The fifth and final leg of our 21-mile RTF counter clockwise walk around the city began at the most southern end of the loop, which is just below Fifth Street Station.
As had been the case throughout much of our walk, the trail almost immediately swallowed us up into a cocoon of lush, green privacy as the kudzu-lined path quickly led us deep into the woods. Cynthia, Audrey and I were thrilled to have our largest group of the walk join us for the last leg. Anne, Gretchen, Nathalie, Jim, Michelle, Katie and Jimmy were all excited to explore this magical trail with us.
The path meandered along Moores Creek as it straddled the thick woods that buffered the Willoughby neighborhood and the bustling Fifth Street Station shopping center and before we knew it we came upon yet another one of the many stepping-stone creek crossings of our journey. Today’s last three-mile section of the trail followed the water’s path closer than any other portion of the entire loop, hugging the banks of the flowing creek for most of the way.
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We passed through Jordan Park and then under Avon Street before quickly picking up the creek’s path again as we skirted by the southern end of Belmont, one of our city’s oldest and most beloved neighborhoods. One of the things we had noted along the way was that whenever our walk brought us close to any neighborhood, we would see dirt-pathed spurs that connected the main RTF loop to the backyards of those localities, giving those residents convenient access to this gem of an exercise resource. It is literally like having a woodland park in your backyard!
The smooth dirt path took us through another beautifully canopied section of woods before passing by Quarry Park, the sixth and final city park of our 21-mile loop. Then, once more, thanks to the creativity and hard work of the RTF trailblazers, the path safely and quietly led us underneath yet another busy thoroughfare, this time Monticello Avenue at Route 20.
Once our group popped out on the eastern side of Monticello Avenue, we were now paralleling, within a matter of feet, Interstate 64, and yet, despite our proximity to one of the busiest highways in Virginia, we continued to feel sheltered from the sights and sounds of roaring trucks and autos.
In all the countless years of personally traveling this mighty highway, I had never noticed, even in the dead of winter when the trees are bare, the ribbon of trail running just below the guard rails. And therein lies the soul of the RTF: creating a peaceful walking experience that transports you out of the city and into the wilds without ever having to stray outside the urban boundaries.
We had been amply warned, not only from reading the RTF’s helpful trail guide, but also by listening to countless folks who had run or walked the path, that this last one-mile section featured the toughest footing of the entire loop. A path of large wrap rock, which is used to prevent water erosion, was the only footing that separated us from the steep embankment leading up to I-64 on our right and the flowing creek, just below us, to our left. But, thanks to our trusty walking poles, we were able to safely and efficiently navigate our way over the bumpy path.
Before we knew it, our group could see the brick silhouettes of the old Woolen Mills buildings, now beautifully restored, towering up along the other side of the river. A large new footbridge led us along a wide section of Moores Creek just before it fed into the mighty Rivanna, around the next bend. We stopped for coffee at one of the new shops in the old warehouse before finishing with a quick walk through the quaint and historic Woolen Mills neighborhood, which took us by beautiful, turn-of-the-century riverside homes. Within a few minutes we were back at Riverview Park, right where we had started our looped journey five walks and 21 miles earlier.
We were sad to have our RTF loop adventure completed. We had thoroughly enjoyed the relaxing and peaceful ambiance of this beautiful greenbelt path. I truly believe this is one of our community’s crown jewels and do hope you too, just like our family and friends have, will take advantage of this free and accessible treasured resource.
More miles to cover
After talking with RTF board members like Allie Hill and Ned Michie, I discovered that there is whole new section of the path that I still need to explore, which runs for several miles north of the central loop, taking you along the Rivanna past Pen Park, Dunlora, Belvedere and Huntington. My “sticks” and hiking boots are always calling, so stay tuned for yet another city walking adventure.
A few last steps
The annual “Loop de’Ville” walk around the RTF, featuring all kinds of fun walking and running options, is Saturday, Sept. 25. Sign up at http://www.rivannatrails.org.
Volunteers are always needed to help maintain this magnificent path and it’s many bridges. Want to lend a hand? Go to the RTF’s website
One last tip from the RTF Board: Using the “Avenza” app for the Rivanna Trail is the single best way to keep you on the main loop throughout your walk.
Our Ragged Walks community walking club meets once a month for a group walk. Come join us as we explore hidden walking venues. Sign up at RaggedWalks or by calling 434-293-3367.
When not volunteering at a local footrace or coaching community runners, Mark Lorenzoni starts his day with a brisk walk or very slow run. He can be reached by text at 434-962-1694 or by calling Ragged Mountain Running Shop at 434-293-3367.