The second leg of our walk around the city promised to feature a balanced mix of soft-surface paths and smooth macadam roadway, so as we started at the RTF (Rivanna Trails Foundation) trailhead on Holmes Avenue, we were excited to take on the next several miles of our journey.
On this day, my companions were Cynthia, our eldest daughter Audrey and our dear longtime friends Anne Chapin and Gretchen Deel. As soon as we came off the pavement and onto the narrow dirt path, our group felt like we had instantly stepped into another world as the car and lawn mower rumbles of this quaint Park Street neighborhood instantly melted away. All we could hear now were the sounds of our voices and those of the birds calling to one another along the scenic river below us.
In less than a minute, a tall wall of vegetation gently brushed our hips, giving us the sensation that our path was walking us through a lush green tunnel, totally buffering us from any form of city civilization.
As is the theme of the RTF, a good percentage of the 20.5-mile path hugs the embankments of the Rivanna River’s many branches, and from the moment we stepped off Holmes Avenue we were following the meandering flow of scenic Meadow Creek as it took us under bustling Park Street up alongside Melbourne Road and over Schenks’ Creek until we came to the John Warner Parkway (JWP).
We followed the wide paved path along the bustling JWP for less than a quarter mile before quickly turning back into the quiet confines of the woods. And, once again, there was Meadow Creek, as the narrow dirt path paralleled its serpentine banks, filling our senses with the wonderment of the flow of this scenic waterway.
At one point, we spotted a heron perched on a log in its classic one-legged pose, intently focused on looking for fish in the middle of the fast-flowing creek. The path then took us back across the JWP and, like it had back at Park Street, by safely walking under the elevated overpass.
A common thread with the RTF is you rarely ever have to cross a busy road thanks to the simplicity of following the path under the bridges and overpasses. Thanks to the ingenuity of the RTF planners, the trail setup creates a hassle-free way to avoid traffic while peacefully walking in the city.
After crossing, we snaked our way up above the parkway on the other side and disappeared back into yet another secluded wooded path before popping out again along a grass path behind the Charlottesville High School athletic fields along Melbourne Road.
This is where the soft surface turns to macadam, because, due to the railway tracks, which are illegal to cross on foot, the only way to connect the RTF path is to walk along the roads of this hilly yet beautiful neighborhood until it meets up with the loop again.
The walk along the peaceful, tree-lined streets of Greenbrier was actually quite relaxing as we worked our way north on Melbourne onto Kenwood Lane, where, after a quarter mile, our route seemed to dead end at a quiet cul de sac. But sure enough, much to our group’s pleasure, yet another secret entrance way to our path awaited us in between two homes, where the macadam magically morphed back to dirt while merging us onto the loop path again.
This next two-mile section was the coolest of the day. We followed the shimmering Meadow Creek along a beautiful flat cindered path, then over a really neat footbridge (perfect for “Pooh sticks” with kids or, in my case, grandkids) and eventually crossing Brandywine. We then came to a deep section of the creek where the only dry way across to the path on the other side was to hold onto a rope as we carefully tip-toed over a set of rock steps that took us safely over the flowing waters of Meadow Creek.
The smooth dirt path on the other side took us behind Branchlands, Seminole Square and Whole Foods as we followed alongside the creek through a carpet of lush green ground-cover. This entire section of beautiful woods, along with the section we walked north of the JWP, was purchased by the city in order to provide walkers like ourselves with a permanent wilderness recreational area within the boundaries of our community while exposing us to beautiful areas along the riverways that we might otherwise have never even knew existed.
After meandering through this lush woodland haven, we came upon an intensely bustling Hydraulic Road, where, thankfully, we dipped down under, through a tunnel and then again through another much longer one under the 250 Bypass. These were such neat secret and hidden passageways and, as we walked through the dark tunnels, we would have never guessed that we were passing right underneath two of the busiest roads in Charlottesville. All we could hear were our voices echoing off the walls of the tunnel and the sounds of the creek flowing alongside the raised platform we were walking on.
After coming out of the tunnel to the other side of the 250 Bypass, we picked up another wooded path that closely followed the final section of the Meadow Creek, before ending our walk at the Meadow Creek Garden and Disc Golf area at Morton Drive.
We thoroughly enjoyed this fun five-mile section of the greenbelt. It treated our feet and senses to a smorgasbord of settings, from grass and dirt paths, multiple creek crossings, tunnel borrowing to the smooth confines of paved neighborhood roads. We’re now hooked on this wonderful in-town rural experience and couldn’t wait to see what lied ahead on the next leg of our RTF journey.
Mark Lorenzoni starts each day with a brisk early morning walk or very slow run. He and his family host a monthly group community hike. For more information go to RaggedWalks.org or call 434-293-3367. And to learn more about or to donate to the Rivanna Trails Foundation (RTF) visit rivannatrails.org.