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Virginia CZM Program: 2011 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:VA CZM logo



Richmond Regional Planning District Commission

Project Title:

Chapel Island/James River Public Access Enhancement Project

Project Description as Proposed:

This project will enhance access on the Chapel Island portion of Great Ship Lock Park along the easternmost portion of the James River within the City of Richmond.  The project includes the following elements:

· Improvements to an approximately one-half  mile trail section  from the western lock crossing at the eastern end around the Trigg Shipyard to informal fishing and  downriver viewing points

· A canoe/kayak put-in at the Island inlet-canal outfall, including a handicap accessible ramp, with access to James River flat water

· Interpretative signage, an overall trail map, history of Trigg Shipyard, river ecology, and the combined sewer overflow (CSO) and its function to improve water quality

The 1992 Master Plan for the Great Ship Lock Park at Chapel Island describes the rich history of the island as a possible first landing for Captains John Smith and Christopher Newport in 1607, and as the site of the Trigg Shipbuilding Company in 1898.  Two large 15-foot high concrete abutments of the Trigg dry-dock remain today.  Chapel Island is owned by the City’s Department of Public Utilities and the western portion of the island is occupied by a 50-million gallon combined sewer overflow (CSO) covered retention basin.  Long range plans for expansion of the basin to a point west of the Trigg will leave approximately 5.8 acres for the river access improvements.

An estimated population of  9,354 (2008) lives within one-mile of Chapel Island, including residents of Church Hill,  Tobacco Row, and Rockett’s Landing.   This population is expected to grow by more than 35% to 12,769 in 2035 (RRPDC, 2011 Richmond Region Socioeconomic Analysis Report).  An estimated 21,518 people work within one-mile of Chapel Island.  The Chapel Island trail segment will directly connect to the Virginia Capital Trail, a 54-mile trail ultimately extending to Williamsburg. The Virginia Capital Trail Foundation is in a conceptual level design phase for improvements to the Great Ship Lock Park trail head, and plans are being coordinated with those for Chapel Island.

This project is vitally important to the preservation and full appreciation of Chapel Island as an evolving historic site and recreational access point.  The interpretive signage will provide a unique educational opportunity to describe the James River ecosystem and the CSO system.

Supporting this proposal, the City of Richmond’s Downtown Master Plan (July 2009) identifies the James River as Richmond’s great, wet Central Park, and calls for a series of clear connections to the riverfront, including:

Open Chapel Island to pedestrians and kayakers

Chapel Island, located south of Kanawha Canal, is currently used by the City of Richmond as an overflow storage area for the city’s combined sewer system and a rail siding for freight trains. Only the very eastern tip of the island is publicly accessible, via Great Ship Lock Park. A system of loop trails should be created around the island, while still separating the general public from the combined sewer.  Other elements of the proposed park should include a small boat launch, river overlooks, open space for passive recreation, and trail connections to the rest of the proposed riverfront trail system.

Make Great Ship Lock Park accessible

Great Ship Lock Park has ample parking and provides access to some of the canal’s few remaining historic locks, as well as the only current public access point onto Chapel Island. Beyond the parking lot and locks, the park’s trails and river access have been left relatively wild. With the construction of the Virginia Capital Trail, Great Ship Lock Park will become a center of activity. Existing trails should be formalized to provide easier access to the proposed trail system along Chapel Island as well as along Dock Street under the railroad truss.

The Chapel Island project is also included in the City’s Riverfront Plan currently under review by the City Planning Commission.

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

Barbara Jacocks- 804.323.3033;

Project Status:

10/1/2011 - 9/30/2012; Project Completed

Final Product Received:

Chapel Island/James River Public Access Enhancement Project Final Report (pdf) 

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

Final approval of “location/character and extent” of the Chapel Isle project received from the City of Richmond Planning Commission on 9/4/12 (approval also from Urban Design Committee).  Permits/approvals from the City of Richmond, U.S. Corps of Engineers, and VMRC for work within the flood plain and RPA for trail enhancement and canoe/kayak construction approved 12/12.

Work by the City James River Park System (JRP) crews directed by Nathan Burrell, City Trails Manager, began on January 3, 2013.  Within the first three (3) weeks of construction, the canoe/kayak boat ramp was graded and the main trail opened up with clear view of the historic Trigg Shipyard (ca. 1898).   Site work continued from April 1 through the June 30, 2013 by the City James River Park System (JRP) crews directed by Nathan Burrell, James River Park Superintendent.  JRP and Urban Tree Division logged over 1000 hours clearing trails, removing debris, placing stone, building the kayak/canoe boat launch, and supervising volunteer crews.

Volunteer crews from the James River Hikers, Friends of the James River Parks, James River Outdoor Coalition, Hands-On-Greater Richmond and corporate partners such as Altria, the Department of Environmental Quality, school groups and boy scouts held separate work days logging a total of 1200 person hours to clear paths of invasive vines, debris and fallen trees; plant wildflowers, paint lock and canal railings, and build trash/recycling receptacles, benches, and spread mulch, stone and riprap to finish trail edges. 
RRPDC staff, aided by consultation from Ralph White (retired James River Park Superintendent) and Greeley and Hansen (Department of Public Utilities consultant), prepared narrative and graphics for design of the four interpretive signs for the trail and a fifth and sixth panel for the Chapel Island kiosk.  The interpretative signs include:  1) Welcome to Chapel Island, history of the island; 2) historic Trigg Ship Yard site and remnants; 3) Tidal James at Chapel Island; and 4) Water Quality, explaining the value of the Combined Sewer Overflow retention facility located to the east of the recreational portion of the Island.  The kiosk panels describe the flora and fauna of the Island, provide a trail map and park rules, along with a James River Park System map.  The interpretative signs were installed along the trail in August, and the kiosk panels were put in place in September.

A ribbon cutting ceremony was held on October 15, 2013 as a joint celebration of the project with the opening of the Great Ship Lock trailhead for the Virginia Capital Trail project.
Disclaimer: This project summary provides the federal dollars initially awarded to the grantee. Due to underexpenditure or reprogramming of grant funds, this figure may change. For more information on the allocation of coastal grant funds, please contact Laura McKay, Virginia Coastal Program Manager, at 804.698.4323 or email:

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project is available. Please direct your request for a copy to

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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