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2016-08-03 / Featured / Front Page

Chesterfield provides nearly 10 miles of access to James, Appomattox rivers

By Rich Griset
STAFF WRITER


Kayakers take an evening paddle along the Tidal Lagoon at Dutch Gap, part of an 800-acre county park along the James River. 
James Haskins/Chesterfield Observer Kayakers take an evening paddle along the Tidal Lagoon at Dutch Gap, part of an 800-acre county park along the James River. James Haskins/Chesterfield Observer If you’ve enjoyed visiting the river at any point in the past few decades, chances are you have Michael Golden to thank.

As the longtime director of Chesterfield County Parks and Recreation, Golden oversaw the acquisition of many of the county’s properties along the James and Appomattox rivers. The county now holds 9.78 miles of river frontage and numerous additional parks since Golden started as supervisor of Parks and Recreation back in 1979.

“As the county’s population grew, we were looking for more miles of trail, more access to the river,” explains Golden, who became director of Parks and Recreation in the mid- 1990s and retired in April. “As time went by, we tried to find attractive sites, the sites that are in the right location, the sites that make sense where we could get the resources to put them all together.”


The Lagoon Water Trail at Dutch Gap allows kayakers to explore the tidal waters of the James River. 
James Haskins/Chesterfield Observer The Lagoon Water Trail at Dutch Gap allows kayakers to explore the tidal waters of the James River. James Haskins/Chesterfield Observer One of the sites the county acquired during Golden’s early years was R. Garland Dodd Park at Point of Rocks, a 176-acre park with athletic fields and a large natural area. In the early 1980s, when the county acquired the land for James River High School, it also acquired the land for Robious Landing Park. The Dutch Gap Conservation Area, featuring 800 acres right on the river, holds a special place for Golden.

“Just the scale of that one and what it offers, that would be one of my favorites,” Golden says of Dutch Gap. “To some extent, that set the tone for some of the others that came afterwards.”

Other riverfront land acquired during Golden’s tenure includes the John J. Radcliffe Appomattox River Conservation Area and the Brown & Williamson Conservation Area.

“It’s certainly been a strong goal of Parks and Recreation to seek access points or park lands along our rivers,” says Stuart Connock, chief of parks with Chesterfield’s Parks and Recreation. “Mike Golden, that was one of his top priorities, knowing that you don’t make more riverfront land. Knowing that that’s a prime place for development, he worked aggressively at finding opportunities to obtain access to the river.”

But Golden isn’t solely responsible. The group Friends of Chesterfield’s Riverfront also played a key role in helping find and acquire land for the county.

“A lot of those acquisitions occurred because of [Golden’s] interest, as well as working with the Friends of the Riverfront group. As we move into present time, it still remains a focus of the county,” Connock says. “You can really serve a lot of people and a lot of interests with riverfront access and riverfront parks.”

Starting in 1997, the county added a riverfront section to its comprehensive plan. In 2012, the riverfront focus was incorporated throughout the entire plan.

“Our comprehensive plan does set out the growth and development of Chesterfield County in the future, and so that plan really highlights the riverfront that we have,” says Heather Barrar, principal planner with the planning department.

One property Golden was working on until he retired was the recent riverfront property referred to as the James River Conservation Area. That 109-acre acquisition was secured by the Capital Regional Land Conservancy – which merged with Friends of the Chesterfield Riverfront in 2014 – as well as the nonprofit Trust for Public Land.

Barrar notes that the park will be a boon for those in the Jefferson Davis Highway corridor.

“We’ve identified that there isn’t much green space for the community,” Barrar says. “We really see that piece of property as a regional draw – because it’s right there on the river – but also really providing a great resource for people living off of Jefferson Davis Highway. It’s going to have linear trails; it’s going to be a great place for folks to exercise, probably a great place to fish, so we’re going to serve that local population.”

An added boon is its unique location: close to Interstate 95, but removed from the traffic.

“You really feel like you’re in the woods and in nature, but you’re really close to 95 and residents and businesses,” Barrar says.

Parker C. Agelasto, executive director of the Capital Regional Land Conservancy and Richmond City Council member, says the new park lines up with the vision of the Richmond Regional Riverfront Plan and the Virginia Outdoors Plan. He adds that Chesterfield has been one of his organization’s key focus areas and that he’s pleased with how the James River Conservation Area is working out.

“I think it’s fantastic,” he says. “Chesterfield County residents have been asking for it. Clearly they’ve been coming into the city for the James River Park [System]. This would give them an opportunity closer to home, and it’s also opening up a green space for a community. … It adds quality of life, and in many ways it helps our region with the river,” noting that it will improve water quality and reduce stormwater runoff.

The county has also worked with the state and Virginia State University to negotiate a lease for a riverfront trail and small parking lot near the school’s Randolph Farm. The trail should be open in a few months.

Looking back at his time with Parks and Recreation, Golden is proud of the parks riverfront access that the public now has access to.

“A lot of great sites,” reflects Golden. “I still go to some of those places and ride my bike or walk. That’s certainly something I feel great about, and I know a lot of people are enjoying.”

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