August 10, 2012 by magpiemenina
Jaybird and I went on a little nature-outing the other day to Belle Isle in Richmond, Virginia. We’re both used to having more access to the outdoors than is currently available at our (very nice!) extended-stay hotel suite, so we went up to Richmond for some walking and outdoor time.
Belle Isle is part of the James River Park System. If you live in the area and haven’t been, I highly recommend it. This was my fourth visit and Jaybird’s second. The island (loosely called; I’m not certain that it is truly surrounded by water on all sides, or at least enough to count) can be reached from an awesome pedestrian bridge, accessible from a parking lot on West Canal Street. The bridge is sure to delight the engineering-minded. It’s suspended from two bridges high above the James River and the island. The walk over offers some great vistas, including automobile bridges, train tracks, Tredegar iron works, crumbling bridge pylons, the Richmond downtown skyline, and, of course, the James River and its attendant waterfowl.
The island was used briefly during the Civil War as a POW camp for captured Union soldiers. If I recall correctly from the information signs on the island, the camp was short-lived and the Union POWs sent to the dreadful Andersonville prison in Georgia. The land was later used for various industrial pursuits, including unsuccessful hydro-electric dams that quickly silted up.
Belle Isle is a tremendously appealing place. First of all, it is gorgeous. The vegetation is lush and there are huge, flat, smooth rocks dotting the river, which make it a great place to picnic, catch some sun, or splash around in the water. From the rocks, you can see the historic Hollywood Cemetery across the river and Richmond’s downtown. Secondly, the detritus of industry dots the island – old lamp posts, industrial equipment, walls, railroad bridges, and a few empty buildings and walls. It is fun and safe to explore as long as common sense is in use, and quite exciting to the imagination. There’s also the historical interest that accompanies the detritus, and most large remains are marked with didactic signs. Thirdly, the park has great recreational opportunities. These include fishing, rock climbing, swimming, biking, and hiking/jogging. There’s a relatively new mountain-bike skills course. By and large, the people you encounter in the park are friendly and out for a jaunt, just like you. Take your dog for a walk, if you have one. Finally, though I doubt this is sanctioned by the James River Park authorities, the foot bridge and ruins are a great place to check out some local graffiti.
Anyhow, definitely spend some time at Belle Isle if you are in Richmond. Maybe visit the Tredegar Iron Works (I haven’t – yet) and then head over to the park for lunch on the rocks and a short walk around.
Richmond has a lot of great places to visit, and I hope to share them with you as we visit some in the next few months.