Bennett’s Millpond

bennettsmillpond

Bennett’s Millpond is one of those places where you can feel a bit of history right up under your feet. In my case, I stumbled upon a piece of its history as I explored the spillway along the earthen dam. One of the gristmill’s original millstones embedded in the leaves caught my foot as I walked along the banks of Rocky Hock Creek. For nearly a hundred years, Bennett’s Millpond was an essential regional industrial resource. It operated as a water-driven corn mill and served as a gathering place for community activities.

millstone at Bennett's Millpond

Original millstone along Rocky Hock Creek

On this crisp February day, the only activity I noticed was a lonely heron feeding along the shallows across the pond. The site has become one of my routine stopovers on a 30-mile cycling route in Chowan County. Earlier in my ride along rural Paradise Road, I saw hundreds of Tundra Swans feeding in fallow fields. I also witnessed a Bald Eagle devouring a deer carcass in a roadside ditch. It was so enthralled with its meal that it appeared unruffled as I cruised within a few feet of the massive bird of prey.

cycling to Bennett's Millpond

Cycling in Edenton and Chowan County has been a great way for me to learn more about the area. Thinking back about the winter avian resident, I reflected on my own migration to the region. My wife and I moved here last spring from the mountains of Western NC. We’re now discovering ourselves immersed into the land, culture and natural history of the Albemarle Sound. Most of our explorations have been self-discovery tours on foot, bike or from the cockpit of a kayak.

The Albemarle Sound Basin encompasses nearly 3,900 square miles of wetlands and large areas of open water in northeastern North Carolina. So when you’re cycling the flat, rural roads of the region, you often observe small streams, open bays and expansive views of the sound.

Bennett’s Millpond Extensions

The ride to Bennett’s Millpond is no exception. Roadsigns with names like Chamber’s Ferry, Emperor Landing and Gum Pond reveal the region’s connection to land and water. Local cyclists refer to this route as the “North of Sound” ride — a 38-mile circuit from downtown Edenton. Some riders include Dillards Mill Road (north of Rocky Hock Rd.) to add another 10 miles to their itinerary. Most of the routes includes low-volume roads, scenic farmland and flat coastal plain terrain.

NC DOT’s Division of Bicycle & Pedestrian Transportation publishes a handy map and route guide entitled Bike Albemarle. Unfortunately, the digital version is no longer available online. The map features 15 loop routes and four connector options. Some include state and local signed routes, extended state routes and sections of national routes including the developing trail system along the East Coast Greenway. Bike shops, campgrounds, visitor’s services and local landmarks such as Bennett’s Millpond are highlighted on the map.

After nearly four decades of adventure travel, backpacking and long distance touring, I’ve refined the ‘art’ of taking a break. Bennett’s Millpond is one of my recommended rest stops and local landmarks while cycling around the sound.

 

Trip Notes: Bennett’s Millpond facilities include a covered pavilion, boardwalk, primitive camping, hiking trail, paddling trail, fishing and the NC Birding Trail. The park is located approximately 6 miles north of Edenton off Hwy 32 at 2100 Rocky Hock Rd.

 

spillway along Bennett's Millpond

 

 

 

 

 

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Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge

tundra swans at Lake Mattamuskeet NWR

waveLINKS birding category

A visit to North Carolina’s largest natural lake has been on my ‘to-do’ list for nearly twenty-five years. I’ve read about the history of the lodge, the world-class birding and wildlife as well as the excellent outdoor recreation options. Last month, my wife and I took a day-trip to Lake Mattamuskeet and we instantly discovered it was well worth the wait.

Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge is located on the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula and encompasses 50,180 acres of water, forest, marsh, and open fields. The shallow lake, which averages a depth of only two feet, covers approximately 40,000 acres. The surrounding marshes and woodlands provide habitat, cover and food for more than 200 species of birds. November through January is the prime season for bird watching considering the fact that over 12,000 ducks, geese, swans, herons, bitterns and other waterfowl winter on the refuge’s grounds.

The US Fish & Wildlife Service has a comprehensive conservation and resource management plan for the refuge that includes water management for waterfowl, shorebirds and fisheries; cooperative farming; prescribed burning and deer management with public hunting. Through the preservation of wetlands and habitat, they also protect and conserve migratory birds and other wildlife. Education, interpretation and community partnerships are also vital strategies that the refuge implements. The Annual Wings Over Water Festival in October is a stellar example of how our national wildlife refuges successfully collaborate with local communities.

Great Egret Mattamuskeet NWR

Great Egret observed along the Wildlife Drive

 Seasonal activities

Whether you’re walking or driving, a number of trails, roads and levies provide excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. During the winter, the refuge management restricts access to some roads and levees from November 1 – February 28. However, approximately eight miles of levees and 12 miles of road are open year-round. Boating, canoeing and kayaking are not allowed during the winter. Check with management at the refuge headquarters for additional information about refuge regulations, restricted areas and permitted hunts.

The Hwy 94 causeway, Wildlife Drive and the refuge entrance road offer premier birding opportunities. The observation platform along Hwy 94 affords a panoramic view over the lake. The New Holland Boardwalk Trail along East Canal Drive provides convenient access to a cypress swamp and marshland. Also, there’s a trailhead kiosk, photo blind and benches for photography and observation.

Mattamuskeet Lodge

Mattamuskeet Lodge – originally a pump station

My wife and I took advantage of a beautiful January day and visited the refuge. We enjoyed the exhibits inside the Visitors Center and the grounds adjacent to the Mattamuskeet Lodge. This facility was originally built as a pumping station designed to drain the lake into productive farmland. Eventually, the project proved to be too costly and impractical. Three decades later the U.S. Government acquired the land and the refuge was established in 1934. The lodge and surrounding acres have been transferred to the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. Efforts to secure funding and restore the lodge, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, are currently being planned.

American coots at Mattamuskeet NWR

American Coots – Mattamuskeet NWR

Further adventures

While touring Wildlife Drive, we stopped at several locations to observe Tundra Swans, Great Egrets, Northern Pintails, American Coots and White Ibises probing for food in the shallow waters. Several groups of birders and photographers were lined along the banks taking advantage of the splendid views.

Our first exploration to Lake Mattamuskeet turned out to be a sneak peek but a real treat and a good overview of the refuge, trails, facilities and access points. With spring in the forecast, we plan to return and explore the refuge in our canoe, skiff or on our bikes – maybe all of the above!

map of Mattamuskeet NWR

Map data by ©OpenStreetMap & contributors

Directions: Mattamuskeet NWR is located approximately 70 miles east of Washington in Hyde County, North Carolina. The headquarters entrance road is located off Hwy 94 1.5 miles north of U.S. 264 between Swan Quarter and Engelhard.

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waveLINKS things to do…

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As the dawn of the traditional New Year approaches, it’s time to start the year anew and scout out some options for winter’s long voyage. Here’s waveLINKS’ 2016 first quarter roundup of things to do – from a first day hike of the year to a beer fest and more! Indoors or out in the wild, there’s plenty of events, outings, art exhibits and winter workshops going on along the Albemarle Sound and beyond!

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First Step into the New Year

North Carolina State Parks will be hosting 1st Day Hikes to start the year off right. Join the staff at Merchant’s Millpond State Park for a 2.5-mile hike along the Lassiter and Bennett’s Creek Trail. Hikers will be rewarded with hot chocolate, cookies and natural treats like bird watching. What a great way to start the year off on a healthy note! Friday, January 1, 2016; 12pm. Pettigrew State Park will also bring in the New Year with hikes along the trails at Phelps Lake. Click here for more info on First Day Hikes.

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jollybeerandwinefestival

Road Trip! Eastern NC Brew Fest & New Craft Brewery!

Grab a friend and take the year’s first road trip to the 6th Annual Jolly Skull Beer & Wine Festival in Greenville, NC. Sample over 125 craft beers and regional wines. All proceeds benefit the Beer Army Foundation. January 23; 2:30 – 6 pm at the Greenville Convention Center. Online tickets.

trollingwoodtaproom&brewerySpeaking of Greenville, for years it was one of the largest cities in North Carolina NOT to have a brewery. Not any more thanks in part to two childhood friends and an East Carolina brewer who recently joined forces to open Trollingwood Brewery & Taproom. The guys preserved a 90-year old building on Dickinson Avenue. The restored building features 2000 square feet of brewing and taproom space including a brew house floor and long bar with plenty of open seating. Other amenities include convenient on-site parking and a roomy outdoor patio. According to their website, Trollingwood’s brewer, Grayson William’s “brewing background is geared towards developing traditional yet innovative American style ales while using local ingredients whenever possible.” He has perfected four staple brews as well as a lineup of rotating seasonals.

 

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Art for the Ages and All Stages!

The 38th Annual Frank Stick Memorial Art Show is one of the Outer Banks most established fine art exhibitions. Frank Stick was a national renowned illustrator who produced work and cover art for Field and StreamOutdoor America, Colliers, Sports Afield and The Saturday Evening Post. His influence on the Outer Banks as a preservationist and artist made him an obvious choice for the arts council’s first full-fledged, annual exhibition – and one that remains the longest running visual arts exhibit in Dare County.

The exhibition reception will be held Saturday, January 30, from 6p.m. – 8p.m. The exhibition, sponsored by the Dare County Arts Council in Manteo, NC runs through February 27.

Pocosin Arts Albemarle Sound

Share the love of art with younger students at the After School Arts at Pocosin Arts in Columbia, NC. The Session Three series (February 23rd – March 31st) features two exceptional classes.

Ceramics class for all grades meets every Tuesday from 3:30-5:30 pm. Students will have fun learning to work with clay with resident artist, Matt Repsher. Techniques in constructing sculptural objects and fundamentals of wheel throwing will be taught. Participants will use color and surface decoration through texture, glazing and firing as their final steps to create their own unique piece of work.

The Jewelry/Metals Class (Grades 6th – 9th) meets every Thursday from 3:30-5:30 pm. Resident artist, Phil Ambrose will introduce students to the fascinating world of working with metal.  Students will learn introductory skills using a jeweler’s handsaw; create texture with a hammer, rolling mill and other tools. They will also learn to connect elements together with rivets and soldering.  Finally, they will learn how to patina copper in a range of colors from a rich brown to black to enhance their unique sculptures and jewelry.

Food, Drink, Fun and more!

outerbanksrestaurantassoc

Taste of the Beach

The Outer Banks Restaurant Association presents the popular event which features four days of food, drink, fun and festivities. This year’s festival includes beer pairings, wine tastings, cooking classes, special multi-course menu presentations, brewery tours, tapas crawls, cook-offs, showdowns and progressive dinners. Over 40 participating venues and nearly 50 events along the Outer Banks showcase the innovative culinary opportunities and talents of the region’s creative chefs. March 17 – 20, 2016. Info & tickets.

wavelinksthingstodorunning
Kelly’s Running of the Leprechauns 10K

No excuses! Now is the time to jumpstart your training and get back in shape just in time for the Kelly’s 8th Annual Running of the Leprechauns 10K. The 6.2-mile race will be held on Saturday March 12, 2016. The course begins at Kelly’s Restaurant at 2316 S. Croatan Hwy. (10.5 Milepost) in Nags Head. All net proceeds benefit the Outer Banks Community Foundation. March 13, 2016

Here’s to a happy and healthy New Year from all of us at Connecting Corridors!

 

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Queen Anne Creek – Jewel along the Albemarle

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Queen Anne Creek might be one of the shortest paddling trails among the Paths of Chowan but it may also be the sweetest. I’ve lived in the Piedmont of Georgia, the Southern Appalachians and now on the Albemarle Sound in eastern North Carolina. I’ve always adopted a hometown river, stream or creek to soothe the soul. Most recently, Queen Anne has quickly become one of my favorite local outings along the Albemarle!

The creek gently flows from the east of Edenton in Chowan County and empties into Edenton Bay. Meandering from the northern and western regions of the county, Pembroke Creek enters the west side of the bay. This land along the bay has experienced centuries of history, heritage and transformation originating from the native trading village of the Weapemeoc. European settlers established settlements along the Albemarle Sound including the 17th century Town on Queen Anne Creek. In 1722, the town was incorporated and the colony’s first capital was renamed Edenton in honor of the state’s first governor, Charles Eden.

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Let’s quickly paddle forward from the era of dugout canoes to the sleek modern world of rotomolded polyethylene and Kevlar.  Chowan County offers miles of paddling trails, convenient boating access and a network of camping platforms. Highlights along the four-mile Queen Anne Creek Trail include a historic waterfront, an expansive bay, colonial architecture, a historic plantation, mysterious wetlands and hours of solitude.

The trail originates from the floating dock a few hundred feet west of the 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse. There’s plenty of convenient parking along the Downtown Waterfront Park. Once on the water, paddlers are immediately greeted with views of the open bay and Edenton’s quaint town harbor as they hug the north shore and travel east. A wonderful collection of 18th and 19th century homes overlook the bay along Water St. Queen Anne Park and a handicap accessible small craft landing are located on the northern shore just before crossing under the Hayes Plantation’s iconic wooden bridge which spans over the mouth of Queen Anne Creek.

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Upstream, stands of cypress and tupelo trees dominate the forested banks. A few creek side homes can be observed before the landscape quickly transitions into an intimate natural waterway. Wildlife sightings along this 1.5-mile stretch include a variety of turtles, waterfowl, herons and birds of prey. Winter and spring sightings of Bald Eagles are frequently reported along the creek.

The trail continues upstream to the bridge and intersection of Hwy. 32, which is the turnaround on the 4-mile out-and-back trail. Late afternoon excursions often reward boaters with spectacular sunsets while approaching the bay. Please show respect and allow a wide berth to the local anglers fishing from the bridge and along Queen Anne Park.

sunsetalongqueenannecreek

The trail can be enjoyed year round by paddlers of all levels of experience. Full-day options include extended routes along the east side of the bay, west around John’s Island and Pembroke Creek. If the bay is choppy or exposed to the wind, an alternate launch is recommended at Queen Anne Park near the wooden bridge. For directions and more info about Queen Anne Creek and other paddling trails along the Albemarle Sound visit Paths of Chowan.

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Autumn Solitude on Bodie Island

bodieislandlighthouse

We’re still on our fall discovery tour and taking advantage of good weather and fewer crowds. I call this the “edge effect” which occurs between two seasons. I’ve sneaked in some of my best adventures during these opportunistic times. I’m back on the road and trail and this time I’m exploring Cape Hatteras National Seashore. In 1953, Congress protected this coastal resource, which was designated as being natural and recreational significant to preserve forever. Cape Hatteras National Seashore is administered by the National Park Service, which preserves and protects the windswept seacoast stretching nearly 80 miles. The seashore spans north to south across three islands – Bodie, Hatteras and Ocracoke.

Seasonal Notes

Cape Hatteras National Seashore is open year-round although facilities, programs and activities change with the seasons. For example, the three lighthouses along these islands are not open for climbing after Columbus Day and don’t reopen until the third Friday in April 2016. Cape Point Campground located on Cape Hatteras, is the only National Park Service campground open during the fall through the end of November.

So during the off-season, I’ve personally found you give up a few perks offered during summer’s peak season including interpretive programs but you end up with rewarding self-guided and intimate adventures.

Editor’s note: The Ocracoke Island Lighthouse is not open for climbing year round. Only base tours are available during the summer.

bodieislandlighthouse

Accessible Adventures

One of the first points of interest on the northern section of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is the Bodie Island Visitor Center & Lighthouse. It is located off of NC 12 between Nags Head and the Oregon Inlet approximately eight miles south of Whalebone Junction (US 158 and US 64 intersection).

From the parking lot in front of the lighthouse, visitors can conveniently discover a variety of habitats including open fields, remote wetlands, maritime forests, salt marshes, beaches and dunes. During a recent trip, the only visitors I observed were wildlife photographers, birders and birds. According to the NC Birding Trail, late fall and early winter is the perfect time to observe wading birds and numerous waterfowl species which migrate and/or winter along Hatteras.

The wildlife trail from the parking area leads visitors along a half-mile boardwalk to an observation deck that overlooks an expansive freshwater pond. The last day of October, I observed Horned Grebes, Northern Shovelors, several Black Scoters, and a Tri-colored Heron feeding among the cordgrass.

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American Black Ducks – Bodie Island

Another wildlife area to explore begins at the gravel road near the south end of the parking lot. A gated service road extends out to a tidal creek and a dock owned by a private hunting club. Anglers are often seen fishing this local creek from the dock and small skiffs. I enjoyed watching two fly fisherman or “water whippers” roll casting along the edge of the bank.

Visitors often see marsh rabbits, turtles, crabs along the creek and marshlands. Occasionally, one can hear the short series of clacking sounds from the Clapper Rail but seldom do hikers get a chance to view this large rail species– one that locals refer to as a marsh hen or mud chicken. Both of the walks reward the hiker with wide open vistas, wildlife viewing and of course, strategic views of the 170’ lighthouse.

Bodie Island can be enjoyed as a brief stopover or a half-day excursion. Binoculars are recommended to get up close and personal with our feathered friends. Also, be sure to check the local hunting season scheduled during the fall/winter. The Bodie Island Lighthouse is open daily, 9am to 5pm, September – May; 9am to 6pm. Oh yeah, act like a local and be sure to pronounce Bodie correctly (Body).

 

 

 

 

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Roanoke Island Paddling Excursion

 

break along Roanoke IslandSugar sand beaches, calm waters and Carolina blue skies welcomed us on our paddling group’s first summer outing. Allan, our trip leader, had sent us three wonderful options along the Albemarle Sound corridor. The group’s top choice was a half-day circuit on the southern shores of Roanoke Island. The paddle trail description showcased a variety of interesting features including views of Jockey’s Ridge, open waters, beaches, tidal creeks and numerous areas to observe wildlife. Boaters often see dolphins playfully swimming and feeding around the Roanoke Sound Channel.

We put in at the convenient Washington Baum Bridge landing east of Manteo which dropped us directly onto the channel. Since the wind was light, we opted to paddle the open water section first then complete the loop through a series (maze) of tidal creeks, ditches and cuts. The total distance was approximately seven miles.

The five of us never saw any dolphins in the sound. However, as we paddled around Broad Creek Point, we spotted a sweet little sandbar perfect for our first snack break. The water was so clear that we observed several crabs in the shallow waters. Blue Herons and Great Egrets were feeding in the marshes and we sighted an armadillo scurrying along the banks.

We looked over the large creek and noticed the secluded fishing village of Wanchese, NC. Allan said he had heard of paddlers who paddled directly up to the marina for cold beer and delicious fresh seafood. But today it was P & J sandwiches, a banana and lots of water. The first summer heat wave had come early this year and today’s forecast predicted mid-90’s. With this on all of our minds (and cold beer) and the fact that we would have zero shade for the rest of the day, our group packed up and launched the boats back into the water.

Using a primitive map of Roanoke Island, we navigated our way up a diminishing creek. I’d been stranded at low tide on tidal creeks before so I was a bit anxious about finding the correct cut through the island. The map revealed several dead-end waterways so I continuously checked the map and looked for telltale landmarks. Unfortunately, there were no trail markers so we were now on a discovery tour – or scavenger hunt as it turned out.

Most of the land surrounding the creek is managed and owned by the NC Wildlife Resource Commission. According to the Nature Conservancy, this tract of 1,766 acres includes one of the most undisturbed black needlerush marshes remaining in North Carolina. Smooth cordwood grass is also common along the brackish waters. The marshlands and associated waters offer a rich biological soup of nutrients and habitat for wading birds, shorebirds, mammals, fish and crustaceans.

After a few hours in direct sunlight, some in our party were beginning to second guess our current route and the “biological soup” metaphor wasn’t exactly the best choice of words since we were slowly starting to “stew” ourselves in the blazing sun. We ventured into a couple of smaller creeks only to have to turn around and search for another outlet. This created a chain reaction of boats having to reverse their course, sweep their paddles wide and turn back toward the larger opening. Finally, just when we were getting close to a modern day mutiny of the bounty, we found the opening to John’s Ditch. More importantly, a motorboat full of enthusiastic teenagers assured us that we were back on track. Allan and I knew it all the time. Sure thing!

The final couple of miles of paddling turned out to be some of the best as we meandered through the waters of Sand Beach Creek to the beautiful beaches at Johns Creek along the Roanoke Sound. Just beyond the point we discovered safe haven and the expansive bridge above the take out. A few of us took a break on the sandbar and I finally ate my delicious sandwich, swam in the refreshingly clear water then tanked up on more water for the last section of the trip.

Back again on the sound, the wind was still light but the increased afternoon motor boating around the landing created lots of chop within the wake zone. Tough day out in the sun but a great trip and one which I’ll do again and again!

 

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