I grew up in Waynesboro in the 1970s, when the manufacturing giant DuPont presided over the city like a godfather. Everyone knew someone who worked at the plant, and the research and development that went on there was a matter of pride for the whole community. The critical but silent partner in DuPont’s success was its water source, the South River, which wound its way gracefully through the city. Because DuPont extended its arms along a one-mile stretch of the river, there were only a handful of places within city limits that the public could enjoy the river’s beauty. Ridgeview Park was one—with its duck population and fun steel bridge—but I don’t recall ever dipping a toe into the water, and I never saw anyone paddling a kayak.
Fast forward to the present day, when access to the South River has changed dramatically. In 1987 DuPont donated riverfront land to create Constitution Park along Main Street, opening up a section of river that had previously been restricted; more recently, Parks Recreation installed an adjoining Greenway Trail for pedestrians; wading areas were developed in Ridgeview Park; fly fishing took off; and festivals lauding the river’s majesty began to sprout up. The river changed from an industrial asset to a tranquil spot for rest and relaxation.
See: The best place to see the river is along the 0.8-mile Greenway Trail between Constitution Park and the YMCA. Here, you can enjoy a leisurely stroll along the edge of the river while also glimpsing the impressive manufacturing facility of the former DuPont plant (now Invista). Look for the historic placards along the paved path that enlighten readers as to the history of manufacturing in the area. The Greenway Trail will extend to 1.2 miles by the fall of 2016, as the City completes the next phase of its development.
Fish: Waynesboro has become a popular fly fishing destination. Anglers have discovered the bountiful opportunities to catch brook, brown, and rainbow trout, in addition to smallmouth and largemouth bass, blue gill, and carp. For these hobbyists, there’s no better way to relax than wading knee-deep in the water and encountering nature first-hand. For a map of the river and its fishing regulations, click here.
Dip: For those who prefer not to fish, Ridgeview Park still offers the chance to get your feet wet. Young and old alike will enjoy the specially graded section of river near the steel bridge where you can take off your shoes and wade. If the kids tire of the water, they can romp on the nearby play structures or swing while you relax in the breezy gazebo.
Float: The newly created Waynesboro Water Trail affords adventuresome folks an opportunity to experience the river from a whole new perspective. Great paddling when the water level is high; great tubing anytime! Click here for more details.
Eat: Picnic spots along the river mean you can capture the splendor of a late summer afternoon or evening. Three of the city’s parks (Ridgeview, Constitution, and North) offer picnic tables right by the river, and all offer shelters that can be reserved for larger gatherings. Additionally, the grassy hill overlooking Ridgeview Park makes a great perch to spread a blanket and watch the sun set.
Frolic: In spring, Waynesboro hosts festivals to celebrate the river’s beauty and ecology. The South River Fly Fishing Expo and Riverfest both occur in late April when spring rains have revitalized the river. Fly fishing lessons, kayaking, hands-on activities and “The Great Duck Race” are among the highlights of the events. For more information, visit the tourism website.
Lucky for me that as an adult I came back to the area and can enjoy the river in its fullness. The Blue Ridge Mountains have always made a stunning backdrop to this city, but the South River has become a stunning feature within its limits.