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Where's Grandma Moses when I need her?


‘Twas the week before Christmas when all through the park, all the creatures were stirring; they like it in the dark. The applications were set in the mailbox with care in hopes that a James River Park license plate soon would be there.

The salamanders were nestled all snug in the mud while visions of license plates danced in the crud. And FOJRP board members in our kerchiefs and I in my cap had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out in the park there arose such a clatter, we sprang to the river to see what was the matter. When what to our wondering eyes did appear, but a miniature truck and actual deer, with a little old driver so lively and bright, we knew in a moment it must be Ralph White.

He was dressed all in khaki from his head to his toe except for the kneesocks if you really must know. A bundle of presents he had in his truck but he said the park needed a couple of bucks. His eyes–how they twinkled! His dimples how merry. His cheeks were all bearded–park employees are hairy.

He spoke a few words, but went straight to his work, and filled us with awe; then dealt with a jerk. As anyone who loves the James River Park knows, we’d all be so lost without Ralph’s poetry and prose.

He sprang to his truck, to his team used his bullhorn and away they all drove like the scrape of a sharp thorn. But I heard him exclaim ere he drove out of state, Happy Christmas to all, and to all a JRPS license plate!

My first task upon taking the job writing  Insiders\’ Guide to Richmond, VA was to come up with a Table of Contents and outline the book, pitching whatever chapters I thought relevant to Richmond.  Are you surprised I didn’t write one on monuments? Instead I suggested a river chapter since I don’t think you can appreciate Richmond without experiencing the James River here. (and yes I was on the board of the Friends of James River Park when I wrote the book–still am.)

Some cities’ guidebooks combine Recreation and Parks in one chapter. I knew we had more than enough to split that, so I did. I added an Architecture chapter because RVA is so strong and quirky in that area–Agecroft and Phillip Johnson’s WRVA building and Thomas Jefferson’s Capitol, oh my! And for that war you’ve probably heard about, I paired it, a la Future of Richmond\’s Past, with Emancipation, so visitors don’t think we’re living in some twisted, glorified past. What happened here is more complicated than most people realize and there are lots of compelling and illuminating stories that still need telling.

I didn’t like that in the Houston guide, which oddly enough was my template, art galleries were listed only in the Shopping chapter, so I paired our art galleries with museums in one chapter. Historic houses get their bit in the Attractions chapter.

In the Restaurant chapter and several others, I decided to do things differently than most dining guides around here and not go alphabetically. It made no sense to me to let Ashland, no matter how many times I’ve heard it referred to as the center of the universe, get top billing in Richmond’s book when it’s 15 miles out of town. And Brandermill and Chester!!! Um no.  I started Downtown and circled around within the city north of the river and then went south of the river for the rest of the city. Only then was it the counties’ turn.

Let’s not kid anybody–the best attractions are within Richmond’s city limits. Sometimes in the guise of regional cooperation, people fudge that. I put the city front and center as often as it made sense to. There’s just no question where the action is even if the counties offer some interesting and worthy destinations now and again-the State Fair in Doswell is one such event.

I could psycho-analyze Richmond all day long and share my various theories about why we hide our light under a bushel, but I’d rather blow the lid off and show people how worthy we are–even if we’re not  quite ready.

See my article online at Richmond Magazine, Richmond, You are Here, for more of my thoughts on improving the visitor experience in Richmond. I’d love to hear yours.

A couple of Saturdays ago, my husband, some friends, and I  hiked James River Park’s trails from Westover Hills on the south side across the river to the North Bank trail and back across the Belle Isle bridges to our Forest Hill Park starting point. In a stroke of brilliance, we decided to meet our friends at the South of the James Farmers’ Market at 8 a.m. Fortified with chocolate chip cookies from , honey crisp apples (from one of the vendors) that tasted like apples are supposed to taste and haven’t tasted in years, and enough trail mix that I had made to sustain us for months, we set off. I was tempted to bring some pies along, but that would have gotten messy. (We are the only people I know who go to farmers’ markets to buy cookies and pies and pizza dough, just like gramma used to grow on the old family farm.)

First we poked around the Forest Hill Park Lake renovations, which are lovely. Walk the paved paths if you’re feeling lazy or go off-road as we did to feel like you are in the mountains.

In the city, I swear

Then we snuck onto the Buttermilk Trail and proceeded clockwise, over hill and dale to see some of the beautiful stone work, wooden bridges, and landscaping that volunteers put in. The stairway looks like a classic CCC project, but was completed just last year. Then we crossed the Boulevard Bridge and took in the views up and down the river.  If only the Huguenot Bridge were as pleasant to be on. Sigh.

we were tempted to jump aboard....

As we walked by Maymont, we spied one of the bears hanging out in the sun, which was warming us all up quite nicely and wondered why Maymont doesn’t open up a gate to connect the trail to the park during the day. Perhaps they don’t want the plentiful mountain bikers from the trail zooming in. I wasn’t too crazy about seeing them either, especially when one nearly sent me down a ravine. A happier sight, above a steep ramp, we saw city Parks and Rec Trail Manager, Nathan Burrell, and several volunteers from MORE improving the trail. I didn’t feel too guilty walking by as I had put in some serious hours at Pony Pasture with the Friends of James River Park this summer. At that point, the trail followed Kansas St. a few blocks before heading back down into the woods at the Texas Beach entrance. The North Bank trail continued below Mt. Cavalry, Riverview, and Hollywood cemeteries and came out near the pedestrian bridge onto Belle Isle (and bathrooms at Tredegar).

Back on the southside, where we belong, at the 22nd Street stairway crossing the railroad tracks, we came upon a geology class from John Tyler CC. I should have signed up on the spot since I needed more info along the way other than what my information-gathering told me: some damned big rocks–Falls of the James and all that.  I did see the place where farmers stored their buttermilk, hence the trail’s name. That was enough information for me.  We were wiped out by the time we got back to our car, but in a good, happy, we spent our time better than most people did kind of way. Which was as good as it got, because later that afternoon Ed and I did what everyone else does Saturdays, shopped for an appliance for hours on end, so I guess we wound up no better than anybody else, just more tired.

I’m back!