridge and then carrying their kayaks along the Floodwall to the Manchester Bridge to put in for another run.
Runners and bikers can use the Floodwall to connect the Manchester Climbing Wall to the 14th Street Bridge, taking in the scenic views from above the James. The trail can connect with the Canal Walk, the Robert E. Lee Bridge or the Belle Isle Pedestrian Bridge to form a circuit.
The Floodwall Walk also extends to the east from the 14th Street Bridge and that area is popular for fishermen, especially in the spring. The water below is where the tidal waters meets the Falls of the James and is where the fish tend to school, rest and feed before attempting to climb the falls to spawn up river. Watch for non-poisonous water snakes that like to live among the rip-rap granite boulders.
The eastern portion of the Floodwall Walk connects with the Richmond Slave Trail and is a great place to see the city and watch busy urban railroad activity.
Diversity Park is a grassy, landscaped portion nestled in between the Manchester Canal and the Floodwall at the 14th Street Bridge. It was dedicated October 11, 2007. A marker at the site declares “this site is dedicated to diversity, mutual acceptance and inclusion among individuals and faith groups across international boundaries and political divides.” It has a sister site in Moster, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The floodwall project was dedicated on October 21, 1994, at an estimated cost of $143 million. The wall is designed to protect those areas located behind it against a flood with an average recurrence interval of 280 years, according to the City of Richmond. The southside portion has an earthen levee, approximately 9,000 feet long; a combination bin wall/levee, approximately 2,000 feet long and a concrete floodwall, approximately 2,000 feet long.
It is one of the largest flood-protection systems in the nation and it opened miles of the James River to public access, with river walks, trails and scenic overlooks. The total length of the Floodwall is 3.2 miles of concrete, steel, earth and rock, with 1.2 miles on the north shore of the James River and 2 miles on the south bank.
The construction of the Floodwall was spurred by eight major floods in Richmond between 1969 and 1987. Among those were the first-, second-, third- and seventh-worst floods in modern history, with combined damages of more than $140 million.
The Floodwall is designed to protect Richmond from floods of up to 32 feet, which would have stopped all of the recorded floods except Tropical Storm Agnes, which hit 36.5 feet in June 23, 1972. Second worst, flooding reached 30.8 feet on Nov. 7, 1985 and Tropical Storm Camille was the third worst at 28.6 feet on Aug. 22, 1969.