After decades in development, the Virginia Capital Trail is finally complete — giving walkers, runners and cyclists a safe path to enjoy, separated from busy state Route 5.
Maximizing fun on trails often depends on the ability to relax, enjoy the view and feel safe. Of the half-dozen visits I’ve made to the trail, those three criteria have been met each time.
The 52-mile trail officially opened in October. It connects Richmond to Williamsburg, running along Route 5, which is classified as a scenic byway. The corridor contains dozens of historic sites and parks nestled among thousands of beautiful trees and lush agrarian scenery.
The trail is not just for cyclists. Plenty of walkers and runners can be found, too, especially closer to neighborhoods. And it isn’t just for the hardcore cyclists, either. In every trip I’ve taken on the trail, I’ve seen children, novice riders, seniors, teens ... every bike of life, if you will.
While I have yet to bike the entire trail, I enjoyed a 50-mile ride in October from Four Mile Creek Park in eastern Henrico County to Charles City Courthouse. My cycling companion for the day was Frank Cundiff, president of the Virginia Cycling Association. He has been biking portions of the trail for years. Now that it is complete, he has a safe 104-mile training loop.
From Cundiff’s standpoint, the trail has plenty of attractions, but it is lacking in coffee and food options, which he called an opportunity.
Cundiff was kind enough to slow his pace and allow for plenty of photo stops as well. We visited historic sites, such as Berkeley Plantation and Westover Church, and admired the James River from Lawrence Lewis Park.
I loved being able to relax, which came easily once I realized no speeding vehicles would surprise us on the trail. We were free to chat throughout our six-hour tour, limiting our safety concer ns to road crossings and driveways.
Along the way, we spoke with many cyclists about their biking habits, what they loved about the trail, their highlights and more.
Chris Campbell and Amanda Andros of Collingswood , N.J., are attempting an eight-month, 13,000-mile bike tour crisscrossing the United States. We encountered them as they rode north on the trail.
“We wanted to do something big and bike tourism came up,” he said. They saved money for several years and are taking a year off from work for the trek.
From New Jersey, they biked through Maryland and Virginia’s Eastern Shore, passing through the Hampton Roads area before biking north toward Richmond.
“A friend in Virginia Beach said we had to try a new trail to Richmond,” Campbell said.
Although they had planned to stay with friends and family along the way, their bikes were loaded down with plenty of daily needs, including camping gear.
Right now, the only official camping ground along the trail is at the Chickahominy Riverfront Park in James City County, with overnight fees starting at $22.
Fritz Falch came up from Virginia Beach to bike the Virginia Capital Trail. He parked at the Charles City Courthouse and biked a 60-mile round trip to Richmond for the day. His goal was to bike to City Dogs in Shockoe Slip and visit the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Shockoe Bottom, two places that caught his eye while visiting Richmond during the UCI Road World Championships in September.
We crossed paths with him twice, including on his way back from Richmond. He said he enjoyed his visit to the city and learned about a few more eateries and historic sites he wants to see next time.
He also was impressed with the trail.
“I like it because it isn’t flat and straight,” he said. “There is variety on the trail, with trees, hills, farmland and historic sites.”
Retirees Alan and Laura Freiden drove across Henrico County from Short Pump for their day biking on the Virginia Capital Trail.
“The trail has improved our quality of life dramatically,” she said.
They credit the annual Pedal the Parkway — a biking event that closes the Colonial Parkway between Williamsburg and Jamestown to vehicular traffic — with sparking their interest in riding for exercise.
“We decided it was something we could handle,” she said. “We’ve enjoyed getting out to the trail once a week … trying different sections of the trail.”
The day we bumped into them, they had parked at Four Mile Creek Park and biked a 40-mile out-and-back trip with a few friends.
Biking burns calories and there aren’t many spots along the trail to stop for food and beverages. But near the midway point, Charles City Courthouse provides a really good one. We stopped for lunch at Cul’s Courthouse Grille, which has become a staple for trail users.
Cullen Jenkins has co-owned the restaurant with his mother, Bonnie Whittaker, since 2009, about the same time development of the trail began. He said the extra business from the trail has been “beyond our wildest dreams.”
Cul’s is hopping on the weekends with cyclists passing through the tiny town, but Jenkins said he has begun to see even more bikes since the Richmond and Henrico portions of the trail opened.
“For us, it is peace of mind with newfound stability that the trail now offers,” he said. With all of the extra cyclists passing through town, the restaurant was able to add five employees.
Closer to Richmond, Ronnie’s BBQ in Varina has become a tasty destination for cyclists as well. You’ll know where it is, the wonderful aroma of the barbecue will guide you. You’ll smell it before you see it.
Beth Weisbrod, executive director of the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation, has been a great ambassador for the trail and has been instrumental in orchestrating the enhancements along the way. She said there are plenty more to come.
“We have an amenity plan that we’re working on fulfilling,” she said. “We’re talking with the localities on making sure bike tourists have what they need as they pass through their county.”
Sponsors are needed for about 40 mile markers, 20 benches and/or bike racks, three rain shelters, seven way-finding signs and three bike repair stations.
RELATED LINK: Interactive bike trail map
Due to safety concerns and conflicts between fast-moving automobiles and slower bikes and pedestrians, the development of the trail depended on the new Four Mile Creek Park, which was once part of the Battle of New Market Heights.
Al Azzarone, Henrico’s parks and planning supervisor, said the county had owned the heavily wooded 326-acre property for many years and was happy to work with the Virginia Department of Transportation to create the 3.6-mile trail path around the Interstate 295 interchange with Route 5.
The park has approximately 85 spaces for vehicles, including parking for buses and trailers.
He said Henrico will soon begin work on a connecting trail into neighboring Dorey Park and plans to eventually extend hours at the recreation center in the 400-acre park to give cyclists better access to restrooms and water fountains.
Word of warning: Give a loud “rider up” shout and watch for disc golfers as you ride past Dorey Park as the trail passes through the course.