Nestled in the James River, Percival’s Island Natural Area serves as both a piece of Lynchburg’s history and a natural resource for the community to enjoy. Once a private home and later a rail yard, Percival’s Island now offers the Lynchburg community a space for a variety of recreational activities.
Before being named Percival’s Island, the area was called Horse Ford by European explorers and, later, Chain Island. A colonist named John Bolling II acquired the 56-acre island in 1745 as part of a royal patent, according to trail markers created by the Lynchburg Historical Foundation.
Charles Lynch, father of Lynchburg’s founder John Lynch, gained possession of the island from Bolling in 1750. John Percival then purchased the island from the Lynch family in 1820, building his home on the land.
The island found its next role in Lynchburg’s history as a rail yard. Southside Railroad purchased the island in 1845 and built its Lynchburg hub. The first train rolled into Lynchburg from Petersburg in 1854, according to The News & Advance.
A series of mergers saw Southside Railroad become the Atlantic, Mississippi, and Ohio Railroad and later the Norfolk and Western Railway. Island Yard, as the hub was called, shut down in 1964.
The island sat empty until the city of Lynchburg purchased Percival’s Island from Norfolk Southern Railroad in 1991 for $50,000, according to The News & Advance. Through a series of updates, such as paving the trail in 1998 and completing the bridge to Amherst in 2000, the city of Lynchburg revitalized the island. It opened to the public as a park on June 6, 1998, according to The News & Advance.
The Lynchburg RiverWalk winds about 1.5 miles across the James River and through Percival’s Island. Two entrances to the trail, on Concord Turnpike in Lynchburg and Fertilizer Road in Madison Heights, grant access to the trail. Lynchburg Parks & Rec says the paved trail is handicap accessible.
Narrow earthen trails for walking and biking branch off the RiverWalk. Towering trees that line the trails offer shade from the sun. The island also offers space for birding, particularly from late spring to late summer, according to Birding Virginia.
Fishing is permitted, when abiding by State of Virginia fishing regulations, according to Virginia.org. Bikers can bring their own bikes or rent from the nearby bike store. Skateboards, scooters and rollerblades can cruise down the paved path.
The city of Lynchburg provides public parking at the trailhead, located at 1600 Concord Turnpike.
Take a look at Lynchburg Parks & Rec’s Hiking & Biking Trails map or Trail Safety & Etiquette for more information on where and how to enjoy Lynchburg’s history and nature.