This rendering of the James riverfront imagines uninterrupted public water access and an education center. Image: James River Association

Richmond Property Along James River Secured for Education Center, Trails

The City of Richmond, the James River Association (JRA), and several partners have taken another essential step to provide contiguous riverfront access from downtown all the way to Rocketts Landing.  Last week the Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC), and The Conservation Fund completed the transfer to JRA of 0.85 acres on Dock Street, just below Great Shiplock Park. It marks progress toward several objectives: delivering close-to-home environmental education to Richmond-area school students, protecting the “View that Named Richmond” from Libby Hill Park, opening more public access to the James riverfront, and rerouting the Virginia Capital Trail away from the busy thoroughfare of Dock Street.  

By the terms of the transfer, the only development on this parcel will be JRA’s new Richmond James River Center.  “Our goal is to ensure that every child growing up in ‘America’s Best River Town’ is introduced to the James River and enjoys a lifetime of benefits that the river can provide,” said Bill Street, JRA’s Chief Executive Officer. “Building a leading-edge education center on Richmond’s riverfront will expand our ability to engage local youth, particularly in the historically underserved East End.”

The Dock Street site provides access to several river environments. The existing dock on the tidal portion of the river gives JRA a base downtown for one of its education boats to take students and teachers out on the river. Those waters provide easy paddling conditions for students in canoes and kayaks. Close access to natural woods on Chapel Island provides opportunity for students to study an urban forest, and adjacent Trigg Cove gives students opportunity to experience river life firsthand close to home.  

“The James River Center represents a great opportunity for Richmond Public Schools students to take part in meaningful environmental science education that focuses on the issues and resources within their city,” said Josh Bearman, Science Curriculum and Instructional Specialist with Richmond Public Schools. “Its presence so close to downtown will greatly increase the possibility of access to high impact field experiences on the river, a crucial piece of RPS Science’s goals for place-based learning.”

As part of the transfer, CRLC recorded a conservation easement on the property, ensuring maintenance of public riverfront access and scenic views of the river from nearby Libby Hill Park. The view from Libby Hill Park offers a glimpse back in time, connecting all who visit to history that extends back at least as far as the town ruled by Chief Powhatan’s son Parahunt, whom Captains Christopher Newport and John Smith met there in the spring of 1607.

The conservation easement outlines specific limits to the height of buildings and signs. In order to protect the nighttime view as well as the safe flight of bats and migratory birds over the James River, lighting on the property will comply with standards like those of the International Dark Sky Association.

The Conservation Fund still owns the remainder of the 5.2-acre vacant property on Dock Street between Great Shiplock Park and Intermediate Terminal Warehouse No. 3. In August of 2021, the Fund assumed a contract on the property from CRLC. Once the partnership secures the remaining funding of $1.5 million is to repay The Conservation Fund for the purchase, the rest of the property will transfer to the City of Richmond to become part of the James River Park System. In addition to the education center and river access, the Virginia Capital Trail will also use the land as a cut-through, removing it from the shoulder of Dock Street.

-John Page Williams