I visited Williams Island recently and finally got a closer look at the lighted buoys that warn paddlers of north dam at the island. In September, I wrote about residents on the north bank reportedly being upset about the bright lights coming from the buoys. Continue reading
While adventuring on Williams Island this weekend, I noticed a red-bottomed paddle boat turned upside down just below the north dam at Williams Island, which is just across the river from Pony Pasture Rapids. It probably was washed down during the past flooding on the James River, but it could have been there even longer since that area is not visited much during the winter months.
There is a new interpretive sign at the Z-Dam at Williams Island on scenic Riverside Drive about 1/2 mile west of Pony Pasture. The sign was installed the first week of January. According to James River Park manager Ralph White, there are four more interpretive signs planned for installation — Great Shiplock Park, Pony Pasture, Huguenot Flatwater and along the scenic roadway overlook above the towering arches of the Atlantic Coastline Bridge (James River Railway Bridge).
The low crooked dam before you is part of the City’s water treatment complex. It creates the large pond of water to your left that backs up and around Williams Island in front of you and funnels water into the treatment plant that is out of sight about 1/2 mile to your right.
The “Z” shape of the dam is a result of attaching the foundation to prominent rocks in the riverbed.
The notch in the dam 100 feet from shore allows migrating fish like shad, herring and striped bass to travel upstream to spawn. It also serves as an impromptu passageway for expert kayakers.
The frothing torrent at the base of the dam creates a unique niche for wildlife. The water washes in food and oxygen while the crevices between the rocks at the bottom provide an escape from the moving water.
It is common to see bald eagles, otters, osprey and great blue herons in this area. The mix of calm water to the left, rapids to the right and tall trees along both sides shorelines creates a rich mix of habitats.
The large rocks along the shore to your left are thought to be the anchor stones of the original dam. It ran from here to the western tip of the island back in the 1800s. The pool it created allowed small boats and barges to be poled across the smooth water to the town of Westham. These vessels carried blocks of granite cut from the quarry behind you and passengers and wagons that traveled down the Old Westham Road just out of sight to your left.
The wall of rock behind you is a remnant of the granite quarry.
OLD ROAD AND FERRY LANDING
About 200 yards to your left is a long ridge of earth. It drops down from the hillside and intersects Riverside Drive at a right angle. It looks like a loaf of French bread with the end cut off.
This is a remnant of the Old Westham Road — once an important travel route that led to the ferry crossing. Due to rocks and rapids, this was the last place to cross the river until the bridge at Mayo’s Island seven miles down stream.
A small paved portion of the old road still remains. You can find it behind the 7-11 Store near Forest Hill Avenue & Hathaway Road. It only goes about 1/4 of a mile.
-Sign funded by a donation to the James River Park Fund by Rob and Leslie Lamphear
There are plenty of little islands and large boulders to be found in the Falls of the James as the river progresses through Richmond. In the warmer weather, it is common to find campsites dotting the river, like with the tent nestled into the trees on an island next to Brown’s Island in downtown Richmond.
For example, one could find plenty of campsites dotting the river between the James River Railway Bridge and Boulevard Bridge the night of the Fourth of July in sight of the Carillon and the fireworks at Dogwood Dell. The interior woods of Williams Island is another consistent spot.
Have you ever camped on the James River? Is there a problem with people who do? Where are the best places? What kind of thrill does it add being on the James in Richmond instead of off in the wilderness?
The buoys in question are not pictured, but are above the north dam at Williams Island
Residents on the north bank are reportedly upset about the bright lights coming from two buoys set in the north channel of the James River as it approaches a dam on the north side of Williams Island.
The buoys are there to warn boaters of the nearby dam, which is in place to divert water from the James into the City of Richmond Water Purification Plant.
The homes are situated on a bluff in a the pricy neighborhood overlooking the James River above uninhabited Williams Island, which is across from Pony Pasture Rapids on Riverside Drive.
There are two buoys on the south side of Williams Island as well, positioned to warn boaters of the Z-Dam. Those buoys are apparently not lighted. All four buoys were put in place by the Department of Public Utilities, which is in charge of the two dams and the 100-acre Williams Island.
Solution to the “bright buoys” problem? There are plenty of golf balls to be found along the north bank of Williams Island. Maybe the residents need to improve their aim?
Learn more about Williams Island at the Richmond on the James blog and see a slideshow