James River Park Pipeline Walkway (Richmond’s Founding)

When hearing “Pipeline”, you might visualize a sprawling industrial complex supporting oil refineries and distribution in your mind. The opposite of peaceful nature. Instead, the James River Park Pipeline Walkway in Richmond, VA offers stunning views across the city’s rapids.

In Richmond—“Pipeline” is synonymous with access to nature—right in the middle of the city proper.

Pipeline Park may have been similar to your vision of heavy industry in the era of Richmond’s tobacco industry heyday.

Today, even as the namesake’s pipeline still operates, nature has taken over its meaning. It’s one of RVA’s great outdoor activities.

Only a short walk from downtown Richmond, Pipeline Park’s primary points of interest are Pipeline Overlook and a catwalk.

The catwalk is better known as the James River Park Pipeline Walkway. 

Pipeline Overlook offers sweeping views from the banks of the James River atop a small concrete tower. You’ll be just a little jealous of the sights the tall riverside apartments enjoy.

The Pipeline in the Park

The overlook offers a nice view and there are some hiking trails along the bank.

But, the real gem in this park is the James River Park Pipeline Walkway.

The pipeline juts out from the riverbank in a straight shot west, following the river. A metal catwalk rests atop the pipeline which itself is under a railroad viaduct.

The pipeline below your feet on the catwalk transfers both wastewater and sewage for the city. The viaduct above is actively used by the CSX railroad.

Normally a peaceful walk, it can turn into a very different experience if you happen to catch a train running above you.

The James River Park Pipeline Walkway is a secluded natural adventure nestled over the river in downtown Richmond. It's where RVA began, see our tour!
The view from the James River Park Pipeline Walkway.

The catwalk runs a hundred meters or so while straddling the pipeline before abruptly ending.

At this point, the metal pipeline dons a thick concrete shell that makes for a fine walkway even as the handrails of the catwalk end.

Another few hundred yards without the comfort of the catwalk and you’ll find the pipeline ends at the bank, continuing its snaking infrastructure underground.

A trail along the riverbank offers a chance to continue your walk to the base of Brown’s Island when the water level is low enough.

Animal Life at Pipeline Park

The trails and pipeline walk offer a surprising chance at observing the river’s animal life. Nature isn’t quite as dense here on the James as at Presquile National Wildlife Refuge downstream, but it’s still a lovely sampling. 

There are several small islands visible from the catwalk that are wild, including Baliey’s Island and Devil’s Kitchen Island. Kayakers tend to use them as rest points.

Great Blue Herons roost in the area, and you’ll catch them out hunting if you’re lucky. Osprey also frequent the area. There’s a good chance you’ll spot ducks and geese. You might happen upon beaver in the area as the churning river tends to offer them lots of debris to work with. 

If you’re looking to fish and have a license: smallmouth bass, channel catfish and sunfish are in the area. Rockfish can be found during the spring migration.

The area is also known to have some semi-permanent human residents. Keep an eye out.

Watersport and Outdoor Activities

The rapids that run the river length along the pipeline are very popular with kayakers and rafters. The whitewater is generally Class III although there are some Class IV sections depending on conditions. This isn’t a safe area for beginners.

It’s also a great spot for a picnic, sunbathing, and swimming. There’s multiple fairly large sections of sandy beach you can hop down to from the catwalk or access from the trails past the catwalk.

Founding of Richmond, Virginia Near Pipeline Park

Richmond, and the James, are steeped in history. Only about a hundred meters east of the entry to the James River Park Pipeline Walkway is the estimated location of a cross that was raised by Captain Christopher Newport and Captain John Smith in May of 1607.

The cross was laid only days after the party’s landing in Jamestown.

In the decades that followed, William Byrd, a prominent trader, operated several acres of plantation along the falls in this area. When the land passed to his heir in 1704, the Colonial government worked with William Byrd II to incorporate a town from this land.

The concept of what would become Richmond began in 1705 as this land was put to use.

The city was officially founded in 1737.

Richmond's Newport Cross at Canal Walk
A reproduction and monument to the Newport Cross and landing is along the nearby Canal Walk.

The James River Park Pipeline Walkway and Pipeline Park were opened to the public in 2005.

Pipeline Park is part of the James River Park System.

Getting to the Park

A small parking lot is at the entry to the park. A small bike rack is along the trail to the James River Park Pipeline Walkway. The park is open from dawn to dusk. 

There’s no cost to visit the park, use the catwalk, or park.

Accessing the catwalk requires a short climb down a metal ladder from the riverbank. Be aware of the water level and weather. High, fast water can easily engulf the pipeline and connected trails.

Attempting to map out the location might be difficult as it’s on a small access road off of S. 12th street in Richmond.

The closest address is:
1101 Haxall Point
Richmond, VA, 23219

Take a look at the photo below that is labeled with locations of the overlook, parking, and the direction of the catwalk. This is from the point of view of driving into the park from Shockoe Bottom/Canal.

Richmond Pipeline Park Parking and Catwalk Directions
Richmond Pipeline Park Parking, Overlook, and Catwalk Directions

James River Park Pipeline Walkway: Nature in Downtown

There aren’t very many “secluded” spots in a city with a metro population of over a million. But, Richmond is an old city on an older river. The James River has been used for centuries by modern Americans, Colonists, and the original Native people to ferry cargo.

The pipeline under the James River Park Pipeline Walkway still ferries cargo, keeping this section of the James pristine.

That pipeline also offers a clever way for us to access this beautiful, secluded park.

Looking for more adventure? I recommend Presquile National Wildlife Refuge about 20 miles away.

Presquile National Wildlife Refuge (A James River Island)

There is a hidden island sanctuary just 20 miles from the city of Richmond, VA teeming with nature. Presquile National Wildlife Refuge lies in the middle of the James River.

The island habitat exists without roads or private development.

The wildlife refuge covers all of Presquile.

The Fish and Wildlife Service operates the wildlife refuge. It’s home to some endangered species as well as a variety of migratory birds including roosting Bald Eagles.

Established in 1953, Presquile is accessible only with a permit by boat. It’s an enjoyable ferry ride during the annual Field Day. Alternatively, it’s a short paddle by kayak or canoe.

The island is one of the Richmond area’s great outdoor gems. It remains relatively unknown due to the difficulty accessing it.

The refuge is east of Richmond, making it only about 35 miles from Williamsburg. It’s a short trip to this national wildlife refuge in the middle of the James River from much of Central Virginia.

The unspoiled landscape creates an opportunity for fantastic outdoor adventure activities. Hiking, canoeing, and kayaking are all great ways to take in the refuge. There’s only barely a distant hum of city life and industry even though heavy industry surrounds the island from the banks of the James.

The habitat covers 1,329 acres of protected land. You’ll find Tidal Swamp Forest and Mixed Mesic Forest offering thick shade and plenty of lingering webbed branches to get caught in. Much of the wildlife refuge is comprised of Freshwater Marsh which limits access by grassy trail.

This large undeveloped space means you may run into some wild bits of nature.

Presquile National Wildlife Refuge’s Creatures

It wouldn’t be a wildlife refuge without plenty of creatures! Presquile National Wildlife Refuge teems with it.

This, is a wheel bug.

Presquile National Wildlife Refuge teems with nature like this wheel bug.
Presquile National Wildlife Refuge teems with nature like this wheel bug.

They’re quite timid and tend to hide in larger foliage, hunting other insects. If you do manage to bring the wrath of the Wheel Bug, you can look forward to a bite wound more painful than a wasp. It may last anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months!

If you’re lucky, you’ll spot the infamous James River Sturgeon swimming along, prized for its massive length.

You might hear the Prothonotary Warbler singing its tune.

You’ll likely spot the common American Black Duck paddling around the calm waters.

Monarch Butterflies glide casually from petal to petal across the island’s dense flowers.

America’s icon itself, the Bald Eagle, will be watching you from above protecting its nest.

Presquile As An Outdoor Field Trip for Adults

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) plays host to a “field day” semi-annually on Presquile. FWS typically runs this and other Presquile events throughout the month of March and September.

No public facilities are on the island, but FWS does provide access to modern facilities with running water during their events. Pack light as you will pack out everything you bring to the island.

The event allows visitors to explore the miles of grass trails on the island. Take a moment with a pair of binoculars to spot the variety of bird species. Be intrigued by the biodiversity on this small island of Presquile.

You’re only a short distance from urban city life yet you’ll find yourself on this beautiful piece of nature.

FWS also offers educational opportunities on Presquile through the James River Association.

Sunrise on the Presquile National Wildlife Refuge
The Sunrise over Presquile

Presquile National Wildlife Refuge sits amid the human history-laden James River, not far from where Richmond was founded: near Pipeline Park in the city.

For the creatures that were here long before us, Presquile remains a true wildlife refuge.

→ Looking for more adventure? I recommend the James River Park Pipeline Walkway in the heart of Richmond.

Vibram Barefoot Shoes (Running with FiveFingers)

FiveFingers are an athletic shoe created by Vibram. They’re known as Vibram barefoot shoes by many. I’m going to give you my rundown of the pros and cons of these running shoes in this review.

I’ve worn them for several years and have found some problems and some benefits.

Vibram makes rubber soles for a variety of shoe products, and surprisingly, have been around since 1937 – recently hitting their 70th anniversary.  Time Magazine tagged Vibram’s FiveFinger athletic shoes as a best invention in 2007.  

These toe shoes are marketed as a ‘barefoot alternative’; initially towards climbers, sailors, and light-trekkers who love barefoot shoes.  They have since become popular with runners, martial artists, hikers, travelers, and a variety of other adventurers – which is exactly how I found out about them.

What’s Special About FiveFingers?

I originally read about these minimalist running shoes some time ago in a gear related article by Tynan of Life Nomadic.  

I then spotted some odd shoe-socks on Tim Ferris via a YouTube video.

He has since written a more detailed article about his own experiences with the Vibram barefoot shoes.

His article thoroughly explains a variety of the health benefits he has researched regarding barefoot running shoes (or near barefoot running shoes with FiveFingers).  

Wikipedia does a solid job of summing these benefits up:

The shoe is not only supposed to make running more enjoyable but is beneficial for a persons posture, strengthen muscles in the feet and legs, increase range of motion in ankle.

Vibram Barefoot Shoes: Fitness & Benefits

Jenni sporting a pair of Vibram barefoot shoes: the FiveFingers.
Jenni sporting a pair of Vibram barefoot shoes: the FiveFingers.

Before purchasing the FiveFingers, I had been running frequently, maybe three times per week roughly 4 miles per run, in a pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS 8.  

I had purchased these from Kelly’s Running Warehouse just over a year ago for $71.97, at the time, the cheapest price online for those shoes.  

They were a big improvement over what I had been running in, some random pair of old sneakers.  I noticed that the lighter weight and solidly supported sole made for an easier run.

Finding Inexpensive Vibram FiveFingers Deals

After seeing another article pop-up with some YouTube stars sporting Vibram barefoot shoes, I decided it was time for me to go ahead give these things a shot.  

They sounded like they were right up my alley.  

Then I realized they were $74.95, just a few dollars short of the recent running shoe purchase that I had already balked at – and these things certainly did not seem to have as much material to them.

Lucky me, I found the ’08 model on closeout at Travel Country and managed to pick them up for a steal, just $39.95.  

I even talked a friend of mine into a pair.

I went with the Classic and he went with the KSO.  

After returning the original pair pictured above due to a slight sizing problem (they seem to run a bit big and with European sizing only), I ended up with a pair of less attention-grabbing colored Classics that fit properly.  

So how are these Vibram barefoot shoes for actual excursions?

Avoiding Ankle Roles

One of my biggest problems running was an occasional ankle role that would take me down in fairly moderate pain for several minutes, trying to shake the sharp rising sting and tingle off.

FiveFingers offer virtually no support to your foot position and ankle, meaning, the ankle has to do its actual job.

Really, the shoe is often the cause of a rolled ankle as it creates a leveraged platform on uneven terrain.

I also do a fair amount of climbing like near the James River Pipeline Park Walkway outside of Richmond, VA.

I do frequent indoor exercises (check out the 100 Day Burpee Challenge).  

Needless to say, running shoes aren’t the best choice for these activities.

I found them to be a mind-opening experience on any surface that is softer than asphalt.  

It really was amazing to feel all the intricacies of the ground – the small twigs under your feet, the variations in the level of the dirt below, the tiny bumps here and there, the grass softly cushioning your foot-fall.  

It was a different experience than I had imagined.  

Now, I don’t typically run barefoot, had I done that on a normal basis, perhaps my first experience with the FiveFingers would not have been so enlightening.  

Beyond the surreal feel of the earth below your feet, I also found there to be a significant increase in my ability to grip the ground and properly predict how my foot may need to be positioned, my weight balanced, and even how my next push-off should go.  

I certainly am not a ‘professional runner’, but I genuinely did notice these new aspects of each step when using my new freak-feet.

Wearing FiveFingers and the Attention

Yes, freak-feet.

Toe shoes.

These Vibram barefoot shoes are certainly something that will attract attention.  

It’s hard not to notice the eyes following your oddball toe shoe covered feet if you wear them out to run some errands en route to your next run.  The kids at the grocery store will indeed point, smile, and maybe even ask you about them.  

If you like attention, this certainly won’t be a bad thing.  

I have found them to be an interesting topic with the ladies, but not something they particularly like – no surprise here, might not want to wear them to the bar.

Beyond the questionable social aspects, there is a significant ‘breaking-in’ period for your body when wearing these.  Your body has adjusted to accommodate for thickly cushioned shoes and wide flat soles.  This unnaturally forces a step that has an impact at your heel with a roll to your toes.  

Humans were designed to have a more flat, full impact with each step.

The ultimate minimalist running shoe is undoubtedly your naked skin.

Barefoot running involves pushing from the ground with the ball of the foot rather than the heel, foot landing directly under the hips. ‘The force to drive you forward should only be applied after the foot has settled on the ground completely. Striking the ground, especially with the heel, causes trauma and makes the runner susceptible to injury’. It follows that running shoes with heavily padded heels will impede this natural motion. Although there is much research to still be done, there are many studies that suggest that running shoes contribute greatly to the high incidence of injuries among shod runners.

Dr. Gordon Pirie

Barefoot Running and Foot Impact

FiveFingers help move you back into your natural flat impact style running, where most of the impact is spread across your foot rather than at the single point.  

Why not just run barefoot?  

Well, it may be reasonable in a non-urban area, but I live in a city and there is plenty of glass, nails, and other nasty bits that I do not want driven into my foot.  

Vibram barefoot shoes provide a very tough sole that is more like a thick rubber sock than a traditional running shoe sole.  

After just a few weeks of moderate use of my FiveFingers (slowly incorporating them into my runs), I found my feet became adapted to the less cushioned and covered style of running I was used to.

I initially had a very slight amount of heel and toe-ball pain from the higher impacts of the FiveFingers, which even forced me into a different running style that involved a flatter, spread impact with each step.  

I also initially had some light blisters from the rubbing of the FiveFingers due to the lack of socks.

Hole developed on big toe
Hole developed on big toe of FiveFingers

So, a solid 100+ miles and three months later, where do I stand on these FiveFingers?  Well, I have a problem.

Yep, there is a hole above my left shoe’s big toe, as you may have seen in the lead photo.  There’s also some smaller holes on the inside of that same toe, as well as one on the other big toe.  

They have become gradually worse.  I feel I have maintained them quite well, they have only seen the washer once (they are washer compatible) on a light cycle mixed with towels on cold.  

No dryer.  

It seems as the fabric’s ‘knit’ has come apart at the top, perhaps pushed by a light drag across some terrain or from brushing a bit of brush while running.  It appears to be a manufacturing problem with the product as it is appearing on various toes and both shoes.  

I am currently attempting to have them returned to the retailer or if necessary, Vibram.  I hear their warranty service is good, so I will have to hold a final conclusion after I have finished the warranty service procedure.

As a side note, my friend who purchased a pair of the KSOs has had no significant problems with the FiveFingers, likes them quite a bit, and has not had any similar ‘defect’.

As of now, I would say that the Vibram FiveFinger Classic barefoot running shoe offers an excellent bridge to barefoot running.  

They can provide a solid level of protection while also gradually moving you into a barefoot running style.  They have a bit of an initial learning curve, but more than makeup for it with an enlightening experience as you feel the earth below your feet.  

Vibram barefoot shoes like FiveFingers do not create the seesaw-like problem that exists when your solid sole shoe’s weight shifts on an uneven surface causing a rolled ankle.  

No rolled ankles in the months I have used the FiveFingers.  

I imagine I have merely had a one-off poor experience with the manufacturing which will probably be cured.  

Take a look and see if the barefoot running experience might be for you!

Final Thoughts on Vibram Barefoot Shoes

As promised, I’ve updated the post for my final thoughts on Vibram barefoot shoes. I finally received my replacement pair of FiveFingers from TravelCountry.com after an arduous wait involving many phone calls and far too much time spent rock-hopping in big fat soled trail shoes.  

It took some time coordinating the replacements as apparently Travel Country had to go through Vibram for a replacement authorization before they could send me a replacement directly.  I was told Vibram was having some internal problems that caused some delays though as well.

As a side note, Travel Country had quite good quality customer service albeit a bit slow.  It was nice to be able to reach a native english speaker and not have to navigate through a 10-step phone system to do so.  Once things were straight with Vibram and the authorization (I suppose credit back) was cleared, I received an equivalent replacement set within 3 days.  The replacement set is a slightly newer model, as my original pair were a 2008 closeout.  One of the representatives I spoke with told me he had seen several returns with similar problems.

The construction of the new pair does not seem any bit different from the originals, although the color is just ever-so-slightly different.  I’d been without my FiveFingers for about 2 months and it was great to break into the new pair with some hiking around the Presquile National Wildlife Refuge near Richmond, VA.  

I have since put a solid 20 or so miles on them and have not noticed any of the problems I had seen with the previous pair.  

One thing is for sure: next time I find myself in need of a replacement pair of FiveFingers, I’ll be searching for a quick replacement source, living without them for quite some time certainly reduced my athletic enjoyment.  I will also be keeping my eyes open for closeouts and sales, I could always use an extra set!