Monday, November 7, 2016

Don't Go Changin'

I'm not that crotchety old person standing on my lawn, shaking my fist at people, but I'm not happy, either.

On today's walk to Chapel Island, one of my favorite nature hangouts, Mac and I were met by large machinery blocking the path to the island's best overlook. Not yet sure what it signified, I posed atop the behemoth so she could snap my picture and we continued along, only to be greeted by a road.

This will only sound illogical to you if you've never been on Chapel Island. You see, the beauty of the place is how wild it's always felt, how completely separate from the goings-on of the city just across the canal.

Trails were narrow and often overgrown. After storms, saplings sometimes straddled pathways. During high summer, the vegetation was so thick you couldn't see the river that surrounded you. Spider webs and the occasional snake were the norm.

Hands down, my favorite part of the island was the overlook on the south side, complete with bench and prime views of Rockett's landing and small boat fisherman trolling the shore line. More than a couple of them even waved when they spotted life on Chapel Island.

Gone, all gone now. A chasm exists on the spot where once there was a place of reflection and vistas.

Oh, we walked around to investigate, amazed that in the relatively short time since our last visit to the island so much land had been moved, so many trees and bushes cut down. Spotting more machinery down the newly minted "road" that followed the river, we set forth in search of more clues.

All we found was more denuded landscape, more big machines and more disappointment that we'd heard nothing about the desecration of one of our favorite natural spaces in the entire city.

And it's not like I don't pay attention to such things - hell, we'd come to the island this morning directly from the Valentine's strategic planning charrette seeking input about the museum's future. I go to mayoral forums and coalition-building meetings at the drop of a hat. I did four weeks of a neighborhood charrette about what could be imagined at a significant corner of Jackson Ward.

You see, I'm that city-loving nerd who's willing to devote some of my spare time to sharing my opinion about almost anything going on in Richmond and Mac is much the same.

Yet here we were, jaws dropped, at one of our top walking destinations, looking at it like it had been subjected to bad plastic surgery since we'd last met.

We followed the road until we found access to the canal walk, but it was an unsettling experience. Sure, the views of the railroad trestles were great under I-95 (the century-old supports almost sculptural in their design) and we got several first-time river vantage points, but we'd left behind an unrecognizable island.

Once home, it didn't take long to find information saying that they're doing a significant expansion of the Shockoe Retention Basin as well as of riverfront access from the island.  It's all there in the Richmond Riverfront Plan, along with an amphitheater and a place to launch small boats.

Sorry, my heart's just not into it.

Chapel Island, all I can say is how grateful I am that I had these years of enjoying you in your natural state throughout the seasons, because I can't promise I'll be nearly as attracted to you once you're all tarted up.

Now get off my lawn.

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