Downtown Richmond was the site of America’s first industrial boom in the 1800s. New mills and ironworks lined the adjacent James River for nearly a century.

Today, most of the waterfront has become a popular location for outdoor recreation, restaurants, art displays and more. However, one riverfront green space has remained privately-owned where it’s faced immense pressure from potential residential and commercial development for decades. The Conservation Fund recently purchased that 5.2-acre property on Dock Street to secure it from future threats while we work with local partners to raise the necessary funds to permanently protect it.


Protecting the Dock Street property will have various benefits to the Richmond community including new public access to the riverfront, enhancing the Virginia Capital Trail, maintaining water quality, and safeguarding the historic view for which Richmond was named.


The James River is a central feature of Richmond, and the James River Park System is one of the most renowned urban park systems in the nation. The park offers river access and hiking trails and provides the starting point for the Virginia Capital Trail—a 51.2-mile trail that connects Richmond to Williamsburg. Dock Street will secure the last link for the Virginia Capital Trail and will allow the last piece of the trail to be moved off the busy city street and onto the waterfront.


More than 2.6 million people live in the 10,000-square-mile James River watershed. While pollution discharged from large industrial plants has largely been regulated and reduced over the last fifty years, the human impact of development still greatly affects the river’s health. By keeping the Dock Street property free from commercial development, it’ll maintain the land’s ability to naturally filter runoff and prevent additional sediment from reaching the river.

Beyond clean drinking water, the quality of the James River also impacts various species including Atlantic sturgeon — which has existed for 120 million years — as well as American shad, smallmouth bass, and bald eagles that roost around the river.

View of James River and Richmond's downtown area. Photo: Geoff Livingston


In 1737, William Byrd II looked out over the James River from Libby Hill and noticed the view was strikingly similar to that along the Thames in Richmond, England. This led the founders of Virginia’s city to copy the name in homage to their homeland, leading to “The View that Named Richmond.” In 2012, the American Society of Landscape Architects named the Libby Hill overlook one of America’s most iconic landscapes. Protecting the Dock Street property will ensure this historic viewshed remains unobstructed for future generations.


Current zoning would have allowed industrial buildings of up to 45 feet in height to be built on Dock Street, effectively cutting off the view of the river from Libby Hill and eliminating any hope of public access to the waterfront. Instead of sitting idle, The Conservation Fund, the Capital Region Land Conservancy, the James River Association, and the City of Richmond came together to create a plan that would effectively protect the property in perpetuity.

A critical step in that plan was The Conservation Fund’s temporary ownership of the property to ease any immediate threats. Our ability to step in and quickly purchase properties like this one is what The Conservation Fund was built for. We will hold the land until our partners can secure the necessary funding for their ultimate purchase and protection. The James River Association will acquire just under one acre of this land for an education center. The rest will be acquired by the City of Richmond with help from Capital Region Land Conservancy.


We and our partners are actively raising funds to permanently protect this site. For more information about how you can support the conservation of the Dock Street property, please contact Rachael Joiner.