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Together Apart!

Together Apart!

6 Ways to Safely Summer in RVA

Most of us have been stuck at home since March due to the COVID-19 stay-at-home guidelines. And for many, it has been stressful and challenging. Working from home and rarely leaving the house can be difficult for many families who are accustomed to the routine of everyone leaving for their jobs, schools, and errands. 

At a time like this, we all need to get out of the house, but what are the best ways to do it safely?

Since we’ve been trapped in our homes, I don’t know where I’d be without my daily sanity breaks. Getting outdoors on my bike has been a necessity. I’m used to daily bike commutes to my job at PlanRVA, where I work as a transportation planner, focused on bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. 

As a family, we have gone on many neighborhood walks and rides. The best time has been in the evening, and it has been such a joy to wave at everyone out biking and walking together during a time of day that we’d typically all be stuck in cars busily rushing around everywhere going from school and work to that next extracurricular activity. Once things return to whatever normal becomes, try not to lose that new affection you found for these bike rides and walks. 

Richmond is a great outdoors town, and we’re all lucky to have so many wonderful places to visit that offer a wide variety of activities to keep us all entertained. These suggestions may help those of you who have managed to this point, but could use some extra inspiration for how to get outside and enjoy yourselves this summer.

Fun at Home

How many families immediately cleaned out the attic, garage, or some other storage area? Those who did probably uncovered some good lost art projects or board games. But board and video games quickly lost their charm for most of my family (ahem, not our video game-addicted teenage son). It was too much of the same thing, and it all kept us in the house. After years of saying we loved playing corn hole, we finally built our own set with some extra wood left over from other house projects. This is a great game for physical distancing! 

We have enjoyed swapping recreational equipment, toys, tools, etc., with neighbors and family members as well. My favorite was lending a bike trailer attachment to the family across the street from us who have toddlers. Seeing the smiles on their faces as their dad biked them around the neighborhood was precious. Share your stuff, Richmond. 

Paddlers on the James River near Reedy Creek pause to admire the Richmond skyline.

Design Your Own Neighborhood Riverrock

Yeah, we missed out on the annual Dominion Energy Riverrock, “the nation’s premier outdoor sports and music festival,” which was scheduled for mid-May. It has always been one of our favorite family events, and we try to get down to Brown’s Island every spring to watch. Many Richmonders train to participate in a variety of the running, paddling, bicycling, climbing, slack line events, and more. If you get creative, you can still do several of those events in your neighborhood. With respect to physical distancing, if you limit head-to-head races and turn everything into time trials, you can hold your own neighborhood Riverrock or Ironman races. Okay, maybe some hardcore competitors won’t be satisfied, but if you organize a small-fry version for the kids and sprinkle in fun new events as needed, you can entertain everyone. Just ban the high fives and post-race hugs, right? 

Take a Hike

To really enjoy the outdoors, you’ll have to leave your house and your neighborhood behind. I co-authored the guidebook 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Richmond (the second edition was published last summer). Unfortunately, we didn’t foresee a need to make hike recommendations based on physical distancing suggestions, but we listed plenty of choices that are good for day trips. 

The trails in the James River Park can be crowded at times, so choose wisely. Want lots of space? Consider natural area preserves, state forests, and especially, Virginia State Parks. Pocahontas, Powhatan, Lake Anna, York River, and Chippokes State Park are all less than an hour’s drive from downtown Richmond and offer plenty of trails with room to roam. Don’t forget about Richmond National Battlefield Parks. Some of the best hiking trails can be found at Cold Harbor, Malvern Hill, and Petersburg National Battlefield Park. 

A warning about staying hydrated and restrooms. Many area parks have had limited access to drinking fountains and restrooms to slow the spread of the virus. Those restrictions may ease as summer progresses, but the heat demands hydration. Take your own water supply and plan ahead for pit stops. 

Tours on the Water

When the river level is right, the James is a great place to spread out on the water and socially distance while your family enjoys getting outdoors. Many of the tour and rental companies in the Richmond area have had to modify or suspend some of their tours. As of this writing, Riverside Outfitters (RiversideOutfitters.net) was planning to offer their full services (at limited capacity) in late summer. They rent whitewater and flatwater kayaks and  stand-up paddleboards. They also offer guided paddle tours and guided whitewater rafting tours. For the past couple of months, RVA PaddleSports (RVApaddlesports.com) has been offering paddling classes to a limited number of participants, and they plan to ramp up for summer. Black Dog Paddle (BlackDogPaddle.com) offers a variety of tours and classes on stand-up paddleboards. 

Being more present with friends atop a large granite rock in Larus Park in Richmond.

Paddling on Your Own

Of course, you can paddle on your own. Huguenot Flatwater, Pony Pasture, and Reedy Creek have all have had paddlers dropping in the water to fish, play, explore, and get down-river. It has been a rough beginning to this year’s paddling season for weekend paddlers on the James, as the City of Richmond has had to close or limit some of the key parking lots in the James River Park System to control crowds. If you’re able to get your family on the water, make sure you all have the right floatation devices, sunscreen, and hydration.

Volunteering as a Family

Lastly, if you’re still looking for unique ways to get out of the house, consider volunteering. In Richmond, the best place to look for opportunities is with HandsOn Greater Richmond (HandsonRVA.org). They have been attentive to safety guidelines and physical distancing requirements, and families who want to volunteer together can be accommodated. As for my family, we have been working with the James River Park System crew on trash cleanups, small repairs, and some invasive species removal without having to mix in with the usual summertime crowds. 

Almost all these activities can be shared with friends and family, just continue to be responsible. Stay safe and healthy, both mentally and physically. Richmond is a wonderful place to live, and I hope we can all work and play together to get through this and come out stronger and more united than ever. 


Photos: Trish and Phil Riggan 

Phil Riggan
Phil Riggan, co-author of “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Richmond,” works as a transportation planner, focused on bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. He lives in Richmond with his wife and two kids.
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