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Richmond has finally marked the 2.5 mile Slave Trail that tells the story of slavery and its consequences in Richmond and the U.S. with 17 handsome and instructive markers that make the journey well worth it now, even without a guide.

The trail begins South of the river just west of Ancarrow's Landing

As a Friend of James River Park, where the trail begins, I was with Ralph White, James River Park System park manager, to help unveil the second marker near the old Manchester Docks where Africans centuries ago disembarked from slave ships to find more misery in Virginia.  Later hundreds of thousands were shipped from Richmond, “sold down the river,” when Virginia had excess slaves that the states in the deep South wanted. A small group of us read the litany with him, promising to remember those who had passed through here, denied their dignity and rights, and acknowledge their strength, survival skills, and stories and those of their descendants.

Later at the big ceremony at the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail site, where Governor McDonnell, Mayor Jones, Congressman Scott, Delegate and Slave Trail Commission Chair Delores McQuinn and many other dignitaries spoke to a crowd of nearly 1000 people of all ages and complexions, I teared up several times. Once when Claude Perkins, president of Virginia Union University, which rose from an earlier incarnation of a school for free blacks on the same site where the notorious slave jail had been, asked everyone in the audience who ever attended VUU to stand up. Such a proud moment. Goosebumps. I could feel the connections over the centuries vibrating in the air. I’m getting teary-eyed just thinking about it. It made it clear that the trail is much longer than two and a half miles and it commemorates much more than slavery.

Just a small part of the assembled crowd

 When the One Voice Chorus sang a spiritual and James Weldon Johnson’s Lift Every Voice and Sing, and I saw so many people singing along, that got me, too, and then when the Mayor let it rip with his Sunday best, I was about ready to sign up for church again.

It was nice to see Del. McQuinn lauded for her tireless work to get this thing going. I wouldn’t bet against her when it comes to future plans she hinted at. Thank goodness one of the last speakers recognized Ralph White, Nathan Burrell, and Peter Bruce for all the work they’ve put in to taking care of the Slave Trail for 18 years with approximately no budget.

Peter Bruce and his helpers have done so much for so long.

Cricket and Ralph White were instrumental in making the trail whole.

They were a huge part of the group who turned what looked like nothing into one of the best somethings Richmond has to offer. I wish that everyone who ever sets foot in Richmond walks this trail. And remember, it’s bad form to complain about ANYTHING on the slave trail. Elegba Folklore Society’s torchlit trail walk will be June 18th this year. Put it on your calendar.

Last week while the James River was still running at flood stage, I went down to the Pipeline Trail, just east of the Christopher Newport Cross near the Floodwall at 12th and Byrd St. (Parking is available in a small lot there.) The roosting Great Blue Herons were visible in their Dr. Seuss-like nests in the middle of the river and my friend, Mary, who has a bit of a fear of heights, braved the ladder down onto the actual pipeline that put us close to the action of the river and the wildlife and right under a working railroad track. What a great combo!

Herons come home to roost in Richmond.

I love that Richmond has places that are not Disney-fied and perfect and perfectly safe yet are still available to the public. Go at your own risk and try not to be too dumb, public! We managed to stay on the pipe–there are rails for much of it–but had to turn around where it was blocked off due to high water. We saw some fish fighting the current, but we weren’t  tempted to behave badly since the water was pushing hard. When a loaded coal train rumbled overhead, we were happy that somebody built that trestle to last. It’s often a great spot to watch expert kayakers ply their trade.

Not related to expert kayakers in the least, the first time I rafted the James, our guide wanted us to surf the Pipeline. In the roar of the river, we couldn’t really hear what she was telling us, but it seemed like she wanted my husband and a friend’s husband up in the front of the boat, so we shifted accordingly.  We surfed for approximately no time at all and the guide said, according to our husbands, “It takes two guys to surf the Pipeline.” Their chests puffed out accordingly, completely missing the facts that we a) hadn’t really surfed the Pipeline and b) the guide had actually said, “It takes two guides to surf the Pipeline.” and c) what she didn’t say but meant was “when the guys are as lame-o as these two.”

Part of the Pipeline Rapids

If you’d like a guide, there will be a Richmond Audubon-led tour of the Heron Rookery this Saturday, March 26th at 10 a.m. Park at the boaters’ 14th St. take-out parking lot, but remember that the 14th St. Bridge will be closed some on Saturday, so you’ll have to arrive from the north. Guys not necessary.

To have sex, of course. Right there in public, outside even, along Riverside Drive in Stratford Hills, a little west of Pony Pasture.  Since that cute Yellow-Spotted Salamander is the  mascot of Friends of James River Park perhaps we should change our name to Lovers of James River Park. No, that’s ok.

I've never had the pleasure....

This photo is from last year, and it pains me to look at it because it reminds me that I struck out twice last year in  my attempts to see these salamanders who call my neighborhood home come out of the mud on a rainy night in February or March to cavort as only salamanders do.  My friend sent me that photo, but by the time I got there, all I got was a bunch of spring peepers going nutty.  Maybe this year will be the one. Hope springs eternal, in matters of love and yellow-spotted salamanders.

Ducks do it:

What's the big deal?

Yesterday at Pony Pasture, the ducks couldn’t be bothered by the to-do surrounding the 15 or so die-hards who arrived at the boat ramp at noon for the 4th annual Polar Plunge. Air temps were fairly kind, but still the chill was on the skin and faces of the cheery crazies even before they took the plunge.

Showing some guts, so to speak!

And at the stroke of noon, they were in, in honor of Wayne Goodman, RA-More stalwart and trail-builder extraordinaire, who is recovering from a spinal cord injury he suffered in Forest Hill Park. 

in the drink

Don’t expect to see a photo of moi in the James…maybe next year. It’s too bad I didn’t jump in wearing only James River Park license plate applications. That would have made great TV.

We don’t need Clarence the angel’s help to get our 350 completed license plate applications by January–we need YOURS! We’ve received more than 190 completed applications so far, but we need another 160 this next month to make this dream a reality. I believe, but Friends of James River Park needs all of our members and friends to send applications in today! (Pay with PayPal at www.jamesriverpark.org  and get the application and info)

Here are 5 ways to help us get the plate now:

 #1 Think of the people who have made the park possible–Jack Keith, Jr., Joe Schaefer, Louise Burke, R.B. Young, and so many more. Buy a plate in their honor. I’m giving Louise a plate as a small token of appreciation for her work with her Girl Scout troop and concerned neighbors saving Pony Pasture from becoming a highway in the 1960’s. I’m a Brownie drop-out and I do NOT want to compound that humilation with having to tell Louise that she’ll never get a James River Park System license plate. Let’s get this done! Whom do you want to honor? 

 #2 Please spread the word on Facebook and Twitter. SportsBackers, Dominion RiverRock and our James River Park Facebook page. That will keep the buzz going.

 #3 Ask your friends and neighbors. Have their walks, runs, paddles, and bike rides in the James River Park System given them $25 worth of value this year?  It’s time to give the JRPS a present for all it has done for all of us. 

 #4 If you know of any large-scale event coming up (even in January) where park-lovers would be gathering and we could set up a table to promote the plates, please let us know at friends@jamesriverpark.org and perhaps volunteer to staff such tables.

 #5 For the person who has everything this holiday season, give him or her the promise of beautiful James River Park license plates. It’s a green gift–no wrapping necessary– and it will add park pride to the owner’s vehicle when they receive it in June. They’ll be reminded of you every time they ogle their plates.

 FOJRP believes it is crucial for the Friends to secure this dependable stream of income (once we have 1000 plates on the road, FOJRP gets $15 of every renewal and new application over that) in light of uncertain budgetary times for parks. We have composting toilets, trailhead signs, kiosks, trail markers and more we’d like to purchase and programs we’d like to underwrite so everyone can enjoy the park for years to come. Thanks so much for your help in clearing the first hurdle of our license plate campaign this January.

Compared to what some people have done for the James River Park System, it might seem miniscule and inconsequential to do your own part for the future of the park by completing your JRPS license plate application:  JamesRiverPark_LicensePlate_FAQ11, but I’m here to tell you that writing a check for $25 (which money would be returned to you in January if we don’t hit our 350 apps goal) for a James River Park System license plate is the most important thing you can do for the park this year.  And yes, I am the president of the Friends of James River Park, so ask me any questions you’d like.

So much easier to do than create a park from nothing

If we get the 190 or so applications that we still need by this year’s General Assembly session in January, you will be the proud owner of this fab license plate by early summer.  Once we hit 1000 license plates on the road, $15 of every application and renewal will come to Friends of James River Park to improve the park and everyone’s experience of it.

This fall has been particularly lovely and long-lasting and I’ve had plentiful opportunities to hit the trails in the James River Park System and see all the glinting and glowing going on there. I really wonder about people who have lived here for years and don’t experience the park. It’s free and it’s strung out along the river for miles, so it’s accessible to people all over the region. There are even wheelchair accessible spots at Huguenot Flatwater, Pony Pasture, Belle Isle, and Ancarrow’s Landing.

The country mouse would like this city-living

Rock-hopping in the Main Area as I did with my son yesterday, parking at the 42nd St. entrance and walking down the steps and across the bridge over the railroad tracks, we walked over to the granite and bronze marker that the Friends of James River Park put up last year. It honors Jack Keith and Joe Schaefer, two area citizens who in the 1960’s noted that there was no public access to the river and decided to do something about it.

They researched who owned the parcels along the river in Forest Hill and Westover Hills and quietly accumulated the islands and shoreline. They then turned around and gave the land to the city for a park. In 1972 it became the James River Park System. It is not an overstatement to say that the work, foresight, and generosity of these two men have brought joy to millions of people.  Two guys–what a legacy.

Where it all started--thanks, guys!

 To help FOJRP continue what Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Keith started, please fill out your JRPS license plate application and send it in to us today! FOJRP is an all-volunteer, shoe-string kind of charitable organization –a 501c3– and making this license plate campaign successful would be a huge step for us in securing a constant stream of income that we can use to protect and improve the park. Thanks for your help in spreading the word. If two guys can do what they did, certainly 200 people can accomplish something worthwhile as well.

Sometimes nature knows best:

Here's looking at you, hole in the tree

Sometimes nature makes a mess of things.

river wood

Sometimes nature needs a nudge from nurture to be what looks like has always been and belonged.

not quite afloat

To my eye, this sculpture by R. L. Croft looks like something John Smith left behind or a pirate ship or an oversized eagles’ nest. But whether you’re inclined to see John Smith’s shallop or a pile of wood, it’s worth taking a walk in the woods at Pony Pasture in the  James River Park System to check it out. Take the main riverside trail east from the parking lot to Half Moon Beach. There take the narrow trail even closer to the river east and you’ll see the sculpture soon. That is if idiots don’t wreck it. It’s already changed since I saw it earlier this week. One bit of wood with iron in it is no longer standing athwart the stern (misusing boat terms for fun–avoiding pirate-speak to preserve my dignity) and I chastized two males today for taking a wooden pallet from elsewhere in the park to do some dumb thing to the boat. I guess some people’s nature is to wreck things. I’d rather leave that to nature.

in dry dock for now

This will be worth checking on when the river rises, as the boat might seem to float. When it floods, part of it will most assuredly become part of another log jam downriver.

Happy to let those more talented than I have their say or show off their handiwork. People who use their hands for something other than texting and typing are my favorites. Keep your mind out of the gutter, please.

So, until I get there tmw and get my own photo, herewith a link to Friends of James River Park’s Facebook page to see the  Pony Pasture Natural Sculpture done by sculptor R. L. Croft and Ken Huston of northern Virginia. Croft’s daughter is in school at VCU. More proof that the interplay among Richmond’s natural resources and our other less natural but sometimes still organic resources produces some mighty cool stuff.

Reminiscent of Andy Goldsworthy, he of  Rivers and Tides. Now that’s really cheating, plagiarizing oneself.

What I would give to make Chappel Island downtown, just east of the Mayo Bridge on the north bank of the James, into a sculpture park with winding paths leading to whimsical, mournful, and natural sculptures. That stretch of river has seen it all and letting something other than statues of dead guys on horses tell the story of Richmond and the river would be most refreshing. It would be the perfect marriage of Richmond’s arts and parks. I can almost see it.

I was out at Chesterfield Town Center B & N the other night, signing

It's funnier than it looks

which, believe me, I know is fairly ridiculous, and only partly because I don’t make any money when it sells since it was work-for-hire. Still, I have my reasons. I’m happy to get the book in people’s hands because it might help them love the outdoorsy, artsy stuff that’s all around us here in Richmond, and I’m happy to promote the James River Park System and our license plate campaign, and of course, I’m quite interested in yapping about Real Richmond food tours. I’ve had lots of pleasant conversations about Richmond with all sorts of people, and it’s been almost entirely enjoyable, but who wants to hear about that?

Standing or sitting in a store being ignored or ignoring people who clearly want to be ignored takes a special skill-set. I always knew my summer job at Dellas General Store in Cape May, hiding from customers who couldn’t find the other flip-flop or being treated like crap by mean managers would pay-off bigtime. 

I met a mother-daughter pair who were looking at a book about national parks right next to my table. When I asked if they’d spent time in any of the  James River Park’s 17 sections in the city, they sneered at me and said huffily that they live right at it and it certainly wasn’t  in the city. I gently and politely informed them that we were talking about different parks. To my credit, I didn’t say, “Um, maybe you should buy this book, cause you live near James River High School and Robious Landing Park, which is a perfectly fine place to live, but it ain’t the James River Park System.  Instead I offered them an enemies of James River Park sticker and left it at that.

Another memorable moment was when a woman feinted towards my table and when I asked how long she’d lived in Richmond, she answered, “one month.” I suggested the guidebook might be helpful. She looked at the cover that says Richmond, VA and said, “Oh, I don’t live in Richmond; I live in Salisbury,” and walked away.  Priceless. How mature am I that I resisted the temptation to shout after her, “Honey, you need this book more than most!”

We’ll see how I survive out in the wilds of Short Pump B & N today, from 11-2 and then in friendlier territory Tuesday, Nov. 9th from 5:30-7:30 at Libbie Place B & N.

Two out of three weekend days I’ve had the pleasure of walking along the James River on Riverside Drive in Stratford Hills and on the paths of the James River Park System at Pony Pasture and the Wetlands. It never ceases to amaze and horrify me how many people who live in Richmond never see these scenes.

A Great Blue Heron looking good

The light was exquisite, the leaves were all aglow, and the river rushed and sparkled just as it should. Herons, ducks, and cormorants hung out, dogs and their owners frolicked, children rode by on bikes, and joggers passed my husband and me now and then.

Fall is a wonderful time of year to head to Pony Pasture because it’s not overrun with sunbathers. On Friday, we saw only a few souls as we walked the riverside trail not quite as far as to the bridge to the Wetlands. This morning we had a little more company, but still had plenty of time and scenery to ourselves.

photosynthesis is photogenic

So I am  on the board of the Friends of James River Park. It is my sworn duty to tell people to get their butts and other parts to the park (and while you’re there, please pick up trash and a James River Park license plate application). As my almost 5 yr. old nephew said this a.m. after romping along trails, inspecting downed trees, and running with sticks, “This is a great playground!” He said it.

I’m back!

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