This past week, I took a drive down to Richmond, Virginia and, between helping a relative move, I was able to find a little bit of time to enjoy the city and some of its more natural areas. Like many modern urban settings, nature has been pushed back to areas that are unable to be developed or undesirable for development. However, the city or Richmond has taken steps to set up an amazing park system that runs along the James River, and this is where I chose to spend my bit of free time.
The James River Park System comprises 550 acres of land and water and provides the city with a multitude of benefits. One of these benefits is a diverse riparian zone that supports a plethora of wildlife as well as protects the river and the city from one another. The area also provides an outdoor science classroom and playground. Citizens and visitors of Richmond are fortunate to have such a natural resource preserved in the heart of the city.
I found myself in the park on a clear and beautiful summer morning walking through a meadow towards the woods that separate the urban from the natural. Wildflowers were in bloom as bees and other insects went about their business as though they were unaware of me and the city surrounding them. On the edges of the meadow stood bright pink mimosas in full bloom, and beyond them, a forest of large trees including tulip poplars and birches. I found my eyes immediately pulled towards some large sweetgum trees towering high into the canopy as squirrels jumped from limb to limb and song birds sang their melodies. While my eyes inspected the canopy, my feet were busy making their way to the shore line.
Upon reaching the shore, I kicked off my sandals and began hopping boulder to boulder out into the river as fish darted below my shadow. Arriving early, I had most of the scenery reserved to myself and the wildlife. From the flock of geese and their goslings to the cranes and the fish they searched for, I was filled with the life of the river. Between the rocks, plants like button bush and willows clung, gulping up water and attracting bees and other terrestrial critters out into the water. I quickly became engrossed in the scenery and the liveliness of my surroundings.
Among all of this, the cityscape became a distant entity that only encroached periodically. Occasionally, a tractor trailer on a bridge or the crest of a building would make its way into my senses only to slip back into the wildlife. Among the less distracting reminders of location, were kayakers, joggers, swimmers, and children climbing trees, all looking as equally at home as the flora and fauna. To have such an escape close to home breathes energy into the city and the people that touch it.
Although my time in the park was short lived, it became one of the highlights of my trip and made it that much more enjoyable. If I were to find myself back in Richmond, there is no doubt in my mind that I would spend more time there. I would probably wear some swimming trunks, take a fishing pole, and pack a lunch or, if feeling energized, ride a mountain bike and rent a kayak.
The choices of recreation are vast and intermixed with opportunities for education ranging from the natural sciences to the deep history of the city. If you ever find yourself in Richmond, don’t pass up the opportunity to spend an afternoon or day along the James River.