A hidden gem on the James

Published 9:44 am Friday, November 27, 2015

By Sean C.W. Korsgaard

Special to The Farmville Herald

Roughly an hour’s drive northwest of Farmville among the Blue Ridge foothills and cattle pastures of Buckingham County lies the James River State Park.

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Opened in 1999, the 1,561-acre park is one of the newest state parks in Virginia and offers a mixture of amenities and attractions for those who visit, including three fishing ponds, over 15 miles of wooded hiking trails and picturesque pasture land bordering three miles of the James River.

It’s one thing to describe it — seeing it in person is another experience entirely. Aside from the James River, each of the park’s ponds have their own unique charms, crystal clear water and plenty of nearby picnic areas and park benches to take them in from.

The park offers a variety of hiking trails with varying levels of difficulty, length and elevation. Of the several I hiked while in the park, the highlight was the Tye River Overlook, which as the name suggests, offers a rewarding view of where the Tye enters the James River along with a view of the nearby town of Norwood in Nelson County. The view itself is as pretty as a postcard and almost worth a trip to the park by itself.

Facilities include cabins, a visitor center, a gift shop, a camp store, a natural playground, picnic shelters, multi-use trails, boat launches, water/electric campgrounds and equestrian camping.

The park plays home to a wide sampling of Virginia wildlife, from wild turkeys to black bears, and the woods are thick with deer this time of year.

It’s not uncommon for visitors to have the entire park to themselves and the animals that live there, as pointed out by Chief Ranger Bill Crawford. He said that seclusion is a major part of the charm of James River State Park that offers a unique experience compared to other state parks.

“There’s very little traffic, and compared to other parks where some folks might drive through for a brief visit, most of what we see are folks staying overnight and camping,” said Crawford.

“I’m also very proud of the variety of programming for kids we have at the park.”

For those who have never been to James River State Park there is no time like the present, not just because the leaves have changed but because the park hosts events like its annual Fall Festival, which was held recently.

For the event, the park hosted a range of activities including pumpkin carving, a haunted trail and a movie later in the evening.

There was live music, and a bonfire complete with hot apple cider and food served by members of the Gladstone Volunteer Fire Department. Hundreds of people attended the event.

“Like a lot of what we do at the park, the event was very family friendly,” said Crawford. “Last year the event brought over 700 people, and this year we built on that.”

A notable addition this year was a 5K night trail run capping off the festival.

Rangers hailed the event as very successful with proceeds from the festival benefiting the Friends of James River State Park.

Year round, the park is host to attractions from kayaking to nature photography, and is one of the few state parks almost entirely accessible on horseback. For those who want to come see James River State Park for themselves, Crawford extends an open invitation.

“I always like to point out that there’s no gate here at the park,” said Crawford. “We’re always open, and anyone is always welcome at James River State Park.”

The park is located at 106 Green Hill Dr., Gladstone. For more information on the park, call (434) 933-4355, email jamesriver@dcr.virginia.gov or visit www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/.