Thursday, July 21, 2011

Riding the Rivanna Trail in Charlottesville

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Not very long after the first mountain bikes began to be sold in Charlottesville, I bought one.   At first, they were California conceived downhill bikes with overly long and heavy frames. I had one of those, which was soon replaced with a new one of a different design. And so on for many years. Now I have one with larger wheels and no rear shocks. No matter, they were all able to ride the winding trails through the shadows, down the crazy drop or dip. I do some trail running to help keep the bones up, but it is the bike, with its wonderful sense of motion, moving through all the patches of sun and shade, that continues to be the real fun.  Almost all of this happens on one or another part of the Rivanna Trail, which at least attempts to circumnavigate Charlottesville.  For a description of the Rivanna Trails, David Maurer’s article can’t be beat: 
The section that I’ve most recently been riding more is probably one of the oldest sections of trail. It goes along the flood plain (an area where building is now forbidden, for the simple reason that it’s all flat and not too many feet above the river, as it goes through one of its most wandering sections).   The soil is rich from the constant overflows of silt and the forest canopy is thick. There aren’t a lot of larger trees, but the population of small and mid size trees crowd around and do their best to intercept whatever light makes it through. The trail here follows the river, so one good turn deserves another.  It demands attention, and rewards that with an exciting, winding, ride.
                I’ve included two photos here, one of the trail, which is a good example of the lighting, and another of a flood channel that was newly cut. The water cuts both ways doing a torrent, so it breaks its way down to the river to get organized, and then it gets giddy and floods everything. That would fairly well describe the roguish quality of live itself. We think of “opportunism” as negative, but how else would you treat an opportunity.
                The Rivanna Trail Foundation volunteers have to repair the various small wooden walk bridges that the trail passes over, after each larger flood. Sometimes they have to look for them downstream.
                The farm that used to stretch through this section was Dunlora, and there was a wonderful, old farmhouse located there when I first moved to Charlottesville. I went to a few parties there, and it was right on a small hill above the river. The stone gates are still in a wooded area not far from the trail. Dunlora is now the name of a modern housing area safely above the flood plain.
                To get to this section of the trail: Google “Pen Park directions charlottesville” and when driving in, take the left at the tennis courts, which is the first part of Pen Park you encounter. Drive by the tennis courts and park anywhere near the picnic shelters. Follow the signs behind the picnic shelters. Eventually the trail will split to the left and right by a chain fence. The left will take you up river, which is the best walking/riding. The fork to the right is best for runners, because there is an old dirt road by the river in that direction.
                I have an addition to the Rivanna trail story. At this link you can find stories from the history of the Rivanna River.
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emory said...

Alas- building in the flood plain in CHO is not forbidden. The City approved an "affordable housing" subdivision at the intersection of Pollocks Branch and Moore's Creek in 2009.
Look for more development of the floodplain in years to come. Without leadership from our citizenry the development will be the worst kind and Charlottesville will continue it 100 year tradition of ignoring its miles of riverfront.

Ed Deasy said...


Thanks for adding that. As far as the flood plane: just looking at the Google Earth images gives a notion of the areas thoroughly scoured in those statistically infrequent floods. Its worn to a remarkably flat profile in the post-flooded spots, especially in the area I mention in the post. Its great for crops, if you don't mind the rare total loss of a seasons crop, but anything else would eventually get flooded out.