What is there to do in Richmond Hill?
If you check online almost all Richmond Hill ‘attractions’ are listed in Savannah, not Richmond Hill, which lies just outside Savannah on Route 144 and Highway 17.
The tiny town is actually quite pretty when you get off the main strip of cookie cutter chain stores and gas stations that line the highway.
It had been several years since I had gone to Richmond Hill, but when Adopt-A-Wetland asked if I could go to recertify a group of nine residents and refresh their chemicals so they could continue to monitor the health of the waterways there, I decided to make a day of it and take a walk along the Rails to Trails path to see how it compared to the one in Savannah on McQueen’s Island outside Fort Pulaski, along Highway 80 heading to the beach.
The workshop itself was held at the huge picnic area at J. F. Gregory Park. Locals can reserve picnic areas or just come and hope no one else is using them. They can also fish in what looks more like a canal, but is actually a brackish waterway system that runs throughout the park and even has a canoe launch affected by tides.
At 8:00 a.m. the tide is high and the narrow creeks with their banks overgrown with wild flowers, weeds, trees and an assortment of water plants are filled with murky water.
There are more insects buzzing around than people, but a group of runners is headed for the trails that make a nearly three mile loop in one direction, and a few people on bicycles are headed out in family groups, as well as some dog walkers and a few fisherman, one who caught a catfish that was not very big, but still eating size.
The group from Adopt-A-Wetland gathered under the picnic area as huge towers of white billowing clouds floated seemingly over the park area alone. The skies were sunny and there were no signs of rain, but as the workshop began, a light mist, almost like liquid snow, drifted sideways suspended in the wind, as if reluctant to actually touch the ground.
It was odd because no rain clouds were in sight and you could stand outside the covered area and not get rained on, while watching the mist drops fall only on the water area in the canal.
The whole group stopped to wonder at how rain could be so concentrated over one area only and how light the rainfall was.
Moments later, a huge downfall, again, while the sun was still shining, fell in torrents, but passed in less than five minutes as a few darker gray clouds began to mingle with the huge white towers, still floating nearby.
After the workshop, the trails beckoned. To a newcomer it was hard to tell where the trails started exactly as there were bridges and roads criss-crossing the entire 335 acres.
The trails actually only follow the rail line for a short distance and there are real trains on the line, unlike in some other rails to trails locations where the trail IS the old rail-line.
You don’t have to worry about running out in front of a train though as there is a canal separating the double row of rails along with a dense canopy of trees and grass.
The canopy is so dense that you may just start to panic when you hear an odd noise in the distance that sounds a little like an electric golf car traveling over a long wooden bridge and then a truck with a loud tumbling engine. Shortly the noise begins to rush toward you like a helicopter riding low on the ground.
You can’t see anything and you start to look up in the sky expecting a low flying craft, but then you hear, tuckita, tuckita, tuckita, coming louder and closer until you can’t tell if it is coming toward you or coming up from behind and then you see a flash of yellow and blue and red in the forest zipping by you at speeds well beyond 65 miles per hour. It isn’t until the head of the train reaches the road crossing about a half mile later that you hear the train whistle blow and know for certain that a train has passed.
The strange rushing noise will surprise you each time it comes and trains pass by fairly frequently and can be heard no matter where you are located on the trail. Some of the cars may even stop in a long procession as new cars are added and they are on their way again.
You may see water birds, snakes and even an alligator, but on our trip we only saw black ants, a three inch long grasshopper with a missing hind leg and a giant pile of dog poop left sitting in the middle of the paved trail.
There were also lots of fiddler crabs scurrying about and a few fishermen positioned in areas open to the road and the public.
The scenery was drab monotone of green and dark grey and dirt, earth and trees. As you turned away from the train tracks, the water in the narrow canals turned from brown green to dark brown from the tannins in the leaf litter and tree bark.
When a runner emerged in a bright yellow shirt and red shorts, the eyes almost rejoiced to see the vibrant colors.
If you are walking counter clockwise, you will be surprised to see the trail runs beside the main highway and it is quite noisy, but again, you can’t reach the highway because of the narrow canal that separates the two.
There are multiple picnic tables in this area, but reaching them requires about a mile of walking.
Soon the trail becomes paved again and passed behind a neighborhood of large well designed homes. When you hear a rooster crow, if you look across the way, you can see a chicken house built on stilts.
Just past chicken villa, you see a long wooden dock that looks pretentious on the murky waters of the barely 12 foot wide canal which is now more mud than water.
The dock holds several household padded chairs and signs urging people to vote for one candidate or another with an American Flag flying next to it. You can’t get away from politics even in the woods apparently.
It was a nice trail and if you live in Richmond Hill, it would be worth frequenting often, but there are no bathrooms close by and no drinkable water unless you start out from the pavilion area about two hundred yards from the entrance of the trails.
The trails are also somewhat isolated from the public, so probably not the best place to go without a partner or when the light of day begins to fade.
The literature says the trail is 3 miles around, but it is actually more like 2.87 according to Google Map.
There are several rest stops and a small tower (a platform with rails about eight feet high) looking out over the water. There are also several wooden bridges and exercise stations, though most of the exercises they suggest are fit more for green berets than sedentary adults.
If the park had a water fountain near the trail opening and a portable toilet it would probably be more user friendly, but if you love trains and wildlife and like looking into people’s backyards from across a narrow canal, it is an interesting place to visit.
While there, be sure to check out the veteran’s memorial. There is a Wetland Education Center there, but it was not open and there is a grandstand area for concerts.
It is easy to drive right by the park and not know it is there as you can’t really see it from the road.
The next time Richmond Hill holds a festival there, take your walking shoes and camera and head out on the trail. Just be mindful of those trains or you might think some giant low flying engine is going to plow you under, and if you go in summer, either run fast or wear something bug unfriendly to keep the biting bugs from pestering you.
If you live in Savannah and want to check out the Rails to Trails section at Tybee, there will be a clean up there on Saturday, July 28 from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Volunteers will meet at the half way point and will be raking, trimming, picking up trash, etc. along the 6 mile train.