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The James River
A paddle for many interests. The James River through Lynchburg offers treats for birders, paddlers, river-lovers and observers of the urban scene.
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The Awareness Garden
The Awareness Garden. It’s at the Ed Page entrance to the Blackwater Creek Trail.
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The Federal Crest Inn
The Federal Crest Inn. The inn, in downtown, offers a genteel setting and gourmet breakfasts.
Many Roanokers probably don’t consider Lynchburg when they are planning getaway weekends for this autumn. The Hill City may be thought to be too close (after all, it is only an hour’s drive away) or too staid (after all, why should a couple leave one medium-sized city to visit another one of even smaller size). But just as Roanoke features a number of under-appreciated charms, so does Lynchburg – both of the outdoors and indoors nature.
One of the shining aspects of outdoor life in Lynchburg is the James River. Several times larger than the Roanoke River as it winds its way through our city, the James offers more reliable water levels, plus an abundance of bird life for the outdoor enthusiast. Our favorite float is the four-miler from Six Mile Bridge to Joshua Falls, but just as fetching is the three-mile junket that begins in the heart of downtown below Scotts Mill Dam and extends to Six Mile Bridge.
On a recent Six Mile Bridge excursion, we tallied more than 30 different bird species – not bad considering the short length and the fact that we were floating through a largely urban corridor. In autumn, expect plenty of wood ducks, Canada geese, belted kingfishers and migrating warblers and vireos.
Another virtue of both floats is that they possess nothing more daunting that easy Class I rapids. Colorful place names also characterize the excursions: Winston’s Falls, Opossum Island, Buzzard Islands, and Setting Pole Falls. Although, we have never observed opossums or buzzards on their namesake islands and the river bottom drops little at both the so-called falls.
A real highlight by either canoe or foot is Percival’s Island, just below Scotts Mill Dam. Gene Sattler, president of the Lynchburg Bird Club, frequents the land mass.
“What I like best about Percival’s is that even though it is adjacent to downtown, the island is so peaceful,” he says. “An eagle has nested in the area, and songbirds and waterfowl are common.”
The Percival’s Island Nature Area contains the trailhead for the James River Heritage Trail. A bridge leads from downtown to the island, and trails crisscross it as well. You should be able to view some migrating hawks this autumn, as well as osprey plying the winds as they search for fish in the river below.
The mouth of Blackwater Creek is just upstream from Percival’s and lends its name to the Blackwater Creek Natural Area and Hiking Trails. On a recent visit, we saw couples, singles, and family groups hiking and biking this very easy trail. It follows the stream along a narrow, though heavily wooded, corridor through the city.
Jane Kreger, community relations manger of the Lynchburg Barnes & Noble, is a frequenter of the city’s trail system.
“It’s a unique city quality to have nature trails that are well-maintained, safe, and cared for,” says Kreger. “You can enter and leave in a number of different places and can get a different take on the scenery on each part of the trail.”
Jim Douglass, City of Lynchburg construction coordinator, is proud that numerous trail markers exist – handy for both tracking distance and in case of emergencies.
“Many of the trails are on old railroad right-of-ways; which means that the trails are very level,” says Douglass.
Douglass also is enamored with the many wildflowers that thrive along the trails. In September and October, expect to amble by lobelia, Joe-pye weed, Indian pipe, black-eyed Susans, asters and goldenrod. Come autumn, the golden hues of mockernut hickories and poplars compete with the scarlet colors of red maples and dogwoods.
One particularly lovely area is the Awareness Garden at the Ed Page Entrance to Blackwater Creek Trail. The garden honors those whose lives have been touched by cancer. We found the bricks engraved with the names of loved ones to be especially poignant. The flowers and benches add to the sense of peacefulness. History buffs can also use the trail system to hike to Point of Honor, the 1815 home/museum of Patrick Henry’s physician.
In a totally different outdoor venue we visited the Old City Cemetery, with something for just about everyone. Garden enthusiasts stroll for the antique roses or shrub garden. Butterfly lovers might find action at the lotus pond and butterfly garden. Gene Sattler adds that birdwatchers enjoy their pastime on the grounds as well. The cemetery has been in use since 1806, with three-fourths of the burials being African and Native American residents.
Adjacent to the Civil War portion of the cemetery is the Pest House Medical Museum, illustrating medical care during the conflict. Nearby is the Hearse House and Caretakers’ Museum which showcases tools, grave markers, and similar aspects of cemetery care. The Legacy Museum of African American History is also close to the cemetery and documents contributions of the African American community.
Indoors You Go
What would a getaway be without a romantic place to stay? One of our favorites anywhere is the Federal Crest Inn, a 1909 mansion in the city’s historic district. The foyer contains a grand central staircase that focuses attention to the landing with its leaded windows and expansive window seat.
Owners Phil and Ann Ripley have been welcoming guests since 1995.
“The structure itself, with the high ceilings and spaciousness, lets you step back into a regal life style,” says Phil Ripley. “We give you a taste of yesteryear, yet with modern conveniences.”
The breakfasts are a joy. A tradition is the message muffins, which contain an inspirational thought for the day. On our most recent sojourn, we dined on French toast (the recipe comes from a chef at a French estate) and an egg soufflé – savory, yet light. Ann’s hand-painted goblets and her mural for one of the room’s showers add to the ambience.
On our most recent trip we also revisited a favorite eatery, Meriwether’s Market Restaurant in Boonsboro Shopping Center, self-described as dining for the casual gourmet. Meriwether’s is worthwhile for the art work alone; colorful murals and caricatures of some of Lynchburg’s celebrities adorn the walls.
We also indulged at Isabella’s, a restaurant featuring Northern Italian Cuisine. With everything from calamari to risotto, from veal to seafood, making a choice was challenging. Both Meriwether’s and Isabella’s offer lunch and dinner menus.
A more casual dining experience can be found at Magnolia Foods located near the entrance to Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. No tablecloths here – rather, order at the back after perusing a case or the chalkboard menu, and the food will be served to you at your choice of mismatched tables. Vegetarian entrees are one option.
Entertainment options abound. Art lovers might want to visit the Maier Museum of Art at Randolph-Macon. The building was constructed in 1952 to house collections of the National Gallery of Art, and ownership has since reverted to the college. Maier Museum features a collection of American artists, and has both permanent collections and changing ones. Other museums at Lynchburg College and Sweetbriar College are also open for tour. The Academy of Fine Arts and Academy of Music, as well as the area colleges, are all sources of entertainment, hosting productions, musicians, and shows. The city symphony and a regional ballet theatre hold performances, too. Roanoke visitors aren’t likely to run out of things – either of the indoor or outdoor variety – in Lynchburg this autumn.