Located on Richmond’s Southside, Forest Hill Park is a favorite of many Richmonders. The 105-acre park was originally a country estate that was privately-owned by Holden Rhodes, president of the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad. In 1889, part of the land was converted for use as a trolley terminal for the trolley line that brought Richmonders in and out of downtown. This trolley line eventually prompted development in the surrounding areas. In order to attract visitors to the city’s Southside, an amusement park was built that featured a Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, arcade, and dance hall. These attractions were closed during the Great Depression in 1932, and the land was acquired by the City of Richmond a year later. The city then began to develop the vast area into a park.
So what makes this park so special? Perhaps it is because of the variety of activities that Forest Hill offers, such as trails for walking, running, or mountain biking; picnic areas, a playground, tennis courts, access to the James River Park, and more. The lush hills in the front of the park near the Stone House are a great spot to spend time. The Stone House, originally constructed as the main house on Rhode’s estate, can be rented for private events. Concerts are sometimes held there in the summer. When it snows, the hills are great for sledding. Also in the front of the park are the tennis courts and the playground.
There are a little over three miles of single track trails for visitors to enjoy. These trails wind through the park and are a great place for a scenic walk, run, or ride. A 5k race takes place at the park as well. Race participants run through the trails, sidewalks, and surrounding neighborhood streets. The trails at Forest Hill are a favorite of Collegiate’s Mountain Biking team. Last spring, a mountain biking race was held at the park, which attracted riders from schools all around the state. Reilly Gallagher (‘18), a member of the mountain biking team, recalls the race being “really fun.” She also commented that there “was a lot of support from the Collegiate community at the race.” The trails at Forest Hill offer easy access to other well-known trail routes, such as Buttermilk, North Bank, and Belle Isle.
A lake can be found in the middle of the park, which is a great spot to have a picnic or just to sit and enjoy the outdoors. There is also a paved walkway around the lake, perfect for a stroll. The lake is part of Reedy Creek, which flows into the James River. Water from the surrounding neighborhoods flows into this creek and, unfortunately, carries trash with it. A few weeks ago, Outdoor Collegiate and Earth Society partnered together to organize a cleanup of the park. Fifteen students, along with Brad Cooke, Upper School history teacher and Director of Outdoor Collegiate, gathered enough garbage from the lake to fill 15 trash bags. Lee Kennon (‘18), one of the organizers of the clean up, said that “it was great seeing everyone pitch in to help a cause that I care so much about… we got about 15 bags of trash in under two hours, and we had so much fun doing it.” It is important to keep this area clean so the community is able to enjoy all the great activities that the park has to offer.
Another thing that Forest Hill has to offer is the South of the James Farmers Market, which takes place at the park every Saturday. Over 100 vendors from the Richmond area and beyond come to the park to sell their wares. Some local favorites include Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen, known for their massive donuts; Kitchenette, which serves delicious bagels; and Ginger Juice, offering a variety of cold-pressed juices. Visitors to the farmers market can enjoy the food that they purchase on the picnic tables that are found in both of the shelters, located in the same area as the market. The market offers visitors the opportunity to support local businesses and purchase locally sourced produce. The South of the James Farmers Market is a great place to spend a Saturday morning, and if you haven’t been yet, I highly recommend going.
Forest Hill Park is one of the many reasons residents of Westover Hills and Woodland Heights choose to live in these neighborhoods. Cooke, a resident of Westover Hills, lives just five blocks from the park and visits frequently with his wife, Upper School science teacher Shayna Cooke, and their two kids. “We go down there all the time… I love to mountain bike, and there are great mountain biking trails that we can go to.” He also commented on how the trails at Forest Hill connect with other trails, allowing riders to go on an almost 11-mile ride. “If you are on a long run or bike ride, you can ride Buttermilk, North Bank, and Forest Hill without ever getting off the trail,” said Cooke. He believes that the park is a valuable asset to the surrounding area. “It’s just really nice to have in the neighborhood because it’s also really big,” stated Cooke. The park’s size affords its visitors a wealth of activities from which to choose. He also described the concerts that take place on Sundays during the summer. “They set up a stage, and all the neighborhood families come out, and they have picnics, and the kids all run around and climb trees and play on the playground.” Mrs. Cooke frequently goes running on the trails at the park. Mr. Cooke also commented on how the park “has a very old feel to it,” given its history. He explained how the stone work outlining the lake, the walking paths, and the stairways set it apart from the others. “It’s not the kind of stuff you see in public works today,“ remarked Cooke.
Forest Hill Park is a great place to spend time. If you have never been, you should definitely consider visiting it. I had never been until I went with the Mountain Biking team last spring. Now, I go to the park quite frequently to run, bike, or get breakfast at the farmers market. It’s one of my favorite spots in Richmond. There are few other parks in the city like Forest Hill. Take a trip to the park, and you will see just how extraordinary a place it is.
All photos by Hayden Gee.