Andy Thompson, 41, scurried over the James River island he purchased last year at a fever pitch.
“You want the tour?” he asked.
Thompson just listed the island for rent for camping on Airbnb and he was full of ideas.
“This is the fire pit. This is where we’re going to have the camping platform. This is where the Canada geese are nesting. Look at that! It’s an osprey, diving for something to eat! This is where we’re going to put out a line of tubes for the kids. This is where we’ve had fires already and s’mores. This is where you can have some sweet hammock camping. That’s very big right now. The possibilities are endless, really,” he says, wiping sweat from his forehead.
Thompson clearly isn’t feeling any buyer’s remorse.
He bought Sharp’s Island, a 1-acre island in the middle of the James River near Mayo Island, in the fall with nine other Richmond families. The listing price was $44,000.
Since then, he’s been out to the island roughly a dozen times. He’s had a founders' meal with the other owners and their families. He’s brought his kids for fishing, fires and s’more’s. He’s spent hours pulling ivy from the island and has poison ivy rash all over his forearms to prove it.
But that doesn’t seem to bother him.
He is too enamored with the island and his plans for sharing it.
Last weekend, the island saw its first campers paddle out to spend the weekend. They found out about it on Outdoor Access, another listing service where Thompson advertised the property.
Now, Thompson is listing the island for $70 per night on Airbnb.
According to the Airbnb listing, “this is the only legal camping option in the city of Richmond. You read that correctly. This is your own private island, and it's right in the heart of downtown RVA!”
“It’s a pretty amazing place,” Thompson said. “It’s a wild island right in the middle of the city.”
Sharp’s Island is located in the middle of the James River, across from the Mayo Bridge with a view of the Southern States silos. The island also boasts spectacular bird life and fishingpossibilities.
The island was said to have been in the Sharp family beginning in the late 1850s, which is where it got its name. For 75 years, a house stood on it. Families lived in the house on the island and ran electricity to it from Manchester. They ferried in propane for cooking and heating, Thompson said.
The island was purchased in the late 1960s by a local architect, according to the archives of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. After being damaged beyond repair by flooding, the house was burned down in 1970.
The remains of the Sharp house can still be found on the island. The brick foundation is located at the western tip of the island with steel girders running out of it.
“This is where we like to sit and have the fire pit,” Thompson said. The ruins offer a circle and a natural place to sit. “The kids love it.”
Sharp’s Island is only accessible by boat.
To get to the island by motor boat from the beach beneath the Mayo Bridge takes about two minutes, five minutes by kayak or canoe.
Thompson prefers to get there by a handcrafted two-seater motor boat that’s part pontoon boat, part catamaran he created with a friend to take mapping photos of the river for his company Terrain360.
He has lots of plans and lots of companies. He also runs the RVA Osprey Cam and RichmondOutside.com with his business partner, Ryan Abrahamsen.
Last month, Thompson and Abrahamsen bought a third stake in Riverside Outfitters, the South Richmond-based business that offers raft, kayak and paddleboard trips down the James River.
Thompson plans to bring tubing rentals and a livery service back to Riverside Outfitters offerings, which stopped offering the service in 2014.
He also plans to offer rafting trips and excursions through Riverside Outfitters that end at the island, perhaps with a catered meal.
The island itself is pretty. It is rough and wild but utterly unique. It has a big sandy beach on one side, granite rock at the western tip and tons of wildlife.
You can hear the train rumble by in the distance, but otherwise, it’s just the sound of rapids and wildlife, birds calling and osprey diving into the water.
Rapids rush by the island on either side.
On one side of the island, there is a rapid spot that’s called a “seldom seen” by kayakers.
“When the river is at the right height, the river creates a bowl where it doesn’t shoot you out. Kayakers love to play on it,” Thompson said.
Nearby, the same spot also creates a perfect whirlpool where waders can sit on the rocks and enjoy the rapids.
“In the summer, you can just sit in it. It’s so cool,” Thompson said.
Thompson is already planning a tubing party where he can tie up a line of tubes off the sandy beach for people to hang out in the water.
Another owner built a floating platform for a dock that can be taken in and out of the water.
“It’s an amazing geological place right in the heart of Richmond,” Thompson said. “And now it’s open for anyone to come and camp.”