The Wetlands is a quiet part of the James River Park System on the south shores of the river in below Stratford Hills — attached to the much more well-known Pony Pasture Rapids Park.
What you’d normally find in the tranquil park is bird watchers, joggers or people walking their dog. During the fall, this is a great place to see a wide variety of colorful leaves.
“Once a cornfield, once actually used as a sewage lagoon, now reverting to its natural swamp like conditions,” said Ralph White in an interview with a slideshow a couple of years ago. “Maintained with a variety of habitats, not only forests but also tall wet meadow environments, shallow ponds. A place that we are managing to foster frogs and salamanders. It has been successful in terms that it has cost nothing in terms of restoring wetland habitat very popular bird-watching site and dog walking area.”
There is a narrow wooden boardwalk through the woods that was constructed as an Eagle Scout project. There are many small trails through the woods to explore and the main gravel path is wide and worn enough to allow for children to bike safely.
There is a beach in the park and if you are willing to carry your craft a long way, it would be possible to takeout from the Wetlands.
The park is located at the end of Landria Drive on the southbank of the James River. There is parking for up to seven cars on the street in the cul-de-sac at the entrance. Please respect the driveways and homes on the street.
One of the quieter places to watch the tidal James River is at Great Shiplock Park at Dock and Pear streets in Shockoe Bottom. It has a historic working canal lock, trails, fishing spots and many great views of the river and downtown.
The site is farthest east of the historic James River & Kanawha canal locks. Take a stroll by the water at Great Shiplock Park. Built in the 1850s with the stone lock completed in 1854, the locks allowed ships to bypass the falls of the James and travel into Virginia’s hills by connecting the James with Richmond Dock. Ships were raised from sea level to the height of the dock in each section of the locks, which accomodated ships as large as 180 feet long by 35 feet wide.
The parkland includes the former Trigg Shipyard, which was built in 1898 and went out of business in 1903. Several ships for the U.S. Navy were constructed there, including the USS Schubrick, a torpedo boat used in the Spanish-American War. The site of the former Trigg shipyard is on the eastern tip of Chapel Island on the south bank of the canal.
See more photos and hear from JRPS manager Ralph White.
The area of the Great Shiplock is a part of the James River Parks System. Alcohol and glass are forbidden. Pets must be leashed, and picked up after. Nothing may be taken from the park.
What can you do?
Fishing: In the tidal area below the falls. Rockfish and others migrate through in the spring. A license is required. The most common are American shad, perch, rockfish (stripped bass) and small mouth bass. You could also see river herring and several types of catfish.
- Shad: The most popular fish is shad, and the most common of that species is hickory shad “they are so common now, which is an indication of how clean the water is,” said Ralph White, manager of the James River Park System.
- White perch (also referred to as “stiff-backs” because of the sharp spines on their dorsal fins): They live in the bay and come up the James River to spawn only at the Mayo Bridge and the Falls of the James. In the spring runs “it is sometimes so dense with fish that you can drop a baited hook in,” said White, “that before your hook hits the bottom, you’ve got a fish on your line.”
- Rockfish or striped bass: “This fish has come back bigtime,” White said. They were “once endangered, are almost now prolific.” Almost all of the boats and fisherman around the Mayo Bridge, Great Shiplock, Anncarrow’s Landing area are fishing for rockfish. “The management has been successful due to the hard work of the Marine Resources Commission and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.”
- Small mouth bass: They become a target in the summertime. Richmond is “one of the nation’s great small mouth bass fishing sites,” White said. The river is “managed for giant trophy-sized fish … you can’t even keep a small mouth that is less than 22 inches long.”
- Catfish (flathead, blue and channel): “Channel is quite good eating,” White said, “especially in the 1 to 2 pound range.” None of the really large fish should be considered as food because large catfish “bio-accumulate” in their tissue when they travel downstream of the Richmond region and can absorb chemicals in the water.
Everybody knows about the popular north side of Belle Isle in downtown Richmond. It’s a party, a place to be seen — and the views of the river and city are spectacular.
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.
There is an unofficial, unmaintained trail on the southside of the James that connects the Manchester Climbing Wall to the southside bridge to Belle Isle known as the Missing Link Trail.
The half-mile path has been in place for many years and mainly runs atop dirt and sediment that has settled for decades behind a nearby VEPCO dam. It is cluttered with debris from high waters from the James, downed trees, large rocks, discarded iron railroad ties and large granite rocks used to stabilize the railroad tracks that run nearby.
“It’s a crude trail, probably more up to hikers than anything else,” said Nathan Burrell, James River Park System’s trail manager, during a recent JROC meeting. There is potential that the JRPS and the volunteer trail building group Richmond-MORE could get involved to develop the trail for more consistent and heavier usage.
This section is considered a key to a connecting greenway between the Buttermilk Trail and Belle Isle to the west with the Floodwall Walk and Canal Walk loop to the east. You can access the trail from paved Canal Loop trail from the parking lot at Semmes and 7th streets (next to SunTrust). Walk down the wooden steps to the left at the top of the Manchester Climbing Wall and take the trail into the woods at the base of the staircase.
Have you ever hiked this trail? Would you be interested in seeing it developed and maintained by the JRPS?
Posted in Belle Isle, Bike Trails, James River, Richmond
Tagged Belle Isle, Greenways, Hidden Gem, Hiking, James River Park System, JROC, Manchester Climbing Wall, Missing Link Trail, Richmond MORE, Spots to Explore, Trails
Did you know that much of the shoreline covering the area between the Powhite Parkway Bridge and the Boulevard Bridge in South Richmond is part of the James River Park System?
It is known within the Department of Parks, Recreation and Facilities as Main Area West and the main trailhead is in the 5300 block of Riverside Drive. A 10 minute hike down hill and across the train tracks will lead river-goers to some of the best granite boulders, vantage points and adventures you can find on the James.
When water levels are low, this area has some of the best adventure hiking in the area. You can walk on top of the concrete pipelines that run through the area to reach remote rocks and islands. You can get underneath the giant arches of the James River Railway Bridge (also known as the Atlantic Coast Line Railway Bridge or Belt Line Bridge) and watch kayakers run the Choo Choo Rapids.
There are also plenty of shady areas to find a good fishing hole, pitch a tent or stash a cooler.
Finding parking on Riverside Drive is almost impossible and nearby New Kent Avenue has limited parking. I suggest riding your bike to the park and locking it to the fencing at the trailhead. Use caution when crossing the railroad tracks and remember to truck out whatever trash is left from whatever you truck in and pick up stray trash, please!