Belle Isle is an island on the James River in the middle of Richmond, Virginia. It has a southern entrance and a northern entrance. The latter is a pedestrian bridge that runs under the Robert E. Lee Bridge and the former is a pedestrian bridge that crosses a smaller section of the river. The northern bank of the island is covered in flat rocks along the water. The rocks are large and flat, which make them good for people to lay out on. The water around the rocks consist of rapids and are dangerous for swimming. The island has a gravel path that goes around the outer edge and makes a complete circle around the island. The center of the island is a large hill with a forest on top. It has bike and walking trails that run through it. Near the north bank is a quarry and a rock climbing wall. It also has benches and picnic tables throughout. On the south bank there is a bike skills course that was recently added. The island also has an abundance of historic sites and signage throughout. These include a civil war cemetery, a hydroelectric plant, iron and steel buildings, and a civil war prison camp.

Source: Kelly Mason

Photo: kraziekurtis

Belle Isle is intended to be an “Urban Wild” Park. The multiple park plans and descriptions of Belle Isle show that the city does not have very strict boundaries on what it thinks park users should be doing, but it does have general ideas of how the park should be used and designed. The 2012 riverfront plan maps out this “Urban Wild” idea using data and ideas from 2009-2012. It explains how the city intends for it to stay as natural as possible. It cites the James River Park System Conservation and Open Easement. This was established in 2009 and it prohibits large construction projects, businesses, and motorized recreation on the island. It explains how the islands detached location is meant to immerse the visitor in nature and take them away from Urban life. The plan embraces the natural wildlife and structure of the island due to these properties being popular. However, it does state that it wants to update some of the run down buildings and turn them into useful amenities, such as expanded Eco-friendly restrooms. It also states how the old hydro-electric plant is boarded up, but is still used for illegal activities. This plan also calls for more ambitious constructions, such as a sand beach put in on the south bank after the Browns island dam is put in. This has not been completed or started. The James River Public Access Plan for the Richmond Region of 2005 more broadly focuses on the waterways, but it does mention Belle Isle and describes it as a natural part of the James River scenic park system. The James River Park System website lays out the main activities at the park and the main attractions. This tells the user what to do and lets them know the intended use. This use is mainly for outdoor and exercising activities. It includes trails, rock climbing, sun bathing on the rocks, the bike course, and historical signage. The overall intended use is for the park to be a place for relaxing, being in nature, exercising, certain specific activities, and learning history.

Photos: Kelly Mason