Park Power

Richmond’s James River Park celebrates 50 years.

(Photo by Kyle LaFerriere)

Once a tangled stretch of wilderness, James River Park (JRP) now hosts more than two million people each year on more than 600 acres, spanning seven miles. The world took note: 

Outside Magazine hailed Richmond as the “Best River Town in America.” Blue Ridge Outdoors has gushed that the Class II-IV whitewater that roils past downtown is the “best natural urban whitewater in the country.” As hosts of the XTERRA triathlon, the city was catapulted onto the international stage. And Trail Runner Magazine honored its running trails with the title, “Best in Dirt.” 

How did it happen? Ralph White, the Park’s first superintendent—and sole employee, for years—led the Park’s transformation and helped put Richmond on America’s outdoor adventure map. White secured city funding and inspired the legions of volunteers who rallied to help build the paths, trails, bridges, pocket parks, and boat put-ins that sent Park usage soaring—and expanded the conversation around Richmond beyond history. 

Richmond’s reputation as an outdoor mecca continues to shine, thanks to the shared vision of White’s star successors Nathan Burrell and Bryce Wilk. 

Today, as it celebrates 50 years, the Park’s new superintendent Giles Garrison is focused on rolling out new programs to improve access to the park and attract even more visitors. “We want to make JRP a park for every resident,” she says, “and we want every child in the city to feel that it’s their own.” JamesRiverPark.org, RVA.Gov/Parks-Recreation


This article originally appeared in the April 2023 issue.

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