Belle Isle

Richmond, VA

Submitted by: bridget belkacemi

This urban river park has a unique management style, and is unique within the American landscape.

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Why It Works

A 65 acre island park at the fall line of the James River in the heart of Richmond. Cliffs, crashing rapids, & cultural ruins of industrial & historical significance make this park the perfect location for a variety of activities including mountain biking, rock climbing, inner tubing, kayaking, fishing, & hiking. The key to its success is a connecting pedestrian suspension bridge that spans the river - suspended from a highway overpass. Here one wanders at their own risk & nothing, not even the industrial ruins, are off limits to adventurers. This is a true Urban Wild.

What Makes Belle Isle a Great Place?

The park is accessible via a pedestrian suspension bridge. It links to a larger recreational trail system. One main dirt path looping around the island is accessible via electric or push wheel chair. The park is in the urban center of Richmond & within walking distance of neighborhoods. Many people drive to the ped bridge entrance & park in a small lot.

The beauty of the James River & the form of the pedestrian bridge draws one into the park. The park draws equal amounts of men, women, & family units. It is also a dogwalker haven. This is a walking park & seating is provided in picnic areas & on the natural rock formations themselves. Due to its numerous users, the park feels safe along the main circular loop. There are numerous garbage structures & trash is picked up regularly. Graffiti is painted over frequently.

The range of activities is numerous: mountain biking, dog walking, kayaking, swimming, wading, fishing, rock climbing, hiking, picnicking, & just walking are the main activities. This is a small group activity park & age, gender, & ethnic backgrounds are diverse among visitors. The academic year sees an increase in student usership as a university is located within walking distance of the park.

This is a meeting place for small groups as well as a destination for single recreation. Congenial behavior & community ownership are aspects of this park that is public & managed completely by volunteer groups. The park receives quite a few tourists as locals introduce guests to the park. The park is used by locals & residents in the surrounding region.

History & Background

Belle Isle has been a part of the James River Park System since the mid-1970's, but was only opened to the public in 1991, when a pedestrian bridge connected it to Richmond. Among the ruins on the island are a factory, a power plant, and a Civil War prison.

Contact Info:

Friends of the James River Park:
Ralph White - manager of the James River Park System:

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