As the Coronavirus lockdown stretched on from March to April, we began to search for things to do close by in Richmond while remaining appropriately socially distant. That was easier said than done; cabin fever and the fantastic spring weather had led many people to look for the same kinds of activities. Plus, Laura and McKenna imposed restrictive guidelines on the search. They wanted to see nature that was essentially bug free. They wanted scenic walks that did not involve too much walking. We were nevertheless able to identify activities that made everyone happy. It was a coronavictory.
Powhatan State Park
The closest Virginia state park to our house is Pocahontas State Park, but the central location of that park tends to draw people from all over the Richmond area. So in an effort to try something new and avoid a park that was the most popular across three counties, we headed northwest to Powhatan.
Not only was Powhatan State Park virtually empty of other people, which earns it high marks in my book both during a pandemic and otherwise, it offered a nice, appropriately long walk along the James River.
One problem that we ran into at this park was that Finley picked up lots of the little green burrs that grow in the area, leading Laura to observe that Finley had “Highjackers” all over him.
One quarantine problem that we faced was that Laura and McKenna often didn’t recognize when they were going stir crazy, and their descent into insanity typically occurred unabated until there was a fight over something like if, when using our microwave popcorn popper, the butter should be applied to the popcorn kernels before popping them or if it should only be applied to the fully popped popcorn. The growing danger of such an conflict inspired me to scour the internet to find Dutch Gap, a trail around a channel cut to the James River in 1611 by Thomas Dale located by Henricus Park.
Dutch Gap has a pretty extensive network of trails, most of which paralleled the channel and other waterways. Exploring the trails enabled us to find some excitement after the monotony of being at home.
And most of the Dutch Gap trails were wide enough that the chances of Finley being highjacked by burrs were greatly reduced.
John J. Radcliffe Appomattox River Conservation Area
Apparently, the founders of this park, located at the dam in the Appomattox River, had searched long and hard for a name that would make the area sound as unappealing as possible. This worked to our benefit, as social distancing would not be a problem at this small park. The park’s trail offered views of the river most of the way.
One drawback is that while the trail was not crowded, the one other person we did run into was an older man who managed to work all of the following into a short conversation with us:
- A warning about copperhead snakes on the trail
- Detailed information about his impending divorce
- That he was carrying a loaded pistol in his belt holster
- A reassurance us that he would shoot (and had shot) any copperheads he found, presumably on the trail.
Fortunately, snake-shooting gun guy was slow moving enough that we easily outpaced him. Once we were sure we had left behind any vigilantes meting out their own form of snake justice, we let Finley off his leash to terrorize the local squirrel population.
The path at the park wound between a swamp and the river, which was beautiful in spring and not yet buggy when we went, although the trail looked like it would be in clear violation of the Laura/McKenna anti-bug guidelines once summer rolled around.
The Dry Rocks at Belle Isle
As every student who attends Virginia primary schools knows, Richmond lies on the fall line, a transition point between the flat tidewater area and the hilly piedmont. Along this line, rivers like the James become rocky, which makes area along the fall line a draw for locals and tourists.
The dry rock patch of rocks is so dry because it lies downriver from an old dam built by a power company. Navigating the area involves a bit of a rock scramble.
A drawback of exploring this region, then, is that choosing the right path through the rocks and then navigating the path can take patience and coordination.
In July, the water between the rocks was even lower than normal, which meant there was more surface area to walk on. Hikers in the area could get by with less-than-optimal agility.
The Flood Wall and Potterfield Bridge
Just downriver from Belle Isle is the Potterfield Bridge to Brown’s Island, a fairly new pedestrian bridge that offers great views of the city. The bridge is not tremendously wide, and when I first took McKenna and Finley, I was worried that social distancing might be a problem. I solved that problem by going during a downpour.
A few weeks later, we went to the bridge again when the weather was more appealing to dogs and humans. The good news was that we could still socially distance on a weekday; the bad news was that one of our fellow pedestrians told Laura that the spacing in the bridge was bad for dog paws, which was apparently based on the sparse evidence cited in this article.
Just to the east of the bridge is the Floodwall, which, as far as we know, has not been featured in the newspaper as hazardous to dog paws.
The walks on both the Potterfield Bridge and the Floodwall offer amazing views of the city. The length of the walk was slightly outside of McKenna’s parameters, so we bribed her with the opportunity to swim at Tredegar Beach
All of these excursions made us a bit bolder, and we wandered further afield from the Richmond area to visit Sandbridge, a beach just south of Virginia Beach. In a sign of the times, the Covid regulations were posted at the entrance to the beach.
This was our first trip to the beach with Finley, who isn’t really a fan of the sun.
Finley’s dislike of the sun eventually came into direct conflict with his love of burying sand crabs.
We had almost perfect weather for the day, and the water was surprisingly warm for the time of the year.