The Pipeline Trail
The Pipeline Trail is a small park that is part of the city of Richmond, Virginia's city park system. It is very unusual for two reasons. First, it is literally a trail that is located over and on a large waste and storm water pipe. The second reason that it is unusual is that it runs directly across a heron rookery. The rookery, a joint project of the city parks, the Audubon Society, and Dominion Power, is home to about 40 nesting pairs of great blue herons. The island is in the middle of the James River rapids which not only provides great fishing for the herons, but also for American Bald Eagles, osprey, great egrets, and a variety of hawks.
Nest building and courting activity starts in February with incubation taking about a month. April and May the rapids are frequently crowed with adult birds feeding on migrating shad and herring. By June the fledglings have left the nests and are feeding alongside the adult birds, so there are about five great months of photo opportunities.
There are two primary shooting locations, one official the other not so much. The first is on the pipeline and a small beach that runs along part of it. The walkway above the pipe is narrow and has a pipe guardrail on both sides. This means that you will not have room for a tripod. However if you shimmy under the guardrail and go onto the beach there is no problem with setting up your sticks. The other thing to keep in mind with the Pipeline Trail is that to get to it you must climb down a steel ladder that is about seven feet high. Keep this in mind when deciding how much gear you want to take.
The not so official location is to walk out on the railroad tracks that go by the island. You will have to pass a "No Trespassing" sign if you choose to go this way. This is an active railway and can be dangerous. Apparently the photographers who take this risk do so because it is higher and offers greater visibility of the nests. We do not recommend that you do this, but want you to be aware that there are some photographers and birders who go this way regularly.
Getting to the Pipeline Trail is a bit of a trick if you are not familiar with downtown Richmond. Most references give directions to this location as simply go to the end of South 12th Street. And if fact this is where the park is located. However you can't get to end of 12th Street by simply driving towards the river until it stops. If you do you will run into a one way street, going the wrong way. Also there is apparently no street number for the park, so your GPS will not help either. To get there follow these directions from I-95:
Take I-95 exit 74A for VA-195/Downtown Expressway toward I-195 N/Powhite Pkwy.
Keep right at the fork, follow signs for US-60/Canal St. and merge onto E. Canal St.
Turn left onto S 10th St.
Take the 1st left onto E Byrd St.
Turn right at S 12th St.
Go to the end of the street and bare to the right into the small parking lot.
The parking lot is small (about 12 cars). There is a large parking lot behind the flood wall, however it is a commercial lot so pay attention to signage to see if it is available. To reach the stairs that lead to the trail, walk to the end of the parking area through a gate that is marked as a maintenance area. A short distance along the flood wall is where the stairway is located on the right. There is a trail sign at the entrance.
Richmond is a great small city with numerous places to stay and eat. The area of the city where the park is located is called Shockoe Slip. This historic section of the city has a long history and is now one of the city's best locations for fine food, accommodations, and shopping and located next to the city's financial district.
Your longest lens will be useful here, but remember, although the distance you'll have to walk is relatively short, it has some challenges with steps, a ladder, and narrow walkway.
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