The Appomattox River is a natural wonder. Until recently, this State Scenic River was a place that too few people in Chesterfield County, Petersburg, and Colonial Heights have had the opportunity to enjoy. This week Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) purchased more than 42 acres of privately-owned land and islands at the falls of the river that will greatly enhance public park access, connect locals to a vibrant trail system, and safeguard a wildlife corridor. Thanks to a collaborative effort between CRLC, the Friends of the Appomattox River (FOLAR), and Chesterfield County, an additional 1/2 mile stretch of the Appomattox River Trail can be extended through the newly secured land.
This $2.4 million purchase makes progress toward community goals outlined in both local and regional plans, including Chesterfield’s Parks and Recreation Master Plan, the regional Appomattox River Trail Master Plan, and the statewide Virginia Outdoors Plan. Increasing access to public greenspace, outdoor recreation, and alternative transportation is invaluable. With Virginia State University’s (VSU) campus in Ettrick to the east and the VSU Randolph Farm to the west as immediate neighbors, the land will also enrich the VSU student experience by providing river access and opportunities for outdoor education, scientific investigation, and artistic exploration. Planned future improvements like walking trails, shelters, paddle boat launch and interpretive signage will support wildlife observation, hiking, picnicking, and kayaking just across the street from campus.
Through this regional partnership, Chesterfield County has realized a 30-year effort to place the Greenwood’s property in public ownership. This site will anchor the eastern end of the Appomattox River Park System, while the county’s 110-acre Radcliffe Conservation Area anchors the western end, starting below the Lake Chesdin Dam. These sites, along with other future property acquisitions and partnerships with community organizations and private landowners, will create a park system stretching 6 miles along the north side of the Appomattox River. Once the land is transferred, the Chesterfield County property will be owned, developed and managed as a riverfront park by the Chesterfield County Department of Parks and Recreation.
“Chesterfield has had its eye on this property for a long time. The location along the Appomattox River’s fall line at Ettrick makes it ideal, and this purchase accelerates goals for the park we’ve planned there,” said Mr. Kevin Carroll, Chesterfield’s Matoaca District Supervisor. “This will greatly enhance public access to the river and provides a critical element for local and regional trail networks. It also preserves the natural beauty and historic significance of an area that serves as an important gateway to our community.”
Dr. Joseph P. Casey, Chesterfield County Administrator said, “Our intentions of having the Appomattox River accessible from Lake Chesdin to the fall line trail is furthered by this latest land acquisition, and look for more preservation, connectivity, access and trails to come.”
Friends of the Lower Appomattox River has actively worked with CRLC to preserve the land along the Appomattox River for all to enjoy. This property fills an important missing link in the 25-mile Appomattox River Trail network managed by FOLAR. Notably, it also becomes an essential intersection with another planned recreational trail—the new 42-mile Fall Line Trail from Petersburg to Ashland.
“We appreciate the work of the CRLC and are thrilled to be part of this incredible project which also reflects FOLAR’s continuing efforts to work with our communities and partners to protect the Appomattox River for all to enjoy in recreation and conservation,” said Friends of the Lower Appomattox River Executive Director, Wendy Austin.
CRLC first entered into a purchase agreement in 2021 with Josh and Ingrid Greenwood, the long-time stewards and property owners, to purchase the property at fair market value. The purchase was made possible by $1.725 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding from Chesterfield County. The Chesterfield County Recovery Plan grant was recommended by Chesterfield County administration and approved by the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors as an investment with long-ranging positive impact on the County and its residents. CRLC also secured a $375,00 grant from the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation and another $150,000 grant from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. CRLC still needs to raise $300,000 towards the purchase price and due diligence costs.
“Before merging with CRLC in 2014, Friends of Chesterfield’s Riverfront completed several major conservation projects along the James River. Yet the Greenwood property on the Appomattox River remained elusive until now. Over the past five years we’ve been honing the acquisition of properties to help complete the long-range plans of Chesterfield County and FOLAR culminating in this final piece of the puzzle,” said Capital Region Land Conservancy Executive Director, Parker C. Agelasto.
The partially wooded site includes sixteen islands and multiple ruins of former mills, canals, and dams. The first mill erected on the property dates to 1791 when Campbell’s Bridge was built to cross the Appomattox River and open development of the northside of the falls. Numerous subsequent mills fueled by the water-power of the Appomattox River operated through the 19th and 20th century, including those for lumber, corn, and textile. By the time the Ettrick Mills was incorporated in 1836, the area had become the epicenter of industry. By the 1850s the Ettrick cotton mill employed 300 workers—mostly women, operated 212 looms, and produced a couple million yards of cloth annually. These important mills were seized by the Confederate government to produce military uniforms and tents during the Civil War. After the fall of Petersburg in 1865, the property and its mills became the subject of numerous photographs by Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’Sullivan. Special effort will be made to tell the story of the property which hosts some of Ettrick’s best preserved industrial history as well as important colonial and precontact history pertaining to the Appamatuck tribe.
Located at the narrowest point of the Appomattox River, the property was ideally situated to harness the velocity of the water. Today, kayakers enjoy the Class 3 rapids adjacent to the property and use prominent features such as Point of Rocks to guide them through the river’s challenging course. It’s also an important fishway for the threatened and endangered Atlantic Sturgeon and American Shad, as well as habitat for Bald Eagles and numerous migratory birds such as Prothonotary Warblers and Wood Thrushes.
“For more than 40 years I have been a steward of this beautiful land and the historic water rights associated with these canals, dams, and mills” said Josh Greenwood. “I can’t envision a better outcome than to have this property protected in perpetuity and for it to become a public park.”
These natural and historic resources of the approximately 42 acres will also be protected under conservation easements which will be recorded later and held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation and Virginia Department of Historic Resources. At that time, ownership of the property located in Chesterfield County will be transferred to Chesterfield County Department of Parks & Recreation, while the land in Colonial Heights will be transferred to that locality and the remaining property in Petersburg along the shoreline will be transferred to the Friends of the Lower Appomattox River.
Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC): Capital Region Land Conservancy is dedicated to the conservation and protection of the natural and historic land and water resources of Virginia’s Capital Region for the benefit of current and future generations. As a nationally accredited land trust, CRLC is the only organization devoted specifically to conservation within the Counties of Charles City, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent, and Powhatan as well as the Town of Ashland and City of Richmond. Since being incorporated in 2005 as a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, CRLC has conserved more than 12,000 acres of land in this special region. www.capitalregionland.org.
For more information, please contact Parker C. Agelasto, Executive Director, Capital Region Land Conservancy. (e) [email protected] | (c) 202.302.0153