About the Belle Isle Gateway

Good morning Friends of the James River Park


You might have read an article in the RTD this week about the Belle Isle Nature Exploration Area we have been working on. This has been a long planning process, and we’re excited about this project! Unfortunately, the RTD didn’t contact us before posting their article, so I wanted to share more information and clarify a few things. We have been working with Marvel and the JRPS staff on this and other projects related to Belle Isle for more than a year.

First things first, this is not a done deal! I want that to be super clear. We are still working our way through the approval process with the Conservation Easement holders, identifying the funds to pay for it, and finalizing design work. Part of that process was to submit the conceptual designs to the Urban Design Committee, which we did a few weeks ago. That application is the source of the reporting.

Future Plan
Potential Gateway Plan

When we started thinking about the Belle Isle Improvements Plan last year we wanted to find projects that would support the Park staff’s ability to manage the Park while also enhancing what people love about Belle Isle. That conversation led us in a bunch of different directions and was a lot of fun. The JRPS Staff led much of the discussion and ultimately drove the momentum behind what we settled on as potential future projects. I think that is part of what makes these projects special – they come from the people who work in the Park every day.

We identified four potential project areas and developed conceptual designs for what could be done to create the type of public spaces that help us better activate Belle Isle. Long-term improvements include public restrooms, more conservation-focused landscaping, improvements to existing amenities, and adaptive reuse projects of some of the abandoned industrial buildings on Belle Isle.

The Nature Exploration Area was identified as the first piece of the project as the anchor of the “Belle Isle Gateway” project. The Gateway project would improve the space you see as you enter Belle Isle from the North bank of the River. Currently, this space is heavily impacted by the decades of heavy industry that Belle Isle was home to before it became a park. We will also hopefully be improving the landscaping, reconfiguring the Bike Skills area, and developing a project to activate the “Nail Shed” for more sustainable use in future projects.

More Gateway PlanThe approval process for these projects started with getting designs together that showed what we wanted to do. The UDC application is a good depiction of what we hope to achieve on Belle Isle over the next few years. The next step is to work with our partners at Capital Region Land Conservancy and the Department of Conservation and Recreation to ensure that the planned new recreation amenities are consistent with the conservation easement.

Construction does not start on this project in June. If everything goes smoothly we would like to get some site preparation started for this project by the end of the Summer. Nothing can happen until we complete the review process with the easement holders.

These proposed projects are coupled with unprecedented levels of funding for the conservation of the James River Park System. FOJRP is leading the charge to conduct the JRPS Natural Resources Management Plan, and making additional investments in the Invasive Species Mangement staff we have already been funding for a few years. Over half of our budget this and next fiscal year will be spent on JRPS Conservation work. We are delivering on our promise to protect, expand, and enhance the JRPS.

As always, if you have any specific questions, you can reach out to us at Friends@jamesriverpark.org

See you in the park!




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