Rivanna River Company will launch Charlottesville’s first outfitter
When Gabe and Sonya Silver moved back to Charlottesville three years ago after various stints in other places working in the outdoor recreation field, they settled in the Woolen Mills neighborhood. The house they bought was a fixer-upper with no air conditioning, and to escape the summer heat after long bouts of renovation sessions they would drag inner tubes down to Riverview Park and float around the horseshoe bend in the Rivanna River.
“Every time we went down to the Rivanna it was just this escape, but it was right there,” Sonya says. “It really felt like this unique experience you could have right in your backyard.”
Soon, their friends were showing up at their house every weekend asking to borrow their inner tubes—their secret escape was out, and a new business idea was born.
The Silvers wanted to create a gathering place where Charlottesville citizens as well as visitors could rent kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, canoes and inner tubes and set out on their own adventures down the river or participate in a guided session to learn more about the river’s history and ecological system. They’re a two-person marketing team trumpeting a local resource of enjoyment and beauty that some citizens may not know about.
“Reconnecting Charlottesville with the river so we take more pride in it and take better care of it, both individually and as a town, is what we care about,” Gabe says. “We’re at home in nature, and a lot of times we’re our best selves there, we’re relaxed.”
The Rivanna River is 42 miles long, and is formed four miles northeast of Charlottesville by the confluence of two tributaries: the North Fork and the South Fork. The river flows southeast through Albemarle County, around the eastern edge of Charlottesville, by Monticello, and continues southeast through Fluvanna County until it enters the James River.
Not only known for recreational uses such as kayaking, birding, fishing and tubing, the river is Charlottesville’s main source of drinking water and has been the target of conservation efforts from various groups for decades.
In January, two of those river stewards, the Rivanna Conservation Society and StreamWatch, merged to form the Rivanna Conservation Alliance. The alliance’s mission is protecting our water and reaching out to the community to educate it on keeping the rivers clean, with a focus on education, recreation, restoration programs and scientific monitoring.
Robbi Savage, executive director of the alliance, says she receives calls throughout the year from people inquiring about rental equipment for river excursions and tour guides. The alliance leads two paddling sojourns down the river a year, but there was no local outfitter on the river Savage could point them to. Until now.
Savage says about a year ago, when the Silvers were conceptualizing their business plan for the Rivanna River Company, researching the area and exploring all their options, they reached out to her and other organizations to share their idea and see if there were any opportunities for collaboration. They “handled it just right,” Savage says, by making connections with like-minded folks and approaching the business from a holistic viewpoint of what’s best for the area. In fact, the Silvers assisted RCA with its April 24 sojourn from Crofton to Palmyra, by providing boats and helping with transportation.
“I see this business as a tremendous asset to the community and it’s a great help to RCA,” she says.
The search for land to house the Silvers’ business was one of the hardest parts. They approached several private land owners on the Rivanna, who said they supported the idea but were worried about liability issues. They talked with the county about setting up their outfitter at Darden Towe Park, but no monetary transactions can take place there. Finally, Gabe walked into Cosner Brothers Body Shop on East High Street one day and talked to Grant Cosner, who opened the business more than 50 years ago. Cosner said they could set up in the parking lot of his shop, which backs up to the Rivanna Trail and is located directly on the river, just downstream from Free Bridge. The space is intended to be temporary for this season, launching April 30 and running through October.
The Silvers bought a mini barn that will be moved to the site and serve as their headquarters, where they’ll have 20-plus kayaks, eight canoes, eight stand-up paddleboards and 25 inner tubes, plus a 14-passenger bus and two trailers. They recently completed a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to raise the last $15,000 needed to purchase all of their equipment—they raised $17,045, and donated half of the surplus amount to RCA. The 210 backers received river trip vouchers, T-shirts or hats for their contributions. Still in the works is an online reservation system. For now, their website will list set trip times, for single and group tours, as well as self-guided and instructional tours, but call ahead for reservations.
Another project is a joint venture between the Silvers, the city of Charlottesville and VDOT. The Silvers have volunteered to do a cost share and help buy the materials to create a kayak launch underneath Free Bridge. Chris Gensic, park and trail planner with the city, says VDOT is reviewing a second round of designs for the project, which would consist of railroad tie steps and natural landscape steps down to the river. Gensic says it’s likely an Eagle Scout could install the wooden steps as part of a project—the same way the staircase at Riverview Park was constructed.
Cosner also donated two acres of land he owns on the other side of Free Bridge, and Gensic says the plan is to put a picnic table and trash can on the land to serve as a rest stop for paddlers.
The Silvers want their startup business to become part of the framework of activities in Charlottesville; after someone visits Monticello or a winery, for instance, they hope the outdoor amenities in the area are next on their list. Or even for people who live here, they want the river to be a place of respite, where you can go after work, hop on a stand-up paddleboard and soak in the scenery.
“For families, people busy working a lot, they can get a breath, and I think it can really refresh you and change your perspective,” Gabe says. “It can also change your perspective on where you live.” —Jessica Luck
Insider’s Guide to the Rivanna
Let’s start with the lingo. Insiders know Rivanna is a contraction of River Anna, named after a queen of England. The Rivanna runs along much of the eastern border of Charlottesville and continues southeast until it flows into the James River.
One of the cheapest ways of spending an afternoon on the Rivanna is tubing. The easiest way to avoid a complicated process of shuttling people back and forth is to park your car at Riverview Park and walk an easy few miles up the Rivanna Trail with an inflated rubber inner tube over your shoulder and get in the water at Free Bridge. When the river is running slowly, you’ll have a lazy hour or so drifting past turtles basking in the sun, bald eagles circling overhead and the occasional beaver nibbling on bark in shallow water.
About halfway between Free Bridge and Riverview Park, you’ll find a rope swing to carry you from the top of the bank out over the water. This can be accessed by either the Rivanna Trail or from the water. Note that there are no lifeguards present, and nobody has any business either tubing or swinging into the water if they are not strong swimmers—it is never safe to dive head first into the Rivanna. Water depth varies, sand bars move, and a place that seemed safe to dive previously may no longer be safe.
While most people fishing the Rivanna are targeting smallmouth bass, smallies are not anywhere near the most common or interesting fish found in the river. The Rivanna is loaded with harmless freshwater eels, which are most active at night and can be caught with minnows, nightcrawlers and small bluegill fished close to sunken trees. Channel catfish and even a few flathead catfish (which often weigh up to 50 pounds but can reach more than 100 pounds) are also permanent residents. If you see a long, skinny fish that looks like something out of the Jurassic era, don’t panic. That is the longnose gar, which poses no threat to humans in spite of typically growing to four feet long (six feet in rare cases) and boasting a pterodactyl-like mouth full of needle-sharp teeth.
Fish caught in the Rivanna are generally safe to eat and the water is generally safe to swim in. The Rivanna was the first river in Virginia to be officially designated as a scenic river. Unlike many rivers north of central Virginia, there has not been a history of heavy manufacturing along the Rivanna. Nor is agribusiness intensive along the river. PCBs, heavy metals and excess phosphates are not problems. However, the outflow from the sewage treatment center at Woolen Mills can be dangerous when unusually heavy rainfall causes a pool of untreated sewage to overflow. This happens every few years and the result is that for a period of two to six weeks an advisory against swimming or eating fish from downstream of Woolen Mills will be publicized.
50 ways to have fun outside right now
1 Go fishing. Great fishing spots include Lake Anna, Sugar Hollow Farm on the Moormans River, Big Bend Farm and Big River Farm. Make sure to research any restrictions before you set out and secure your fishing license.
2 Grab a group of friends and cross a few more wineries off your list of Monticello Wine Trail’s 32. Drive up Route 20 and taste some regional offerings at Barboursville Vineyards, Reynard Florence Vineyards and Horton Vineyards. Or journey west and take in the gorgeous mountain views around Grace Estate Winery, Stinson Vineyards and White Hall Vineyards. Can’t find a designated driver? Book a private tour with Monticello Wine Tour & Coach Co. and travel in hassle-free style.
3 Enjoy the races. Foxfield’s spring horse race attracts more than 25,000 people each year, and will be held April 30. If a raucous, drunken, mostly UVA student crowd is not your thing, wait for the fall race, held the last Sunday in September, which is known as Family Day.
4 Follow the beat of a drum while blindfolded
It’s pitch-black, you’re blindfolded in the middle of the woods and you have nothing but the sound of a beating drum to guide you back to camp. Anything could happen—you could trip over a fallen tree, tumble into thorny bushes or even irk some copperheads nesting underneath a pile of leaves. You’re terrified at first, but you decide to embrace the challenge. You overcome your fear and take your first step…
This is the situation that Lilia Fuquen found herself in as a student of Afton’s Living Earth School. She was participating in the Adult Foundations program, a nine-weekend course in the Blue Ridge Mountains designed to help people immerse themselves in the natural world while learning wilderness survival skills. “I was trying to find some way of reconnecting with nature,” says Fuquen. “I was doing a lot of soul searching and thinking about how we’ve lost touch with our animalness.” Throughout the camping weekends, students engage in several game-like activities intended to awaken their basic instincts.
On the night of the Drum Stalk, Fuquen and the other students were each led to a different spot in the woods, almost a mile away from camp. Once they were all in place, the instructor back at base camp began beating a drum, and they had to blindly find their way back following its sound, which in many indigenous communities is thought to be the heartbeat of Mother Earth.
After trying to walk in her slippery, handmade moccasins, Fuquen decided to get on all fours and crawl. Each movement she made was slow and careful. Over and over again she would reach out with one arm and wave it in all directions, searching for anything that might get in her way or cause injury before scooting her knees forward and reaching out her other arm. By listening to how the drumbeat bounced around her ears, Fuquen surprisingly felt that she could almost “hear” where the trees in her path stood, and she managed to avoid them completely. “I was in the middle of the forest and never even reached out and accidentally hit a tree. I was literally guiding myself somehow,” Fuquen says.
But that didn’t mean she didn’t encounter difficulties along the way. Fuquen’s hands quickly became swollen and bleeding from crawling on the ground. And the drum started to sound like it was moving, making her feel completely disoriented. “And then I found this piece of magic. It was a smooth and cold rock. I knelt next to it and put my hands on it and literally felt them shrinking,” says Fuquen. With healed hands, Fuquen started moving again and finally found her rhythm. After an hour and a half of crawling blindly through the woods, she finally made it back to camp. She took off her blindfold, and almost screamed in pain as the light of the fire hit her eyes.
“It was a very intense internal and external experience happening at the same time. In that little time moving from point A to point B, I got to know myself and my world so well. I want more of that.”—Sherina Ong
5 Compete in an ultimate Frisbee league. Charlottesville Ultimate Disc Organization offers a co-ed summer league for players of all skill levels.
6 Make a racket. We counted more than 100 public tennis courts in the Charlottesville/Albemarle region. Whether practicing your backhand by yourself or against a formidable opponent, there are plenty of places to perfect your swing.
7 Dig, set, spike. Two sand volleyball pits can be found on the UVA campus.
8 Take a ride on the Hatton Ferry. The ferry, located outside Scottsville, is the last pole-operated ferry in the United States. It runs from 9am-5pm Saturdays and noon-5pm Sundays from mid-April through October.
9 Get knocked down. In KnockerBall, a cross between human bumper cars and soccer, you will no doubt be laughing the entire game as you hurl yourself into your opponents while protected by a giant plastic bubble.
10 Play a game of flag football. Charlottesville Sports and Social Club offers adults the chance to feel like kids again.
11 Take golf lessons from a pro.
12 Hash it out
So which is it, a drinking club with a running problem or a running club with a drinking problem? Turns out, it depends on what kind of a hasher you are. For the Charlottesville Hash House Harriers, a hasher is anyone who’s out to have a good time.
To give some background on what exactly hashing is, it all started in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, when several British colonial officers started a weekly running group based on the British game hares and hounds and became the first kennel, a word used to refer to an established group of hashers. For every hash (run), one member of the group is the designated hare. The hare plans the trail that the group will run and leaves markings along the path to nudge them in the right direction, meeting up with the rest of the group at beer stops he or she has hidden along the way.
The result is what looks to be, from the outside, a cross between a scavenger hunt and some sort of themed 5K. An observer will see adults of all different ages jogging, walking and sprinting, sometimes in several different directions, accompanied by loud cheers and shouts of “Are you?!” to see if someone has found the right trail. If someone has found three or more markings left by the hare, they respond with “On! On!” to let the group know where to go next.
Charlottesville Hash leader Heavy Petting Zoo (more on the nickname later) says their kennel attracts people from all walks of life and all levels of fitness.
“People say ‘I don’t run, I can’t hash.’ But you 100 percent can never run and you can hash,” she says, citing a friend who is known to drive behind a group of hashers just to be a part of the fun. “If you’re slower, there’s always someone else who’s as slow as you and there are multiple opportunities for everyone to catch up.”
In a typical hash, the whole group will get together when they see a number of different markings, allowing slower runners to rejoin the group. For the Charlottesville Hash House Harriers, a large SC on the trail stands for Song Check, in which the whole group comes together and animatedly joins in a (typically vulgar) song before continuing the trail. A vacant circle indicates the trail could go in any direction from that point, forcing the group to send runners in multiple directions to find the next marking.
In addition to these trail diversions, hashing has several traditions that vary from kennel to kennel. At Charlottesville Hash, if you hash five trails with the group and hare one, you receive a dog tag with your nickname on it to wear at later hashes.
“It’s a combination of hashing long enough for us to get to know you and usually doing something embarrassing or memorable,” Heavy Petting Zoo explains, noting that Bear Back Fanny Pack got her nickname after she accidentally hit a bear with her car.
And that’s just the beginning of the bizarre traditions hashers follow. Major Acockalypse, a visiting hasher on the group’s April 16 hash, said his next one is a blue dress event for autism, and, yes, he is planning to wear a blue dress.
Bear Back Fanny Pack, a long-time member of the Charlottesville Hash House Harriers, says it’s these kinds of fun-loving people that characterize hash worldwide.
“I make travel plans around hashing now because it’s like wherever I go I have instant friends,” she says.—Cara Salpini
13 Kayak down the river. From calmer waters to rapids, there are opportunities for every skill level on the Rivanna, Hardware and Moormans rivers.
14 Play soccer. Either in a pickup game in the backyard or on a Soccer Organization of Charlottesville Albemarle team, get on the field. Not athletic? Watch our local Aromas Café FC participate in the Lamar Hunt Cup in May.
15 Watch a polo match. Roseland Polo, housed at King Family Vineyards, holds matches every Sunday from Memorial Day through mid-October. Make sure to load up on your best tailgating spread and enjoy some King Family Vineyards wine as you watch from the sidelines. Bonus: Your dog is always welcome.
16 Take a hike. The Charlottesville Hiking Club and Outdoor Adventure Social Club organize group hikes in the area. Or set off on your own on the Rivanna Trail, a 20-mile loop around the city.
17 Take a neighborhood stroll. Trulia, the website listing homes for sale and to rent, recently released its Live Well map, which offers the best places to live for staying active and healthy. For small metro areas less than 1 million people, Charlottesville topped the list. According to Trulia, the Locust Grove neighborhood north of downtown “boasts a high concentration of play-centric amenities such as the Meadowcreek Golf Course and numerous playgrounds. It’s also nestled between three large parks and is quiet—over half of its streets have low traffic volume. Another added bonus: It’s close, but not too close, to the University of Virginia, which is full of restaurants, bars and bookstores.”
18 Go rock climbing. Our area offers many great spots for bouldering, such as Little Stony Man Cliffs in Shenandoah National Park, Moormans Boulders and Sugar Hollow.
19 Learn to row. The Rivanna Rowing Club hosts Learn to Row days for those who want to try their hand at rowing. Open houses take place May 7 and June 11.
20 Get out in the garden. Whether you want to transform your own backyard or grow vegetables as part of a community garden, you can glean the fruits of your labor.
21 Grab a pair of binoculars and stake out a spot. The Rivanna River, a pond or creek make great options for birdwatching. For newbies needing more guidance, check out Monticello Bird Club.
22 Take your dog for a walk. There are several dog parks in the area where Fido can roam free, including Chris Greene Lake Park, which has a one-acre fenced area and roped water access for dogs. Portions of the Rivanna Trail near Riverview Park have off-leash days on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. And several hiking trails allow dogs—just make sure to read the signage beforehand.
23 Go tubing down the river. Whether navigating the Rivanna or James rivers, you can’t go wrong with this relaxing summer activity that requires little effort.
24 Cool down. Try one of three outdoor spray grounds in the city at Forest Hills Park, Greenleaf Park and Belmont Park, open from 10am-8pm May 14-September 18.
25 Savor the sunset. Carter Mountain hosts a sunset series on Thursdays from May through September that includes gorgeous views, live music, food and wine.
26 Take a swim. Charlottesville may be a couple of hours from the ocean, but that doesn’t mean you can’t cool off in the summer. For the adventurous sort, try Rip Rap Hollow Trail, in Shenandoah National Park, which has a swimming hole about four miles in, or hike the South Fork of the Moormans River, which features the Blue Hole, a 12-foot pool about a mile and a half up the hollow. Closer to home, you can cool off at Chris Greene Lake, Walnut Creek Park and Mint Springs Valley Park, or take the family to Washington Park Pool and the Onesty Family Aquatic Center at Meade Park, which has a lazy river.
27 Play a game of cornhole. Restaurants and bars in the area such as The Biltmore and Champion Brewing Company offer a place to test your hand-eye coordination in this unofficial king of backyard summer games.
28 Challenge your team to a little bonding. Camp Holiday Trails offers teambuilding courses, such as the Challenge Course with a climbing wall and three additional high ropes elements. After talking down your screaming cubicle mate who’s terrified of heights, Monday’s staff meeting won’t seem so terrible.
29 Swing as high as you can. Take time out with your family to visit some of the great playgrounds in our area, or just act like a kid again and watch your toes touch the tops of the trees.
30 Forage for your own food
Although CVille Foodscapes crewmember Soizic Ziegler makes her living farming and transforming her clients’ backyards into edible cornucopias of plant life, foraging for wild plants has always been a passion.
“Wild edibles are one of the biggest reasons I fell in love with plants,” says Ziegler. “Everywhere I go, I’m always interacting with the landscape, noting what could be eaten…it’s a way of life.”
Coming from a woman who’s studied horticulture at the University of Richmond, traveled the West working with the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms program, earned a certificate in permaculture design and managed Richmond’s Tricycle Gardens’ nonprofit Urban Farm, that’s quite a qualifier.
In the warmer months and especially the fall, Ziegler sometimes gathers upward of half her diet.
“There’s a lot of overlap between wild plants, farming and crafting edible landscapes,” she asserts. “Because native plants are often the easiest ones to grow in a given area.”
For Ziegler, the association is of philosophical importance.
“With most of the bigger wild edibles—passion fruit, muscadine grapes, pawpaw—when a customer runs into one of them in the wild they say, ‘Yes, I know what this is!’” says Ziegler. “When that happens, they connect their yard to the larger natural world occurring all around them.”
Hoping to experience this epiphany firsthand, I take a trip to Charlottesville’s Rivanna River, which Ziegler describes as prime for foraging. Just outside of Pantops, I follow state Route 792 to the Stone-Robinson Elementary School parking lot. After parking, I follow the school’s steep, winding nature trail through the forest down to the river.
“This time of year you’re going to get lots of leafy greens,” says Ziegler. “You can look for sochan, chickweed, Japanese knotweed, Johnny jump ups, wild violets and morel mushrooms. Also, be on the lookout for things you might come back for later in the season, like the little white blossoms of serviceberries.”
Having no idea what any of the above looked like, I bought an illustrated guidebook.
“For beginners,” Ziegler explains, “it’s best to pick a common item, read about its habitat, locate a reliable image of the plant”—that’s where the illustrated book comes in handy—“and go on a hunt.”
To start, I choose chickweed, a nonnative European plant that has, apparently, become rampantly naturalized.
Indeed, within five minutes I locate a batch along the wood line near the trail’s beginning. Kneeling, I break off a couple of leaves. I study them—they look sort of like a cross between cilantro and parsley. Hesitantly, I take a bite and am pleasantly relieved—the taste is a lot like raw spinach: mild, fleshy, very green.
“Technically, this is considered a weed,” laughs Ziegler. “But it makes delicious pesto and is a great addition to a salad.”
Wandering into the forest in search of more edibles, munching on freshly harvested chickweed, the line separating the world of civilization from that of the so-called wild suddenly dissolves.
I’m struck by the notion I’ve stumbled onto the equivalent of a permanent, nature-sponsored scavenger hunt. I’ve gotten a glimpse—a literal taste—of the kind of philosophical mode naturalists like Ziegler more-or-less permanently inhabit.
“For me, foraging for wild edibles drives me into a deeper way of being myself,” says Ziegler. “When you interact with the world in this manner, you become a component of the wild landscape instead of this thing that’s arbitrarily set apart; you become wilder, more fully integrated.”—Eric J. Wallace
31 Walk through a nursery. The Market at Grelen, a 600-acre nursery located in Somerset, includes walking trails of 3.9 miles that are open from 10am-4pm Tuesday through Sunday in-season. Plants with QR codes are marked along the trails—learning and exercising can be fun! The trail also connects to the James Madison Montpelier Trail System, for approximately nine miles of trails to explore.
32 Take a hot air balloon ride. The Bear Balloon Corporation departs from the Boar’s Head Inn, weather permitting, every day at sunrise. Evening flights, two hours before sunset, are also available.
33 Become a yogi in nature. Pop-up yoga is an emerging trend in Charlottesville, from the Ix Art Park to various vineyards in the area. Whether you want vinyasa or vino-yasa, the world is your oyster.
34 Grab a blanket and get your grub on at these scenic picnic spots.
1. Kemper Park: Take a lunch break after walking the picturesque tree-lined trail that leads right up to Monticello’s doorstep.
2. Greenleaf Park: Bring along the kids and let them run wild on this park’s two playgrounds.
3. McIntire Park: Break out a Frisbee, a baseball bat or even a skateboard between snack breaks.
4. Beaver Creek Lake, Crozet: Go fishing or just sit back and enjoy the lakeside views.
35 Run an ultramarathon
Charlottesville is a city that runs. The calendar is filled with 5K and 10K races each year, and bumper stickers bearing the 26.2 miles of a full marathon are ubiquitous in our parking lots. But for a small number of dedicated locals, 26.2 miles is not far enough. These are the ultrarunners.
“I just thought it would be a nice endurance challenge to see if I could run an ultra,” says David Smith, president of the Charlottesville Area Trail Runners. “I love to hike in the mountains and be outside. Trail running takes hiking to the next level. …There is a big overlap between folks who trail run and folks who run ultras.”
About three dozen people in the Charlottesville area regularly run ultramarathons, which are defined as any race longer than a standard marathon—50K races are often the first goal for new ultrarunners. Longer races, like the Thomas Jefferson 100K, which is run every March in Walnut Creek Park, are a goal for more experienced runners.
“Sometimes when people hear the term ultramarathon they think, ‘Extreme runners, they’re crazy! What are they thinking?’” says Smith. “The ultra community is, yes, some very fast runners and people who run long, long distances very fast. But we also have a lot of what I call ‘citizen runners’ who just love being out in the woods. And we get that big experience from a long hike or being in touch with nature, experiencing the variation you have across different terrains, but not by running fast or being some sort of super athlete. On the contrary, we try to keep in shape so we can finish, but a lot of it is about finishing and enjoying the day and having something to do as a hobby that’s healthy.”
Charlottesville is something of a hot spot for ultrarunning. Some of America’s top ultrarunners: Andy Jones-Wilkins (also the head of school at Tandem Friends), Neal Gorman, Sophie Speidel and others call our city home.
“My longest distance is 50 miles, so I’m on the short end of the ultramarathons compared to many of my friends who run 100-milers and sometimes even longer than that,” says Smith. “There’s a very different vibe from a trail race and an ordinary marathon. They are smaller. It tends to be a friendly, sociable community. I’m not a very fast runner, so I like the challenge of finishing something longer than a marathon.”—Jackson Landers
36 Visit a farm. From dogwoods in the spring to apples in the fall, area farms offer a variety of experiences. Snuggle with baby goats at Caramont Farm and taste a sampling of seasonal cheeses. Or get a hands-on experience at places such as Open Gate Farm where you can gather eggs from hens and hold baby chicks.
37 Hike to a waterfall. Crabtree Falls, in the George Washington National Forest, boasts the highest vertical-drop waterfall east of the Mississippi River, including five major cascades and a number of smaller ones for a total distance of 1,200 feet.
38 Take photography lessons. Our natural landscapes provide plenty of options.
39 Become an open water certified diver through Dive Connections. Work your way up to become a specialty diver in areas such as search and recovery, fish ID, night diving and photography.
40 Get your hands dirty. Contact the city to learn more about volunteering with Adopt a Spot or at gardens to remove invasive species and plant new items.
41 Navigate the bike trails. Our area abounds with great cycling trails, from beginner-friendly to expert level. Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club includes an overview of the trails, from “tight, twisty, rooty trails that will keep you on your toes” at Walnut Creek Park to “some good climbing, so bring those good legs again” at Mint Springs Valley Park, a county park near Crozet.
42 Drink it all in. You don’t have to drive far to wet your whistle at Bold Rock Hard Cider, Albemarle Cider Works, Potter’s Craft Cider and Castle Hill Cider.
43 Drive the Brew Ridge Trail. If you love local craft beers, then the Brew Ridge Trail is a must-do. Stretch out your beer belly on this self-guided tour through seven of the area’s breweries. There’ll be plenty of food and beautiful mountain views along the way.
44 Try your hand at bocce ball. Kardinal Hall offers a unique outdoor dining experience with loads of games and 24 draft beers.
45 Shop at an outdoor market such as City Market, Forest Lakes Farmers Market or Stonefield Farmers Market.
46 Put Ix on your list. From yoga mornings and movie nights, to educational workshops, concerts and human foosball tournaments, there’s something for everyone at Ix Art Park.
47 Pick your own produce.
1. Chiles Peach Orchard: This orchard has a lot more going on than just its summer peaches. Head over in the spring for strawberry picking and grab your own apples and pumpkins in the fall.
2. Henley’s Orchard: You can handpick juicy nectarines and peaches starting in mid-June through the end of summer.
3. Seaman’s Orchard: This fourth-generation farm opens its strawberry patch in May and has its blueberries and cherries ready in June.
48 Rock out at a music festival. The fourth annual LOCKN’ Festival takes place August 25-28 in Arrington, featuring headliners Phish. There’s also Red Wing and Roots July 8-10, in Mount Solon, The Festy Experience in October in Arrington and Hoopla September 29-October 2 at Devils Backbone.
49 Get your groove on to free live music. From classic rock and bluegrass to Afro-Caribbean rhythm and blues, the Fridays After Five concert series at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion has a little something for everyone.
50 Jump off a mountain
Whatever you did last weekend, it probably wasn’t as cool as Billy Vaughn’s preferred way to spend an afternoon. Vaughn is one of a small group of local hang glider pilots who jump off of mountains for fun.
“It’s like when you fly in your dreams,” says Vaughn, a Charlottesville resident. “Because you don’t see the glider unless you look up. The view is absolutely tremendous. You can fly anywhere.”
Unlike piloting an airplane, flight in a hang glider is completely silent. Pilots lean on a control bar to steer the glider either to a landing site or an updraft that may allow them to gain altitude. By looking for isolated cumulus clouds, a pilot can spot a column of warm, rising air. He can spiral upward in circles on that column of rising air in the same way that vultures do.
Vaughn prepares for a flight starting with his wardrobe. “In the summertime I might wear a heavy winter jacket even though it’s 80 degrees,” he says. “At 6,000 feet it’s gonna be a lot colder than it is on the ground.” Assembling the glider at the launch site takes about 25 minutes. “We have a harness that hooks into the craft…in that harness we have a parachute which we would only use in the event that the glider broke, which doesn’t really happen anymore.”
Vaughn started hang gliding at Kitty Hawk Kites in North Carolina. “I grew up there and I’d seen it since I was a little kid,” he says. “A friend and I were both after the same girl and we all went to take our first lesson together.”
Decades ago, local glider pilots would often launch from the apple orchard atop Carter Mountain. Concerned about liability, the current management no longer allows that. “We fly off the Blue Ridge Parkway off of Ravens Roost,” says Vaughn. “Also a mountain in Dyke, Virginia. And Flat Top Mountain.” The best place for a beginner to fly from is Blue Sky Flight Park, near Richmond. Blue Sky offers instruction for beginners as well as launch facilities for more experienced pilots.
Vaughn describes the difference between gliding and flying in an airplane “like driving in a car and riding a bicycle. It’s much quieter and you feel everything. When you hit a thermal you feel that initial surge.”
Encounters with wildlife are another benefit. “I’ve been tip-to-tip with bald eagles,” says Vaughn. “I’ve been harassed by red tail hawks before. Flying in New York I had one hit my glider multiple times, dive-bombing me.”
Modern hang gliding, invented in the 1970s, quickly earned a reputation as an extremely dangerous sport with a high fatality rate. But that risk changed over time. Early pilots were often using homemade gliders and had to teach themselves how to fly. Today, professionally built equipment is available, and pilots can receive the same quality of formal training that airplane pilots receive.
“We are real pilots,” says Vaughn. “We know what we are doing. We can really control the thing. [Hang gliding’s] lack of growth is, in part, because it takes a considerable amount of time to teach someone how to safely launch off of a mountain.”
Hang gliding offers outdoors enthusiasts a way to get into the air for the cost of a cheap used car. “Used gliders are gonna start in the two- to three-thousand-dollar range,” Vaughn says. “All the way up to around 10 thousand dollars for a brand new, state-of-the-art glider. It is still the best-kept secret in aviation. It’s the cheapest way you can get into flying.”—Jackson Landers