Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Percival Island Natural Area (Blog Hike #340)

Trail: James River Heritage Trail
Hike Location: Percival Island Natural Area
Geographic Location: downtown Lynchburg, VA (37.41052, -79.13514)
Length: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: April 2011; trailhead pic taken May 2014
Overview: A very easy hike on an island in the James River.

Directions to the trailhead: The parking area for this trail is located on Concord Turnpike in downtown Lynchburg on the east side of the railroad track.  From the Lynchburg Expressway, take Exit 1a onto Main Street, go north on Main St. 2 blocks to Washington Street, turn right on Washington Street, and proceed 2 blocks to the riverfront area and Concord Turnpike.

The hike: How often do you get to hike on an island in the middle of a major river?  Not often, but that is the experience you will have when you hike the James River Heritage Trail to Percival Island, an elongated, sandy finger-island in the James River just south of Lynchburg.  The trail to the island was built on an abandoned railroad grade using the old railroad bridges.  Thus, we can thank the Virginia Rails to Trail project and the City of Lynchburg for the opportunity to hike to this interesting place.
            About half of this hike is on a paved bike trail, so you should not expect to be alone.  On the bright side, many birds use the island as a refuge from the surrounding urban area, and the sandy soil will keep your feet dry even after a significant rain.  I hiked this trail in early April when other trails were too wet and had an excellent hike.
Trailhead in downtown Lynchburg
            Start at the trail access on the north side of Concord Turnpike.  The paved bike trail heads north with active railroad tracks on your left.  After about 500 feet, the trail makes a sharp right turn to cross the old railroad bridge leading to the island.  Future riverfront development plans call for extending the paved trail further north along the west bank of the river to connect this trail with the Blackwater Creek Bikeway.
            The old steel railroad bridge has been covered by a wooden deck-like surface used by the trail.  An observation deck about halfway across provides an excellent view upstream to the north.  Downtown Lynchburg lies in the foreground and the Blue Ridge Mountains stand in the background.
Crossing the James River in Lynchburg
            Once you reach the island, the bike trail straightens and becomes paved with asphalt.  To find the beginning of the Percival Island Nature Trail, look for a brown sign bearing the universal hiking symbol and blue paint blazes to the right of the bike path.  Turn right here to leave the asphalt and begin the dirt nature trail.
Hiking on Percival Island
            The nature trail drops off of the old railroad bed before making a left turn to follow the west side of the island, heading downstream.  The island does not support large trees, but a large number of small trees provide plenty of resting places for birds.  The river darts in and out of view to your right.  Too soon the trail curves left to climb a short distance and rejoin the bike path about 0.5 miles south of where it exited.  A left turn and 0.7 miles of walking along the bike path will return you to your car and complete the hike.
            There are plenty of other interesting places to see along the James River Heritage Trail.  Turning right on the bike path at the end of the nature trail will lead in 500 feet to the railroad bridge leaving the island, in 1.25 miles to the Fertilizer Road parking area and an interesting rock exhibit, and in 1.5 miles to an old railroad switch point.  Going the other direction, in 0.3 miles the James River Heritage Trail leads to the Depot Grille (the old Lynchburg railroad depot), in 1.2 miles to Point of Honor (a restored early 1900’s mansion), and in 2 miles through the Hollins Tunnel, a former railroad tunnel that used to serve as the main portal into Lynchburg.  Take some time to explore the many rail-trails around Lynchburg and discover what other interesting things you see along the way.

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