August 24, 2021

$1 million Cameron grant to FOLAR helps pave way for park, trail development for Dinwiddie, Chesterfield, Petersburg

Flowing through Southside Virginia, the Appomattox River is a unique natural resource and a vital link for communities across the region. The entire length of the lower Appomattox River is designated a Virginia Scenic River. Photo by John Rooney

DINWIDDIE COUNTY, VA — Catalyzing the work of Friends of the Lower Appomattox River (FOLAR) to develop and expand the Appomattox River Trail (ART), The Cameron Foundation’s Board of Directors has approved its first $1 million grant to the organization to develop the trail’s vital western entrance spanning Dinwiddie and Chesterfield counties and the City of Petersburg.

The award supports design development, pre-construction engineering, and construction of the Appomattox River Trail along the western corridor; planning and design of a brand-new bicycle-pedestrian bridge; and, the reimagining and renovation of the historic Ferndale Appomattox Riverside Park. The full area to be developed, from the John J. Radcliffe Conservation Area in Chesterfield County across the river to Dinwiddie, along the historic 1.4-mile Canal Trail and one mile of riverside trail east toward Petersburg, creates a destination-level, regional western entrance, and connection to the developing 25-mile Appomattox River Trail system.

Adjacent to Ferndale Park, the existing 1.4-mile Canal Trail will be improved to an ADA-accessible bicycle-pedestrian trail. Photo by Friends of the Lower Appomattox River (FOLAR)

Ferndale Park offers various recreational opportunities, including a pond where kayakers can put in and travel along a picturesque canal, built ca 1810 to bypass the falls of the Appomattox River. Photo by Friends of the Lower Appomattox River (FOLAR)

To date, this new award brings The Cameron Foundation’s total commitment to FOLAR to $1,477,000. Cameron’s President, J. Todd Graham, explained, “This significant philanthropic investment reflects Cameron’s focus on supporting tangible, highly leveraged projects that will benefit residents of this region for decades. In addition to the health benefits associated with access to a regional trail system, this project also addresses other Cameron funding interests, such as community and economic development, education, and historic preservation and conservation.”

“This is the largest single grant in the FOLAR organization’s 20-year history, and we are excited to be able to leverage this support from The Cameron Foundation to bring this project to a transformational scale for our region,” stated Sam Hayes, FOLAR’s Chairman of the Board. “This award is a very positive start toward funding the $10 million total cost to complete the project.”

The renovation of historic Ferndale Park has been a long-time desire for many in the region. In its former incarnation, the site was a popular amusement park that drew visitors from around the Richmond region, boasting a carousel, bowling alley, ice cream parlor and movie theater. It operated for several decades from 1900 to the late 1920’s. The canal alongside the park was completed between 1807 and 1810.

Today, Ferndale Park still offers a variety of experiences – playground and picnicking for families and groups, easy walking and biking along the canal trail, rustic trails along the river, and several types of fishing and paddling access to the pond, canal and river, providing whitewater and flatwater paddling. Although the area has experienced some decline and disrepair through the years due to a variety of environmental and economic challenges, it remains popular with visitors. According to FOLAR’s trail counter network, the canal trail is currently the third most used trail in the ART system.

Ferndale Park, one of the key points of focus in this newest project to provide recreational amenities along the Appomattox River, celebrates a long history dating back to 1900. Pictured here, the park offered a trolley service from Petersburg (above) and boasted a “hobby horse” carousel (below). Photos provided courtesy of Larry Holt, local historian


Kevin Massengill, Dinwiddie County Administrator and life-long Dinwiddie resident, commented, “The Appomattox Riverside-Ferndale Park area has tremendous potential. The area offers a convergence of unparalleled natural beauty and historic value that provides enjoyable outdoor experiences for all types of users – experiences which I have enjoyed with my family through the years. Our county welcomes the investment in improving this great public resource.”

The serene rural setting in Dinwiddie County is less than five miles from Old Towne Petersburg, Virginia State University, and Colonial Heights by way of the Appomattox River Trail. The Park is directly adjacent to the Village of Matoaca in Chesterfield County.

“It is unique that a single park can offer so much variety for recreational use and for all levels of users. To connect the park and trail to the 97-acre Radcliffe Conservation Area in Chesterfield County by way of a visionary bike-ped bridge will expand public access to the area tremendously, and it will be a great benefit to our southern districts and the region,” said Scott Zaremba, Deputy County Administrator for Chesterfield County.

The funding for the Ferndale Park and Canal Trail area also will be used to improve nearly one mile of riverside trail east of the park, making it readily accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists, including wheelchairs, in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The corresponding riparian environment area will be improved by decreasing erosion during high water flow and flooding conditions as well as address critical concerns, such as water quality, protection of sensitive habitats, and preservation of historic assets.

These trail improvements extend to the boundary of property owned by Dominion Energy. The staff at Dominion Energy also is working cooperatively with FOLAR to create access through its property to complete the connection in Petersburg.

This planned progress for the western entrance to the trail system is an extension of FOLAR’s work to develop the segment of the trail through downtown Petersburg and make connection to the planned Fall Line Trail. “These Appomattox River Trail projects will provide significant public benefit to residents and visitors of the City of Petersburg and the surrounding localities by adding to a higher quality of life, promoting a more active lifestyle, and advancing awareness around the importance of protecting the Appomattox River,” stated Petersburg Mayor Sam Parham.

FOLAR’s work to realize the community vision of completing the Appomattox River Trail system is guided by the 2017 Appomattox River Trail Master Plan. The trail features a 25-mile-long bicycle-pedestrian path that will connect Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Petersburg, Colonial Heights, Prince George and Hopewell – creating an active transportation network for the region. The master planning process included significant public input and was funded through the first proactive grant FOLAR received from The Cameron Foundation.

A significant feature in plans to develop the western end of the Appomattox River Trail is construction of a bicycle-pedestrian bridge across the river to connect the 97-acre Radcliffe Conservation Area in Chesterfield County to the Canal Trail in Dinwiddie County. Concept illustration, FOLAR’s Appomattox River Trail Master Plan

As project plans are being developed for the western entrance, there will be opportunities for feedback and response between the designers, stakeholders and the community. Once a final project design plan is completed and necessary permits are acquired, local contractors and volunteers also will play a role in building out parts of the project over the next few years.

FOLAR Executive Director Wendy Austin reflected on the pivotal point of completing the master plan. “Having that plan has positioned us to bring together the many partners we need to enhance this western entrance of the trail,” she noted. “As each section is developed, we take another step closer to realizing the region’s vision for the Appomattox River Trail,” Austin added. “Through philanthropic support, in combination with the collaboration of our other partners and strong grassroots participation, as well as committed, passionate leadership, we are successfully transforming this region into one of the best places to live in the Commonwealth.”

FOLAR can apply $250,000 of the Cameron award as matching dollars towards a $500,000 challenge grant it recently secured from the Cabell Foundation, headquartered in Richmond. The Cabell Foundation grant will only be realized if FOLAR raises the full match amount. The nonprofit is now more than halfway to achieving that goal and will need to raise the other half in the coming year, through individual community support.

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