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Richmond's Riverfront Canal Walk

By: Michelle Harper

RIchmondThe weather had finally been nice enough to consider the first "real" ride in quite a while. We decided to head in the general direction of Richmond. Quite honestly, I wasn't hopeful about finding much more than yet another downtown shopping district. Not that I have anything against shopping and I really love "old towns" but I was really looking forward to something a bit more scenic. It was a nice surprise to stumble upon one of Richmond's newest hidden treasures, the recently completed Canal and Floodwall Walk - a 3.25 mile loop along the James River and Kanwha and Haxal Canals.

RichmondWe began our walk on the James River and Kanwha Canal portion of the walk. (Later we discovered that the best bet for making the tour was to begin at the Civil War Center [photos] on Tredegar Street, where parking is free and so is the information on the Canal Walk - oh well.) However, at the time we weren't quite sure as to what we had discovered, so we eagerly stopped and read markers and signs offered along the way, which seemed to be located almost every where, including on the drain covers! It seemed as though even the steady rush of modern-day Richmond's traffic rumbling all around us could not drown out the echoes of Richmond's historical past.

RichmondThe canals were originally intended to be a part of a continuous transportation route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. In its heyday the canals employed over 200 boats of varying types, 425 horses and 900 men. Richmond was a thriving and vital industrial community thanks primarily to the canals.

By the early 1900's the canals begin to lose their importance as the railroads begin to thrive, and once again Richmond prevailed as a leader and innovator even with this "new" mode of transportation. In fact, the world's only triple train crossing can still be seen along a portion of the Canal Walk. Eventually even the mighty railways lost their reign as the king of transportation to the modern highways that can be seen in a tangle of highways directly overhead.

It occurred to me that within a mere few feet along this portion of the walk, you can trace the entire history of Richmond's transportation from water to rail to roads. As if that isn't impressive enough, Richmond's 1,500 feet of floodwall speaks volumes as to the ingenuity of man. The floodwater marks from hurricanes past, serve as a devastating reminder as to natures intensity and man's ongoing battle to learn to harness its destruction.

RIchomndAs in many places in Virginia, the Civil War has left its distinctive footprints all along the Canal Walk, particularly on the Haxal Canal portion of the loop. Browns Island contained the greatest industrial complex in the south during the Civil War era. In fact, half of the armaments used by the Confederate army were produced there. Belle Isle is a tragic reminder of the human tolls of war as it was used to house over 8,000 Union soldiers in a prison camp where many met their fate due to the overcrowded conditions and harsh winters.

You are bound to get hungry while strolling along the historic Canal Walk. Picnic tables are available at various places along the walk. If you prefer to eat indoors, there are great dining opportunities in Richmond's historic Shockoe Slip area. We discovered the Richbrau Brewing Company located at 1218 E. Carey St.; a unique brewery and restaurant inside a restored warehouse style building offering everything to eat from the unusual such as "Big Nasty Nachos, seafood chili, duck burritos to the more typical fare of fish and chips. They also offer a variety of unique beers brewed right on the premises. The warm and cozy pub-style atmosphere combined with friendly service adds to the overall pleasant dining experience.

Whether you prefer a leisurely stroll along the beautifully restored canals, a relaxing boat tour (in season), or perhaps an upclose study of Richmond's rich history, the Canal Walk offers an excellent way to spend your day. It is easy to forget you are in the heart of Richmond as the din of traffic gives way to the echoes of the past. If you listen carefully enough, you may even hear the echoes of the Powhatan Indians who had discovered this vital area long before any settlers realized its potential.

For more information visit:
http://www.richmondriverfront.com/

More photos of Belle Isle and the Civil War Museum

 

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