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Outdoor Events And Festivals Adapt To Loosening Restrictions

Trail runner
As restrictions on the number of people allowed at outdoor events are loosening up due to lower Covid-19 cases and a higher number of vaccination doses being distributed, organizers of sporting events are adapting to the new and ever changing playing field. (Photo Courtesy of Sports Backer)

Although youth sports have been operating almost as normal for months now, the state has just started loosening restrictions on other types of outdoor events, citing lower COVID-19 cases and an increase in vaccinations.

However, there are still limits on the number of spectators, meaning one of the region’s most popular festivals will look different this year.

The Dominion Energy Riverrock festival -- which saw more than 100,000 people back in 2019 -- is coming back this May. It was canceled last year due to the pandemic.

“What we've been talking about for months now about Riverrock is how do we still maintain this connection to the outdoors,” said Pete Woody with Sports Backers, one of the groups organizing the event.

The three day event, which includes everything from running races to live music, won’t be held in one spot or include musicians playing on one stage. Instead, they’ll  spread out the trail runners, mountain bikers and kayakers -- and even musicians -- along parts of the James River Park System. 

“Rather than having everything focused on Brown's Island, and historic Tredegar, we're going to do it at parks and trails throughout Richmond,” he said.

Woody says there won’t be any traditional concerts, describing impromptu shows all around the James River Park System.

“Music will be accompanying some of those experiences in the parks, but there won't be the concerts that you're accustomed to seeing,” he said.

Not showing up this year will be the popular dog jumping events, in which canines perform acrobatic feats to catch frisbees mid-air over water.

Woody said a big focus this year revolves around coordinating volunteer opportunities with local nonprofits to help with trail and river clean up. Some of the nonprofits include Friends of James River Park, James River Outdoor Coalition, RVA MORE, Blue Sky Fund, Black Girls Do Bike, Black Girls Run, Capital Trees, and GirlTrek.

Riverrock will also feature the first-ever “#RockTheOutdoors Scavenger Hunt.” It’s a chance for spectators who aren’t into trail running  to still experience the river system. Woody said the scavenger hunt can be played by individuals or teams of up to four. Each solo scavenger or team will receive a list of missions through an app to complete while exploring Richmond, which will earn them points on a live leaderboard.

A number of other events put on by Sports Backers have turned into either a hybrid format or a virtual one. Woody says races such as the Uncorked Half & 5K, the Patrick Henry Half Marathon, the Run Bike Relay and the Ragnar Trail Richmond, will allow a limited number of participants as a way to follow state health guidelines. 

Other events, such as the popular Monument Avenue 10k, and new ones like the RVA Street Art Run, the Pizza Pie Run and the Taco Trot 5K are virtual races in which people can have a chance to compete over a wide time window.

Woody said this year’s Richmond Marathon will return to a one-day event in November. However, the number of people who can participate won’t be released until later.

*We should note: one of the event’s organizers, Venture Richmond, is a sponsor of VPM. 

Youth Sports Are Back

While the majority of the events put on by Sports Backers follow a mixed bag of guidelines due to the continuing changes in spectator and participant restrictions, youth sporting events, such as those held at Chesterfield County’s River City Sportsplex, have been able to operate almost as normal for a few months.

Starting this weekend, over 400 teams are projected to play in a soccer tournament known as the Jefferson Cup.

Marlaine Creasey-Smith is the assistant director of recreation for the parks and recreation department of Chesterfield County. She said health guidelines are still being enforced.

“One of the first things you’ll see upon entering is signage. We have yard signs up on the fences, in stakes throughout the facility, from the entrance to exits in between fields, on the sides of the fields, facing the events--all to remind spectators, players, coaches all about our social distancing guidelines,” Creasey-Smith said.

Bleachers are closed, there are multiple hand-sanitizer stations and restrooms and vending areas are cleaned hourly. And Creasey-Smith said they’ve hired staff to walk around to remind people about physical distancing and the importance of wearing masks--and they’ll even ask spectators to mask-up if they’re too close to others.


Ian M. Stewart is the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.