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Access To Waterways In Chesterfield County Just Got Easier

fisherman
Antwan Scott is a local fisherman from Chesterfield County who spent a day out at the Dutch Gap Conservation Area last weekend. Though he didn't catch anything that day, he says he loves to fish whenever he can. The water access map will help people who want to find places to fish, boat or swim. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)
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Dutch Gap 1
At Dutch Gap you can launch power boats, kayaks and canoes. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)
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“In the conservation area, we have a 600-plus-acre lagoon that's accessible by paddle craft. That's really our most popular one,” said Greg Velzy of Chesterfield Parks and Recreation. (Photo: Crixell Matthews)   
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When the tide is low, kayakers may be able to spot a boat graveyard at Dutch Gap lagoon. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)
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Chesterfield Parks and Recreation recently launched an interactive website of water access points in the county. The website uses GIS, geographic information system, technology to plot more than two dozen places to boat, fish or take a hike by the water, including parts of the James or Appomattox rivers.

The project was a natural extension of their prior project mapping local hiking trails. Stephanie Christmas, a GIS specialist with Chesterfield County Parks and Recreation, said the mapping work was easy to repurpose for water access.

“We were able to just take what we have, and put it all together and make an easy to use platform for people to find where our public water access locations are located,” Christmas said.

Greg Velzy is the outdoor adventure programmer for the county. He says the site is especially useful because Chesterfield is bordered by water on two of three sides. 

“You have the James River on the northern side and then the Appomattox River on the southern side,” Velzy said. The natural borders those rivers create made it easy to map the county.

Velzy said despite the continued risk of COVID-19, people are wanting to get out more, especially since the weather is changing. 

“It’s springtime. Summer is here. People want to be on the water so this is the ideal time,” he said.

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A Red-winged Blackbird flutters overhead at Dutch Gap. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Nashara Tucker, with the group Black Girls Hike RVA, says many people don’t realize how many natural resources the county has.

“I would’ve loved this [site] like a year ago but I'm so glad it's here now because it's just very straightforward,” Tucker said.

Christmas said the site is broken down into various categories.

“So you're gonna have your hand carry launch sites, you're gonna have your fishing access, your power boat access sites, and trails that are near water. We've also included safety information and other valuable information,” she said. Those include safety tips and tidal charts.

Need a spot to drop your kayak into the water? There are six in Chesterfield where you can do that. Like to fish? The story map website lists 12 of those spots. Or if walking by water is more your style, the county has nine to choose from.

Robious Landing
One of the many views of the James River from the trails at Robious Landing in Chesterfield County. (Photo: Ian Stewart/VPM News)

ACCESS TO ALL

Velzy said all water access sites in the directory should be accessible for people with disabilities. For several years, the county has coordinated with Sportables, a local organization that provides athletic opportunities for people with physical disabilities and visual impairments in Central Virginia.

“We're getting to be the sort of local resource or the regional resource on getting everybody out. No matter their abilities,” he said. 

For Tucker and her friend Nicole Boyd, also a member of Black Girls Hike RVA, having another resource to get people on the trails or into the water will be helpful.

“It’s good that we're talking about this because we just use alltrails,” Tucker said, refering to the national website alltrails.com. Alltrails relies on user-generated content, unlike the county maintained site that’s just launched,  “So I am glad that Chesterfield now has this website.”

Tucker said before launching Black Girls Hike with Boyd, the two often hit up local trails like those at Robious Landing and Mid-Lothian Mines because they were so close. 

Once their group became established, they began exploring more of the county and scheduling monthly hikes. 

“So the power of the internet and the power of word of mouth, I think they definitely helped us to be where we are right now just as a group and just even understanding just the different opportunities out in Chesterfield County as well,” Boyd said.

Tucker, who teaches at Manchester Middle School with Boyd, said the new website will give them resources for their students, too.

“We're teachers by nature,” Tucker said. “I feel like the county could even use [the website] to help students be more aware of what's going on outside and get them outside with their families.”

Boyd said Rockwood Park is “the one that every kid knows,” along with Pocahontas Park, and that the website will expose kids to many new sites.

Dutch Gap
You may not be able to fish from this spot at Dutch Gap, but there are other access points to cast your line. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Hidden Gems And Popular Spots

Velzy of the Parks and Recreation department said besides trails and water access, there are many places to get outdoors in Chesterfield that people don’t realize are accessible.

“We have Lake Chesdin. It's really a hidden gem, a nice flat water area for people to go and check out and it's just off the beaten track,” Velzy said.

Then there’s the popular Dutch Gap Conservation Area. 

“In the conservation area, we have a 600-plus-acre lagoon that's accessible by paddle craft. That's really our most popular one,” Velzy said.

He said the website even has tidal chart information, so paddlers can plan a low-tide excursion to find a really unique spot, what he calls “the boat graveyard.”

“It's a bunch of sunken barges and tugboats,” Velzy said. “People love checking the area out at low tide, because they can see so much more than at a higher tide.”

What’s not listed on the water access sites are the Swift Creek Reservoir and Pocahontas State Park. Velzy said that the area around Swift Creek, which also supplies drinking water for the county, is not publicly owned. And although Pocahontas has water access, it’s  a state park and not maintained by the county. 

Velzy, who also wants people to know that his department offers many programs on basic kayaking skills and trail information, said anyone from the Richmond region is always welcome to visit Chesterfield parks.

“A lot of people think that if you don't live in Chesterfield, you can't take our programs,” he said. “We get that from people in Henrico and such, they're very jealous of what we offer. And we don't hold it against them that they can't live in Chesterfield, or that they don't live in Chesterfield. They're more than welcome to learn how to do things the right way with us.”