Canal Walk is rich in Richmond's riverfront history

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RICHMOND, Va. -- There is a major rejuvenation program under way along the riverfront here, and the Richmond Canal Walk is playing a major part. Since the attraction opened in June, hordes of people, myself included, have taken a ride on the waterway and walked along the scenic pathways.

A view of the boarding end of the Richmond Canal Walk, a new attraction for the city. "We have had a very good response to the canal attraction," said James McCarthy Jr., executive director of the Richmond Riverfront Development Corp.

According to McCarthy, for the attraction's first full month of operation, more than 11,000 people took a canal boat ride.

The project has done wonders for the area, which had greatly deteriorated and was absent of pedestrian traffic of any kind, McCarthy said. On the real estate side, the area is being upgraded and expanded with viable tenants in both commercial and residential buildings.

Besides bringing new life to the riverfront area, the Canal Walk was designed to create a sort of outdoor museum with exhibits detailing Richmond's past. McCarthy said brass medallions placed along the walls will highlight major historical themes.

"Once the medallions are all placed, visitors will have the option to ride on the waterway or take self-guided walking tours on its pathways and view the commemorative medallions," he said.

Each will be inscribed with notes that relate to such events as the Indian trade routes, tobacco warehouses, the Tredegar Iron Works buildings or of early colonial settlements.

The specially designed canal boats can accommodate up to 38 passengers at a time on leisurely cruises narrated by boat pilot guides. The young, appropriately costumed boat captain on my trip kept the dialogue light and humorous enough to keep even the youngsters on board interested.

Passengers board at a well-laid-out area called Tidewater Connector to take the 40-minute trip on the canal system that (history has it) originally had been envisioned by George Washington in 1774.

Back then, Washington thought Richmond's canals should be part of a continuous transportation route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. By 1789, initial construction of portions of the canal, which would ultimately become part of the James River and Kanawha Canal system, had been completed to the west of downtown Richmond.

Also completed by 1789 was a millrace, later known as the Haxall Canal. The canal system eventually extended as far as Buchanan, Va., but was replaced by the railroads after the Civil War.

Now two sections of Richmond's canals have been restored -- the Haxall Canal from Tredegar Iron Works to 12th Street and the James River and Kanawha Canal from 12th Street to the Triple Crossing. The project now provides visitors and locals alike with 1.25 miles of waterway boat tours and pedestrian paths.

Currently there are five boats operating on the canal; each is wheelchair-accessible. Ticket prices are $4 for adults and $3 for children and senior citizens.

Canal Walk
Phone: (804) 644-4868

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