Dogs love water and most dog owners love to give them a chance to explore, socialize, get wet...and the James River Park System is certainly a popular place to play.
While it is important to provide a safe place for dogs, responsible ownership is the key. On the Friends of the James River Park website, there is helpful information about dogs in the park. Many dog owners allow their dogs to run off-leash at the river -- especially at Texas Beach, Pony Pasture, The Wetlands, the Main Area of the James River Park and Belle Isle -- in part because it is a wild nature park, but that's not the most respectful and safe decision for all the other visitors to the park.
Here are some tips:
Leashes are required. By ordinance, unleashed dogs are not allowed in City of Richmond parks, except for designated dog parks. "Fines of up to $250 can be issued by Animal Control officers or Richmond Police," according to a citizen's guide on the City of Richmond website. Yes, that counts down at the James River.
Pooper scooper. Be responsible and carry an extra bag and pick up any stray piles of poop you might see. Many parcels of the park have bags attached to the brown waste receptacles, but come prepared with your own bag tied to your leash. We don't need dog business in the waters of the James (see more tips from the James River Association).
Mind your dog etiquette. Don't be an owner who ignores their dog at the dog park. Don't arrive at the park, unleash your dog and let them go until it is time to leave, as our writer pleaded while writing about dog park courtesy. "As a dog owner, you are responsible to clean up your dog’s waste. By ignoring your dog, you will miss it not only going to the bathroom, but also mounting and perhaps even showing aggressive behavior. Please keep track of your dog not only for its safety, but in order to help keep the parks clean."
James River Park Trail Loop. We're not suggesting owners should stay off the Buttermilk Trail with your dog, but if you walk them on the trail, take extra precaution for fast-moving runners and mountain bikes who pop around the bends and surprise unsuspecting dogs and owners.
Pony Pasture/The Wetlands
There are plenty of large granite boulders to run and play at Pony Pasture, but they are often covered with humans, so the trails further east in The Wetlands are more appropriate for dogs. The water is more calm and better for chasing a stick or a ball (try not to let the balls get lost the river). Half Moon Beach is about a quarter of a mile from the Pony Pasture parking lot and a popular spot for dogs to play.
Texas Beach/North Bank Park
With its trails, sandy beaches and sunbathing rocks, Texas Beach is one of the more popular dog-walking destinations along the James River. Officially named North Bank Park, located five blocks east of Maymont’s Hampton Street entrance. The beach, typically less crowded than Belle Isle or Pony Pasture, provides ample space for dogs to exercise in and explore an environment that feels miles away from the city’s urban center.
Main Area/42nd Street
This location is a big part of why the Westover Hills and Forest Hill Park neighborhoods are full of dog lovers. There are ample trails and places to roam and just like at Pony Pasture, there are plenty of large boulders when the water levels are below 6 feet. The gravel access trail that connects to Reedy Creek and Belle Isle is a great walking space wide enough to share the road with other dog owners, hikers and bikers.
While Belle Isle is a great place for so many activities, there are times that it is too busy for dogs, especially off the leash. The rapids are not safe for dogs, so pick the right spots and be safe.
Great Shiplock Park
For downtown and Shockoe Bottom dwellers, this might be the closest spot walk to. Great Shiplock has a nice protected cove and the tidal waters that lap the shores of the park are generally calm. There are a couple of trails to explore. Watch for the fisherman, it is not a park recommended for owners who let their dogs off leash.