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Posted In: Paddling

Living George Washington’s Dream

Elli Morris

June 23, 2015 10:50am
Putting into the Kanawha Canal at Pumphouse Park. Credit: Elli Morris

Putting into the Kanawha Canal at Pumphouse Park. Credit: Elli Morris

Boats forging upstream past the rapids of Richmond’s Fall Line, on their way to the Ohio River so the United States could be economically independent — such was George Washington’s motivation for creating the Kanawha Canal. It’s a bit of a stretch to say that’s whappened two weekends ago, but the first-ever kayak trip through a section of the Kanawha Canal system in Richmond did take place — and it was an eye-opening experience.

Greg Velzy, head of Chesterfield County’s Outdoor Adventure Programs, secured special permission from the Richmond Dept. of Public Utilities and the James River Park System to take a group of kayakers from the Richmond’s Pumphouse Park down to Texas Beach via the ancient canal. The trip included a nature walk, history lessons, and looking for bears while kayaking the narrow strip of water.

Bears? In the city of Richmond? The section of the canal traveled runs along the backside of Maymont, where the bears live. None were spotted, but the tables were turned when the kayakers became the center of attention for curious hikers, bikers, and runners.

Heading downstream from Pumphouse Park on the canal. Credit: Elli Morris

Heading downstream from Pumphouse Park on the canal. Credit: Elli Morris

“How’d you get out there?” “I want to do that!” “Can we paddle in the canal?” “That looks like fun!”

But not all were convinced. One bystander suggested, “Unless you are running from the police, I don’t see any reason to be in that water.”

Turns out, the canal is quite clear, rather litter-free, and home to great blue herons and baby turtles. Using the canal, however, is rather tricky. Because the upper canal is under repair, Sunday’s kayakers used the lower canal, which has no easy access point.

Velzy stated, “The canal isn’t open to public paddling yet, as put-in and take-out points still need to be worked out. There needs to be a system for public information for the water levels in the canal. Signage for boundary lines needs to be placed because the canal abuts primarily against private property or CSX property. But this trip was the first step in that direction!” He also noted that as a national historic landmark, appropriate education and care needs to be taken with the canal.

On the canal below Maymont (obscured, to left). Credit: Elli Morris

On the canal below Maymont (obscured, to left). Credit: Elli Morris

Phil Riggan, river advocate and writer, photographer, and editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and ‪Richmond.com, recently received his master’s degree in Urban Planning from VCU. His final project focused on the canal: “Recreational Plan: James River & Kanawha Canal Blueway,” it was called. It’s Riggan’s goal to open up the canal from downtown Richmond all the way up to Bosher’s Dam to recreation and tourism. Riggan participated in the inaugural paddle, happy to see his concepts coming to life. Recreational tourism isn’t necessarily economic independence from Britain, but surely President Washington would be pleased that commerce has returned to his canal system.

If you’d like to experience first-hand the dream of our first president, contact Greg Velzy at (804)-748-1124 to sign up for the next the kayak canal trip on July 9 from 6-9 p.m.


About Elli Morris

Still and motion photographer, kayaker, cyclist, dancer. My video work is very participatory, bringing the viewer right into the action, which is where I like to be as I am a motion machine. I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark III, I shoot with an iPhone, with an iPad, I shoot on the land, in a tree, or through the water - whatever it takes to get the shot.


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