The water was clear enough to see the bottom and occasional groups of catfish.
Cormorant, mallards, blue heron, and a
kingfisher lingered in the trees and on the
rocks. Crossing the river were railroad and
highway bridges, large partially submerged
pipes, and the remnents of a couple dams.
Around the halfway mark, we passed Belle
Isle, a popular recreation site.
Our two-and-a-half mile afternoon trek
passed in what seemed like minutes. Ben
and Dave pulled the boats out at 14th
Street, and I was able to check into
Richmond’s Jefferson Hotel with just
enough time to get ready for dinner. Both
coming and going, hotel staff Chas and
Haddy greeted me by name and offered
their assistance. I wished I could have
spent a couple days here with nothing to
do, but I was excited to meet my friend and
Richmond native, Shannon Weisleder.
At Rappahannock Restaurant, just blocks
from the Jefferson, General Manager
Amanda Osborne showed us to a perfect
table by the front window. Owners Ryan
and Travis Croxton are cousins who
revived their family’s now four-generation
Rappahannock Oyster Company in 2001
as Chesapeake harvests were dipping to
all-time lows. The two restructured using
aquaculture and have helped Virginia
become a leader in oyster production.
For that reason, we started with a beautiful
plate of raw oysters: Rappahannocks, Old
Salts, and Bar Cats. I loved them all and
Shannon admitted to not really liking oysters—until that day.
Other items we sampled included rockfish
and oyster bourride garnished with toasted
bread and a poached egg and Bay scallop
crudo. Amanda and Sous Chef Jesse
Fultineer took great care of us, explaining
the menu and making suggestions. We fin-
ished with local ice cream—mine was
pumpkin ginger cookie—and I promised
Shannon I would visit again soon.
The following morning, I met the hotel’s
Public Relations Manager Jennifer Crisp by
the life-size, Carrara marble sculpture of
Thomas Jefferson in the upper lobby. The
hotel has been brought back to life after a few
fires, including one that resulted in the
Jefferson statue’s head being severed when
the hunk of marble was dropped as it was
hustled to safety. Recently remodeled, the
building and its furnishings are remarkable.
Jennifer recommended a return trip when the
rotunda lobby was decked out for Christmas.
The Jefferson, first opened in 1895, is considered one of the finest examples of Beaux
Arts style anywhere. Notable hotel guests
include 13 U.S. presidents and Elvis
Presley, who reportedly enjoyed a breakfast
of bacon, eggs, milk, home fries, and a
scoop of ice cream in half a cantaloupe. On
this morning, Jennifer and I enjoyed beautifully piped yogurt with local honey and
After breakfast, I was off to meet fellow
paddler Ann Jurczyk on Richmond’s
Southside at the site of what she calls, “the
project of a career.” Pastor Ralph Steven
Hodge’s Second Baptist Church of South
Richmond, having taken over the site of a
grocery store, was struggling with the polluted runoff from their building and parking lot and the now-present “food desert,”
an area where access to fresh fruits and vegetables is limited.
It warmed my heart to hear the pride in
Ann’s voice as she showed me around.
Polluted runoff and the church’s stormwa-
ter fees were greatly reduced through the
installation of a 10,000-gallon cistern with
drainage beneath a small plot of land next
to the building and the conversion of a row
of parking spaces to a rain garden.
On top of the drainage field, a community
garden produces an array of healthy fruits
and vegetables that the church sells to the
congregation. CBF’s work at the Second
Baptist Church is a part of a larger effort to
engage underserved Richmond neighborhoods where local creeks are badly pollut-ed.“It gives us the opportunity to educate our
community about how food is grown and
what healthy foods look like,” says Pastor
Hodge. “It also gives us the opportunity to
talk about what shouldn’t go into the river.”
Back at the Jefferson, Chas had a bicycle—
complete with basket, lock, and water—
waiting for me. I headed downhill from the
hotel for one more look at Richmond. It was
mid-day, and all around the riverfront, business people, families, and school groups
were enjoying the waterfront. Some relaxed
on grassy park areas. Others ran, walked,
and biked. Above me hung a pedestrian
bridge, suspended below Lee Bridge, that
leads visitors to Belle Isle. I headed east
along the canal path that parallels the riverfront, passing some beautiful street art, busy
restaurants, and attractive condominiums.
On the other side of the Route 95 bridge, the
path becomes the Capital Trail, a 52-mile,
paved link to Jamestown, Virginia’s capital of
the past. Thinking of my long drive home, I
turned around. Next time, I’d like to ride all
the way to Jamestown. And, like the restoration of the James River it will take a little
strength and a lot of persistence.
Loren Anne Barnett—CBF’s
Director of Creative Services
and Editor of Save the Bay
magazine—grew up on
Maryland’s Severn River.
Left to right: Rappahannock Oyster Company owners Ryan and Travis Croxton; CBF’s Save the Bay Editor Loren Barnett biking along Richmond’s canal
path; members of Second Baptist Church of South Richmond planting a runoff-reducing fruit and vegetable garden.