Goose Creek State Park Pamlico River Connections

Panoramic view of Flatty Creek

The Tar Heel State offers a lifetime of cultural, natural history and outdoor recreation opportunities from the mountains, foothills, sandhills and coast. Last year, North Carolina State Parks celebrated their centennial and nearly 17 million people visited the NC State Parks in 2015.

The NC State Parks System is managed by the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, which includes 41 state parks and state recreation areas, as well as 33 undeveloped conservation areas. These state protected properties feature ancient mountains, pristine beaches, lazy rivers, open waters and diverse forests. In 1980, Goose Creek State Park was designated a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. A plaque along the Goose Creek Trail states, “This site possesses exceptional value as an illustration of the nation’s natural heritage and contributes to a better understanding of the environment.”

As a 27-year resident of the Old North State, I’ve camped, fished, run, hiked, cycled and paddled most of the system’s parks. Since moving to the coastal plain, Goose Creek State Park has become one of my favorites!

Paddle boarding on Goose Creek

Natural Beauty, Nationally Recognized

The park is located approximately 12 miles west of Washington, NC in Beaufort County on the north side of the Pamlico River. The peninsula-shaped property encompasses 1,672 acres and a variety of coastal plain habitats – from extensive wetlands along the rivers and creeks to cypress swamps and saltwater marshes. These areas provide ideal habitat for birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. Wildlife sightings include alligators, bears, otters, bobcat, foxes, red wolves and a variety of waterfowl.

There are plenty of things to do for both outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. The park can be enjoyed all seasons and is open year-round with the exception of Christmas Day.

Friends of the park volunteer hiking along Goose Creek Trail

Take a hike!

Goose Creek State Park has one of the longest and best-maintained trail systems on the NC coast. There are 8 miles of maintained trails that meander through the property and more trails are currently being constructed. The entire trail system can be hiked leisurely in one day. Some trails have trail benches, boardwalks and interpretive signs to enjoy along the way. Most visitors prefer to break up the trails into sections varying from .2 miles to 2 miles. Trails are blazed in unique colors and different shaped markers. The Flatty Creek Trail offers a convenient and scenic stroll from the parking area along Campground Rd. The .3-mile orange-blazed trail loops through an upland pine forest and leads visitors to an outstanding vista overlooking Flatty Creek and the Pamlico River. The 2-mile Goose Creek Trail begins at the campground near the mouth of Goose Creek and snakes along the Pamlico River to a nice sandy beach and swimming area.

The half-mile Palmetto Boardwalk Trail is a good family friendly option. Various wildlife and plant ID markers assist visitors along the self-guided tour of the freshwater marsh.

Campground at Goose Creek State Park

Goose Creek State Park Activities

The parks’ family campground is ideal for families, hikers and anglers who plan on spending a night or two in the park. The facility offers 14 private tent sites each with tables and grills. Toilets and drinking water are centrally located in the campground. The park also has a reservation-only group camping area available from March 15 – November 15. Registered campers can easily access the six-mile Goose Creek State Park Canoe Trail  from the campground’s put-in area.

Anglers fishing on Goose Creek

Boating and fishing are both very popular activities at the park. There is a public boating ramp and parking area on the west side of Goose Creek at Dinah’s Landing.

Park visitors can access three picnic areas in the park. Picnic shelters are available on a first-come, first-served basis or can be reserved for a fee. Pets are permitted in NC State Parks so long as they are on an attended leash no longer than 6 feet. Whether you are day tripping or camping for a week, be sure to stop in the park’s Visitor Center to pick up a map, learn more about the park and view the wonderful exhibits.

Goose Creek State Park's Discovery Room

journey notes to road trip

 

Goose Creek State Park is an excellent “jumping off” point for Outer Banks-bound travelers heading to the Swan Quarter Ferry Terminal. The park is within and hour’s drive for tidewater townies looking for a day-outing chock full of adventure. Cyclists touring on the NC 2 Mountains to Sea Route should plan on a convenient overnight camp during their 700 mile, two-wheel odyssey.

Local eats ~ Grab a cup of NC-roasted coffee at Rachel K’s Bakery in the historic waterfront town of Washington. Be sure to try one of their delicious pastries, scones and hand tarts — yummy artisan sandwiches and wraps for lunch too! Experience Washington Crab and Seafood Shack for some of the best fried shrimp you’ve ever tasted. Quirky, quaint, quick and delicious! Not in a hurry? Kick back, select a steamer plate with a cold beer and enjoy the friendly staff and patrons!

Eats & Drinks at Washington Crab and Seafood Shack

Washington Crab and Seafood Shack

 

 

Register for one of the park’s upcoming events! The park organizes a number of monthly events. A quick peek at the park’s calendar revealed a children’s scavenger hunt, kayak fishing and a guided hike. Another way to plug into the park’s resources is to get involved with the Friends of Goose Creek State Park to join fellow members on paddle trips, hikes and volunteer projects!

Map of Goose Creek State Park

 

 

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National Wildlife Refuges in Coastal NC Wild & Wonderful Resources

Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge

The Federal Land Ownership Overview and Data Report in 2014 revealed that federal land ownership in North Carolina totaled 2,429,341 acres. This included land managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Defense, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Park Service. The USFWS administers approximately 420,068 acres. Most of this land in North Carolina is managed by the National Wildlife Refuge System, which includes 11 NWRS units and the Edenton National Fish Hatchery. Connecting Corridors attended a lecture last month to learn more about these fascinating natural resources.

NWR Volunteer discusses wildlife refuges in NC

NWR volunteer Bob Glennon discusses coastal refuges

Bob Glennon, a retired Natural Resource Planner for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a volunteer for the NWR gave an informative overview of the refuge system in our state. The presentation was part of the Harry Rosenblatt Memorial Speaker Series held at the Shepard-Pruden Memorial Library in Edenton, NC.

National Wildlife Refuge System Mission

Before the presentation, I picked up one of the refuge’s brochures and learned that the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

Glennon opened up with a geographical overview explaining, “We are blessed to have nine area refuges so close together.” He added, “Of the 11 NWR units managed in NC, nine are in northeastern NC. They are located all within two hours and span from the barrier islands along the Outer Banks west to the Roanoke River. According to Glennon, the area refuges make up approximately 380,000 acres.

Compared to other wildlife refuges in the 562-unit system, Glennon reasoned, “We’re not huge but instead, we are diverse.” The regional refuges are also relatively close together.

tours and wildlife Albemarle Sound

Wildlife Refuge Complex

Glennon pointed out that being so close is convenient for both visitors and staff. “Area refuges share staff, supplies and facilities,” explained Glennon. Refuges that share a similar ecological region or habitat and have a related purpose and management needs are grouped into a complex.

Alligator River, Pea Island, Mackay Island, Pocosin Lakes, Currituck and Roanoke River are managed as part of the North Carolina Coastal Plain National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Mattamuskeet, Cedar Island, and Swanquarter National Wildlife Refuges are managed as the Mattamuskeet Complex.

Working as a Natural Resource Planner for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Glennon wrote the Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for nine of the NWR units. He confirmed, “Each refuge is unique and each refuge has its own delegated purpose mandated by Congress.” Glennon informed the group of the agency’s premier task, which focuses on a “wildlife first” conservation model and a “big six” core of wildlife dependent uses on wildlife refuges. They include environmental education, interpretation, photography, wildlife observation, hunting and fishing.

Glennon outlined each unit and shared his first hand experiences working professionally and as a volunteer for various refuges. He has led paddling tours of the Alligator River NWR and guided visitors along a sound-to-sea interpretive walk on the Pea Island NWR. There are many visitor experiences available at each refuge ranging from tram tours along the Alligator River to volunteering for “beach walks” during the sea turtle nesting season on Pea Island. Wildlife observation is one of the more popular activities and visitors may observe a variety of resident and migratory wildlife including red wolves, black bears, waterfowl, shorebirds, wildflowers, alligators, songbirds, wading birds, sea turtles and marine mammals. The refuges offer diverse habitats from one of the largest bottomland hardwood forest in the east coast to pocosins, marsh shrub forest and managed mainland and barrier island wetlands.

Great Egret Mattamuskeet NWR

Great Egret along Mattamuskeet NWR Wildlife Drive

Glennon acknowledged that refuge staff, interns and volunteers work with school groups, adjoining landowners and other community partners. Special partnerships or programs mentioned by Glennon include Swan Days at Mattamuskeet NWR and Wings Over Water Wildlife Festival (WOW). Glennon noted, “All refuges share the WOW event, which features over 30 tours, art instruction, drawing, photography and video workshops, natural history programs, and canoe tours.” Recently, the WOW Festival has added an encore session in December.

Paddlers touring Alligator National Wildlife Refuge

The Alligator River NWR is a popular destination for paddlers

In the two years that I’ve resided in eastern NC, I’ve been fortunate to visit nine of the 11 refuges including the National Fish Hatchery in Edenton. I’ve enjoyed wildlife photography, birding and fishing at several of the refuges. I have also paddled several of the paddle trails in Alligator River and Pocosin Lakes. I look forward to completing my northeastern, NC NWR bucket list soon.

To learn more about each refuge and programming opportunities including volunteering, click on the following links:

National Wildlife Refuge list by State
Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society

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Adventure is what you make it… More tales of kayaking and camping

camping platforms on holladay Island

Camping platforms on Holladay Island – Photo courtesy of Tom Carmine

Adventure is self-defining. You don’t have to risk your life for an adventure. You do have to get off the couch and push yourself into an unknown. I have never paddled the Amazon nor climbed Everest, but I have gotten off the couch. I have gotten hot and sweaty, wet and cold.  I have been uncomfortable for days at a time. Did I risk my life? Probably not. Did I have fun? Yes.

In 2010, four of us stood on the banks of the Chowan River and looked over at Holladay Island, our scheduled camping spot for the night. To the left of us the sun was dropping ever so quickly. To the right of us was a northerly wind blowing in our face at around ten mph. Before us was a mile of river, cold and choppy. The forecast for the night was continued windy conditions and a drop in the temperature to the upper thirties by morning.

I plan my adventures as carefully as I can, but when the weather changes you have to change. Steve and I are experienced kayakers, and we have dry gear and skirted sea kayaks. My other two friends were far less experienced with no dry gear and paddling sit on tops kayaks that provided no protection against the cold spray that the river would be throwing at us. Then there was the uncertainty of a very cold wet paddle in the morning.

Reluctantly but wisely, we decided to drive north to Merchant’s Millpond so Holladay Island would have to wait six more years for me to get there.

Paddlers exploring Merchants Millpond State Park

Canoe and kayak rentals are available at Merchants Millpond State Park – Photo courtesy of Tom Carmine

Merchants Millpond

Merchants Millpond State Park, located in Gatesville, NC features a canoe-in campground with ten camp sites. This proved to be a perfect plan B. I had been to the millpond nine years earlier with new plastic kayaks. Steve and I drove down with another friend from Newport News, Virginia to paddle through this enchanted cypress swamp. Paddling the pond is scenic from the put in point to the other end. On the east side we ran into lily pads so thick we could not go any further. Personally I love paddling in and amongst the moss draped trees better than any open water paddling. I was happy to be back.

We followed the kayak trail in near darkness through the cypress trees which was well marked with buoys. The trail ends on the banks of the other side of the lake. There is no dock to greet you so at least one person is going to get wet feet when they get out of the kayak.

There are ten tent sites in the family camping area nestled among trees and a pit toilet, but no running water. A short paddle distance away there are three sites reserved for small groups. By the time we set up the tents, it was dark and well past dinner, but I pack for quick meals so we were eating in minutes.

We were happy with the change of plans, and we looked forward to paddling around the lake in the morning. The weather forecast was correct. The morning air was frigid and there was frost in places so I had to start my day sticking my feet into cold and wet neoprene boots before I even got into the boat. Because it was so cold, we did not paddle beyond the trail back to the ramp and we never saw any of the resident alligators.

The pond scum there clings to the hull of your kayak leaving a noticeable bathtub ring. When you take your canoes and kayaks out of the lake at the boat ramp, the park conveniently provides a cleaning station for cleaning your boat. Bring a little soap and a brush and you can save yourself some time when you get home. The park also rents canoes for overnight camping.

Holladay Island Platform Camping

Inside looking out –Platform Camping on Holladay Island – Photo courtesy of Tom Carmine

First night out at Holladay Island

Having spent most of my winters from January to April behind a desk, loading up the kayak and paddling away on the first Friday night after April 15th is always exceptionally refreshing. When you push off from the bank and take those first few paddle strokes, you enter a new world. You dip your paddle from side to side and quietly head upstream as one with nature. You might see beaver lodges and bird nests along the bank as you slowly pass by. Turtles wait a little longer on their logs. The bird songs are not lost in the noise of an outboard motor. You feel the warmth on your face of the sun reflecting off the water. It is magical.

We arrived at the boat ramp at Cannon’s Ferry later than we planned. It also took us longer to pack our kayaks. Packing the kayak the first night is always a race against time. Now the sun was setting as we left the canal leading into the Chowan River. My heart was racing as we turned north for our second attempt at camping on Holladay Island. As with our first attempt six years earlier, the wind was again in our face and the river sent some waves over our bows.

We had reserved the east side platform, but as we neared the island, we decided to turn to the southern platform, which is actually three platforms, instead of risking arriving after dark at the east platform. As we entered the grove of cypress trees we knew we had made the right decision.

When you arrive at a platform you should expect to do some housekeeping before you set up camp. We found the decks were covered with fall leaves and sticks, but a broom in the privy area helped us to clean off the deck. The next night we took a $3 broom to the site which was fortunate because there was no broom to sweep with.

With a swept deck and the tents erected, we sat down to enjoy dinner. In the nearby darkness an annoyed great heron voiced his displeasure with our encroachment on his territory by letting out a long scratchy discourse of discontentment as he flew to another tree. The evening then became silent of wildlife. There was just the occasional distant rumble of trucks on Highway 32.

Holladay Island has now moved to my first or second favorite place to camp while Barred Owl platform tops my list. It’s an interesting place. Even though it is an island, the ground is too wet for pines and other deciduous trees. It’s just black soggy floor of roots and cypress knees.

The next morning, the sun broke through the trees and you could see water on three sides. When you wake up to 40° temperatures, the sleeping bag is the coziest place in the world. Our intent was to skip breakfast on the platform and eat later in Edenton, so we packed our gear and circled the island before paddling back to the ramp.

The west side of Holladay Island was beautiful because you could paddle in and around cypress trees for most of the length of the island. It also blocked the northern wind. On the east side, there were no trees to paddle among and with the wind behind us it was an easy paddle to the ramp.

When we left the ramp the night before, we were the only vehicle in the lot, but we came back to a parking lot full of trucks and trailers. Some were fishing, but others were out fixing blinds for the duck season. Two of them were at the south end of the island at work on their blind when we left the platform.

Kayaks along Edenton, NC waterfront

Kayaks along Edenton, NC waterfront – Photo courtesy of Tom Carmine

Lunch and a change of plans in Edenton

Edenton is a great little town to hang out especially since I found they serve orangeades in several of the restaurants. After Holladay Island, we had planned to drive on to Barred Owl, but as we ate a late lunch, Steve asked, “Why don’t we camp here tonight?” It was like a V8 moment. Great idea!

Chowan County has three camping platforms on the south side of Pembroke Creek on John’s Island, which is actually a large peninsula just across from downtown Edenton. Sitting in the restaurant I went on line and reserved the platform for the night. The change of plans saved us an hour of driving so we set off to walk around the Cotton Mill Historic District before launching.

Edenton Harbor’s Colonial Park  has a floating dock for kayak launching. Since the park also caters to boaters, the park also has shower facilities should you need to clean up after a night of camping. There is also ample overnight parking.

Reaching the platform was a short paddle across Pembroke Creek and the location was well marked with a large sign. Although we were secluded in the trees, the route 17 bridge was not far away and we did notice more highway noise than we expected during the early part of the evening. It seems getting away from cars and planes is getting harder and harder to do now.

The County’s platforms feature a counter for cooking or other tasks that the platforms owned by the Roanoke River Partners do not. This is a nice luxury and made reheating my grilled steak and accompaniments much easier than sitting on the deck and cooking.

Morning bought cold temperatures, but a beautiful view through the trees looking across the creek. We paddled around to the group three platform site which is more secluded back in a smaller feeder creek.

Reservations* (see footnote below) may be available through Roanoke River Partners, but you get more information at the Edenton-Chowan Recreation Department.

Hertford's S Bridge Perquimans River

Hertford’s iconic “S” bridge spans the Perquimans River Photo courtesy of Tom Carmine

Under the S Bridge in Hertford

When Route 17 took a detour around Hertford it left behind a swinging draw bridge built in 1928 locally called the “S” bridge because of its two curves. I have driven across the “S” bridge, but I never thought I would be paddling under it.

We were on our second night of camping in 2009, and it was one of the most picturesque settings ever.  As we left the municipal boat ramp, the Perquiman’s river was a mirror reflecting the bridge in the distance. There was no urgency to our quest, the glassy river seduced us into leisurely pace soaking up the awesome scene. Our destination took us under the “S” bridge, and up Mill Creek low bridge that was also part of the old Route 17.

The Mill Creek camping site is a double platform operated by the Perquiman County. Its tucked way up Mill Creek where the creek is barely wider than our sea kayaks. When we visited them in 2010, they were nearly new with fresh looking deck boards and the raised counter for cooking that I like so much.

The County has a second triple platform on the Perquimans River west of the “S” Bridge. Recently I visited the Perquiman’s Chamber of Commerce tourism webpage and found they have also added three nice kayak launching sites. On the webpage are the coordinates and directions for each and downloadable paddle trail maps. The Perquiman’s sites do not have a link to any online reservation system, but according to their Chamber of Commerce office you should contact Steve Burkett at 252-426-3817. For more information about their water trails and camping visit the Chamber’s web page.

As Good as it Gets

Down in the Everglades you can paddle and camp on raised platforms called Chickees. They are in high demand by campers. Here in the Albemarle Sound basin, we have camping opportunities that rival the Everglades and almost anywhere else in the world. Come see for yourself, reserve your camping platform, and make your own adventure.

Publisher’s note: All campsites on Holladay Island and Johns Island are temporarily unavailable due to maintenance and repairs. 

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Up the Creek with a Paddle Kayak Camping & Water Trails

Kayak Camping Roanoke River Paddle Trail

I haven’t backpacked since college. Although I have had a long love affair with camping, my only backpacking trip was more of a one-night stand. You know, one of those experiences that seemed like a better idea the night before than the morning after. Not that it was a bad experience. I just decided that carrying a 40-pound pack was not my thing. I always figured that bicycle camping would be my ticket for adventure travel until I ran across a picture in the Raleigh News and Observer. The photo captured a setting of several canoes tied to the dock of a small camping platform and nearly concealed within a cypress grove. Suddenly my desire to go camping was rekindled but this time I’d be sleeping out under the stars on camping platforms along a designated paddle trail.

Roanoke River Paddle Trail

The camping platform highlighted in the Raleigh News & Observer is part of a paddling trail network managed by the Roanoke River Partners — a grassroots non-profit serving the five North Carolina counties that border the Roanoke River. RRP operates 16 of these platforms that were constructed in the Roanoke River basin in order to bring tourist dollars into an area of North Carolina that had been hit hard by plant closings and the demise of the herring fishing industry.

When they were first built, locals weren’t so sure that they wanted outsiders paddling through their backyard playground but the project has proven to be quite successful. A recent study revealed that the Roanoke River Paddle Trail generates over $550,000 to the regional economy annually. This impact is the result of both the overnight campers and day-trippers utilizing the trail and facilities along the river. It is projected that since the construction of the first platform in 1997, the trail has attracted well over 15,000 overnight campers (with an estimated four to five times that many day trippers).

kayak boardwalk camping platform

Welcome Home!
photo courtesy of Tom Carmine

The Internet can be an adventure traveler’s best friend and through RRP’s website, I had two platforms reserved along with a growing file of information on kayak camping. Man learned thousands of years ago that a boat was better than one’s back for carrying a load, and I was planning to put that into practice. Packing a kayak for camping is like packing a backpack. The stuff has got to fit, and the weight has got to be properly distributed. Since we were not taking canoes, there was no place for coolers and lawn chairs.

1st Outing – San Souci Shuffle

Our target launch date was the last Friday of April, which we hoped would still bring cool nights to minimize the bugs that inhabit swampland. My goal for our first trip was a short paddle the first night and a longer paddle on Saturday and Sunday. We intended on camping one night at Lost Boat and the other at Otter One. Both camping platforms rest within the Roanoke River basin and are located just off Route 17, south of Edenton, NC on the Cashie River.

We arrived at Lost Boat just barely before dark after a four-mile paddle from the Sans Souci ferry landing. The camping platform was nestled in a small cove just off the Cashie River. We quickly set up our tents anticipating that the resident mosquito population would soon arrive to party with us but the cool spring evening kept the bugs at bay. Our first night was exactly what I had hoped for. The night was quiet except for the nocturnal sounds of owls, frogs and other wildlife at play in the woods.

The next day we could have paddled back to our launch site to restock for day two and paddled downstream to Otter One. Instead, we opted to take out our kayaks and spend part of the day in nearby Plymouth, which was hosting a large Civil War reenactment. After lunch and a tour of the town, we launched from Route 45 and paddled across the intersection of the Roanoke River, Middle River back to the Cashie River and down to end of Broad Creek.

Despite the five-mile paddle, Otter One was not far from Plymouth for the average crow, and the evening’s peace was occasionally broken by cannon fire and musket volleys from the rabble-rousing reenactors in town. It’s always good to bring a book along for the evenings on the platform since you can’t build a campfire on the deck and roast marshmallows for entertainment.

Paddle the Same River Basin Twice

Our second annual excursion took us to Royal Fern. We left the boat ramp at the beginning of beautiful Conaby Creek and paddled three miles to the end of a smaller creek. Royal Fern was the most secluded place I have ever camped. There were absolutely no sounds of civilization of any kind and animals bounded through the woods in and out of the creek all night long. The swamp forests along the Roanoke River floodplain provide ideal habitat for bears and this area is no exception.  Although no bear encounters have been reported around the platform in a couple of years, I could not resist shining my flashlight out of my tent during the night to see if any eyes were looking back from the darkness.

Campers on Roanoke River camping platform

Three’s a charm while platform camping in the Roanoke River Basin
photo courtesy of Tom Carmine

For this trip, Steve and I decided to make it a three-day expedition. Leaving Royal Fern on Saturday morning we paddled out to the Roanoke River for a 12-mile paddle that routed us into the Albemarle Sound for our second overnight at Otter One on the Cashie River. Unlike the prior year when a 15 mph wind had kept the fisherman at home for the weekend, this year we passed fishing boats throughout the day.

We had hoped to find a portion of beach about halfway through the trip to allow us to snack and stretch our legs but the shore of the Sound was lined with dense trees and logs pushed ashore by two hurricanes. We were left with no place to get out of the kayaks so we rested while floating in an eddy behind some fallen trees at the mouth of the Cashie. By the time we arrived at Otter One, we were anxious to get out of the boats.

By foregoing a mid-day trip into town, we arrived earlier in the afternoon than we had planned. This gave us more time on the platform than we were accustomed to and a sort of “what do we do now” kind of experience. After a short nap, I opted to fish, and Steve paddled off to a nearby eagles’ nest before we cooked dinner.

Three’s a Charm

On our third trip to the backwaters, we were able to recruit two others to join us. Launching from a private ramp at the River’s Edge Restaurant in Jamesville, we paddled three miles up river to the Barred Owl platform. Barred Owl was the first camping platform, and it has one of the most beautiful settings as it stands over the water at the end of a long creek.

That night we were blessed with a clear night, a full moon and a leafless tree canopy. The sound of fish feeding on the surface and hoots of the neighboring barred owls filled the night and left us thinking, “Camping doesn’t get any better than this!”

Saturday’s treat was to return to Jamesville and lunch at the Cypress Grill. It is widely known for its fried herring that were once abundant in the Roanoke River. The Grill is a quaint riverside shack of a place with friendly folk, homemade pies and numerous other fried fish entrées. The Grill is a seasonal restaurant and it’s only open from January to April.

After an abundant lunch of fish and pie, we paddled nine miles to Three Sisters, which was typical of other platforms with its small dock and walkway leading back to a raised platform in the trees. A few platforms have near water level piers but most require the paddler to climb out the kayak onto a dock about one foot above the water.

We completed this trip by completing a circle back to Jamesville via Cut Cypress Creek. This route completes a short cut across the top of a “V” formed by the Roanoke River as it flows past Jamesville. The creek is a scenic passage through a tree canopy until it reconnects with the Roanoke.

roanoke river trail packing kayak

The art & craft of platform camping
photo courtesy of Tom Carmine

Packing a kayak for camping is like packing a backpack. The stuff has got to fit, and the weight has got to be properly distributed. Since we were not taking canoes, there was no place for coolers and lawn chairs.

For the most part, these paddle trips are without too much technical challenge but our trips have not been without some memorable moments. On our first trip we learned that even a small river like the Roanoke could quickly whip up some waves when driven by 15 mph winds. Cut Cypress Creek runs a small but steady current from west to east, which makes it difficult to maneuver long sea kayaks around fallen and submerged trees. One in our group twice learned that you don’t limbo too far to one side when passing under fallen trees across a creek. And finally, in emergencies, help is generally reachable by cell phone or by other boaters during the day. However, always be well prepared and plan accordingly.

After three trips, I can say that the logistics for camping on these platforms are easy. They are simple to reserve, and there are so many options for short or long paddle trips.  The platforms average around 400 square feet. They provide posts for stringing tarps or hammocks, and they have a private area for your own portable privy. Summer campers report that bug spray is a must, but cooler weather campers can enjoy bug free nights. For more information, to make online reservations, or link to other camping platforms in the region visit Roanoke River Partners website at www.roanokeriverpartners.org.

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Elevated on Holladay Island Paddling & Camping on the Chowan River

 

kayakerapproacheshollodayisland

Kayaker approaching Holladay Island on the Chowan River
Photo courtesy of Beautiful Paddles

“It’s supposed to be really nice tomorrow, highs 70s, sunny, and no winds. You want to check out the platforms on Holladay Island?” I asked Elaine, my paddling partner.  An avid birder and biologist for US Fish and Wildlife, I tempt her with sightings of birds and promise of good weather.

“Sounds neat. But only if we leave early enough to see the sunrise and what birds might be there.”  

The dark drive goes quick, but dawn is slow to arrive. Low gray clouds move in as small raindrops land on the sand beach.

In a flat voice, Elaine looks at me, “you said sunshine.”

I shrug. “We’ve got rain coats. The rain and mist add character.”

The Chowan turns from inky black into a gun-metal gray, the mist silently and slowly moves over the water, sometimes hiding the island. Our red Wilderness System Tsunami kayaks stand out against the gray.

The rain was gentle; dissipating once we reach the platforms. Rays of sun appear before the clouds reform, closing the gap. An occasional song bird jumps from branch to branch for Elaine.

Sign for Holladay Island Camping Platform

Kayaker entering Holladay West Camping Platforms
Photo courtesy of Beautiful Paddles

Elevated Paradise

It’s correct to call Holladay Island an island; the 159 acres is fully surrounded by the Chowan River. But don’t assume “island” means dry land. The inky black of the Chowan, the natural color of rivers in eastern North Carolina, slowly weaves around the cypress, tupelo trees, and vegetation holding the island’s soil in place. Making landfall here means docking your boat on one of the five wooden 16’ x 14’ platforms.

The island is now owned by Chowan County, who also maintains the platforms. European settlers first noticed the island in 1586 when Sir Walter Raleigh led an expedition up the river.  The island’s namesake, Thomas Holladay purchased the land in 1730.

The island remains as it was before eastern North Carolina developed into what it is today. Rain or shine, you sense the primitiveness of the land. The trees were never cut for timber and the lack of dry ground prohibited any permanent building. Not until the construction of the platforms did humans dramatically influence the island.  

Holladay’s tupelo and cypress trees provide ample shade and obstacles to paddle around. The shoreline is difficult to determine – the four to six-foot diameter, 120 foot tall trees grow close in the island’s core to twenty feet away from their neighbors in the open water.

As you paddle around the trees, your view extends out several miles over the Chowan. Each platform provides a view – the west platform is sunsets with an open forest view, while the east platform is known for sunrises and vegetation seeking to take over the platform. The south cluster of three platforms forms a water world village; a winding walkway two foot wide connects each platform. The cluster is tucked back, secretly, amongst the trees.

walkway to Holladay Island Camping platforms

Walkway leading to Holladay Island Camping Platforms
Photo courtesy of Beautiful Paddles

Holladay Island Paddling Logistics

When the wind conditions are perfect (less than than twelve to fifteen miles per hour), Holladay Island is an easy and relaxing paddle. But because you must paddle at least a mile of open water to reach the island, go with calm wind, or have skills to paddle the chop and wind.

Chowan County and the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission provide different launch points off Cannon’s Ferry Road. The Commission boat ramp is a standard motor boat ramp while the County offers a riverwalk park and a small sand launch point. Either location works well.  

Once on the water, Holladay is easy to spot – it is the only island. Reaching the island, look for the large blue signs for each platform once you near their location. The east and west platforms are easy to find but the south island cluster requires a search amongst the tupelo for its secret location.  To get back, retrace your steps.

 

Bring your own portable potty kit – The platforms are pack-in-pack-out. Newspaper, plastic grocery bags, and a 3.3L square rubbermaid resealable container does the job for one to two people up to two nights.

For a free detailed trail description, digital map, and more photos of Holladay Island, visit BeautifulPaddles.com guide to Holladay Island. To learn more about the rules, regulations and registration procedures for platform camping in the region, click here.

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Paddle + Camp along Hidden Lake on Albemarle Sound

raft of kayaks - Hidden Lakes

Photo courtesy of Beautiful Paddles

Ghost trees, barren and bleached by the seasons, stand forlorn off the shoreline. The glassy Albemarle Sound brightly reflects the early spring sun and the quick shadows of osprey on the hunt. Hidden Lake provides the osprey plenty of prey, and excellent birding and fishing for paddlers, once you find your way to its ten acres.

Is it straight or right? The red 2005 Corolla slows to a stop, tires crunching the last bit of gravel left on the old dirt road. Straight ahead, the dirt is smooth and pothole free, appearing well-travelled. Right…small lakes cover the worn tire tracks, leaving only the sides and middle somewhat dry; the early spring vegetation leans into the road, searching for sunlight.

Fingers tap on the wheel, as I ponder which direction to take. Though I spent six years by this point paddling and living in eastern North Carolina, I sometimes forget how remote the best paddles are, despite 4 bar LTE. Google Maps indicates a right turn, down the rough road.

The Corolla eases down the road, the left tire riding through the first lake puddle without issue. With care, the Corolla easily skirts the remaining puddles for the next .3 miles. The road bends next to Navy Tower primitive (and not maintained) boat ramp, as pines needles carpet the less exciting but easier to drive forest road.

At the small kiosk I pull into the small six car parking space.

kayaker on Hidden Lake

Smiling kayaker on Hidden Lake
Photo courtesy of Beautiful Paddles

Palmetto-Peartree Preserve Snapshot

With 14 miles of shoreline along the Albemarle Sound, the 17-year-old preserve offers numerous private pocket beaches, deep blue glassy water, a camping platform, and excellent birding. The 10,000 acres serves as both vital habitat to the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (as well as to numerous black bears, osprey, and other wildlife) and a protection buffer to highway 64.

While the Conservation Fund formerly owned and managed the preserve, in July 2016 NCDOT took ownership until another agency or organization indicates a desire for the long-term management and ownership of the land.

Soundside Observations

With a fish in its talons, the bald eagle flies low and slow over the sound, disappearing past Palmetto Point. The 16’ sea kayak glides smoothly over the clear shallow water and remaining stumps of trees once marking the shoreline. The empty Albemarle Sound extends to the horizon.

Every pocket beach initially appears as the entrance to the lake, and on the fifth attempt, I find the entrance and paddle up the twelve-foot wide creek. Cypress, pine, and other trees shade the creek until it unexpectedly widens at the ten-acre lake. Paddling towards the camping platform, I count four active osprey nests and lose count of the turtles swimming away.

Hidden Lake offers overnight camping options for the adventurous paddler photo courtesy of Beautiful Paddles

Hidden Lake offers overnight camping options for the adventurous paddler
Photo courtesy of Beautiful Paddles

Hidden Lake Field Notes

Easily reached from Edenton, Columbia, and the Outer Banks the preserve has four soundside access points and one canal access, offering casual half day paddles to longer adventure paddles with platform camping.

The access points are primitive and not maintained. From the small parking lot at the boardwalk (the main launch point), carry your boat 138 yards (a cart with large wheels will work if you do not carry your boat) along the trail to a small sand beach.

Once on the water, head left (west) 1.56 miles past the prominent Palmetto Point. With care, you can find the entrance to Hidden Lake on your first try. If you reach Ship Point and see houses in the distance, you paddled a half mile too far. There is no obvious sign of the creek except for light color water, indicating the less brackish water of the creek.

The creek to Hidden Lake is 1000 feet long; the platform is 400 feet from the confluence of the creek and lake, on your left as you head in.

For more detailed paddle trail description, digital map, and photos of this paddle, visit http://beautifulpaddles.com/palmetto-peartree-paddle-guide/

 

Hidden Lake trip tip – The lake is worth exploring and offers high quality fishing and birding. Bring your pole and binoculars.
Brad Beggs, Beautiful Paddles.

 

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Paddling the Scuppernong River

pocosin lakes nwrMotorists heading east to the Outer Banks on Highway 64 get one of their first panoramic views of a tributary estuary from the arching, high rise bridge spanning over the river. The NCDOT River Basin Sign identifies the body of water as the “Scuppernong River, Part of the Pasquotank River Basin.” The blackwater river slowly merges with the Albemarle Sound four miles north of the bridge but it’s the enchanting scenery south that has always intrigued me. This summer, my wife and I recently mapped out a half-day paddling trip and finally charted the alluring waters of the Scuppernong.

scuppernong river rendering

The Scuppernong River – Where Water meets Land

The meandering coastal river flows through Hyde, Washington and Tyrell Counties. Its headwaters originate in Lake Phelps and by the time it reaches Bull Bay at the sound, it is nearly two miles wide. This is one of the least populated regions in North Carolina and one of the wildest landscapes in the southeast! The Scuppernong River characterizes a dynamic coastal natural community where water and land merge. Together, they form a contrasting environment of swamp forest, tannic waters, mystery, marshland, floating vegetation and elevated wetlands. This unique geography offers a lifetime of outdoor recreational opportunities including paddling, fishing, hunting, boating, wildlife viewing and so much more.

More than 540,000 acres of federal and state lands are currently under conservation management along the peninsula that lies between the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds. This includes Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and the Pungo Unit of Pocosin Lakes. The refuge headquarters and Walter B. Jones, Sr. Center for the Sounds is located on the south side of Hwy. 64 on the Scuppernong River in Columbia, NC. A canoe/kayak launch is conveniently located behind the headquarters.

scuppernong river floating dock

Not so Perfect Landing

As we were launching our kayaks, a group of visitors were taking photos of a young river otter frolicking in the shallow waters. After a surprising launch calamity, I soon joined the otter as my stern got hung up on the awkwardly designed landing slide and I instantly capsized into the water. A cable had been placed under the metal slide preventing it from gradually sloping into the water’s edge. It was like launching a kayak off a pool deck four inches above the water. A boater friend of mine had warned me about the hazardous launching platform. We often joke that engineers have good intentions but their designs often do not function well in the field. I’ve witnessed several landings in the region where the launch chute is not large enough to accommodate touring kayaks over 12’ long. Next time, I’ll launch parallel to the floating dock and utilize a more conventional method that relies on my paddle as an extension to the dock.

kayakerscupperongriver

Anyway, my wife had a good laugh about the wet entrance as we headed upstream along the placid river. A moderate wind blew directly into our path but we easily glided forward beside the marshy flats and enjoyed a beautiful start to a blue-sky day. The Scuppernong River Interpretive Trail Boardwalk traverses through the wetlands ¾’s of a mile on the east side of the river. We noticed several large cypress trees, gum and a forest of snags along the banks. The standing dead trees provide excellent habitat for bats, owls, wood ducks, chimney swifts and other cavity dwelling species. During the day, we casually noticed a variety of birds including a pair of Red-Shouldered Hawks, Herring Gulls, Wood Ducks and several songbirds along the brushy banks. I remember reading the refuge’s brochure that informed, “More than 300 different wildlife species, including the endangered red wolf and red-cockaded woodpecker, inhabit the refuge.” Other wildlife encountered along the river corridor includes deer, bobcat, bear, foxes and a variety of reptiles and amphibians.

Riders Creek joins the river along a southeastern cove where the river begins to narrow. We paddled a mile or so above the creek’s entrance then turned around at the Scuppernong Paddle Trail mile marker 10 and let the tail winds guide us home. Before we called it a day, we continued beyond the landing and spent some time paddling along the town’s waterfront. A steady stream of Outer Banks’ westbound motorists sped along the bridge overlooking the river. Maybe one or two of them will see our kayaks drifting on the Scuppernong and decide to explore it themselves when they return back to the region between the sounds. The river piqued my interest a couple of years ago but today, it captured my full attention!

day's end paddle scuppernong river

 

 

So what exactly is a pocosin? Derived from a native American word for “swamp on a hill,” these flat, swampy coastal communities naturally occur along the Atlantic Coastal plain of the US from northern Florida to southern Virginia. They are also called southern shrub bogs and form in elevated wetlands between streams and creeks. Pocosin wetlands enhance wildlife habitat, lessen the impact of flooding and protect estuarine water quality.

 

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Paddling Milltail Creek

sawyercreekmilltailcreek

A group of Edenton paddlers recently traveled across the sound for an adventurous day exploring the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is home to black bear, deer, reptiles and a variety of waterfowl. Alligators and red wolves also inhabit the 152,000-acres of wild land, wetlands and water. Milltail Creek and Sawyer Lake are popular recreational areas within the boundaries of the refuge and a network of paddle trails is easily accessed from Hwy 64 approximately 15 miles west of Manteo, NC.

Milltail Creek Paddle Trails

Twelve of us caravanned from the Peanut Mill in Edenton, NC to the trailhead, which is located two miles off Hwy 64 at the end of Buffalo City Rd. Paddlers can choose among four paddle trails in the Milltail Creek/Sawyer Lake region of the refuge. Each trail has a color-coded marker along the route that directs paddlers to trail changes and/or trail intersections. Our group was excited to explore these designated paddling trails, which are also called water trails or blueways. Multi-agency coordination, non-profits and volunteers have developed hundreds of miles of trails throughout the Albemarle Sound. Developed paddle trails provide printed and digital information, convenient access, signage, safe parking areas and alternate routes that can accommodate a wide variety of user groups.

millcreekpaddletrailmarker

Novice paddlers and families with young children can enjoy the 1.5-mile loop (red) trail that includes a paddle through a narrow canal and a strand along Milltail Creek. There’s also a 5.5-mile point-to-point option (blue trail) along Milltail Creek, which requires a shuttle or a vehicle drop from a canoe/kayak access point along Milltail Rd. The yellow trail follows Milltail Creek west for four miles to the confluence of the Alligator River. The round trip out-and-back is approximately eight miles. The green trail follows the small canal to a passageway that leads paddlers to beautiful Sawyer Lake.

Spirited Trip Leader

Allan, our group leader, always prepares well when he plans a group outing. He does his homework with the research, shoots us a trip summary and invitation. A few weeks later, a dozen or so local paddlers show up for the annual adventure. Allan also has a knack for keeping things fun and maintaining a “go with flow” attitude on each trip.

milltailcreeklanding

After we parked and surveyed the scene at this year’s outing, our energized group offloaded the boats and gear then shared ideas about which paddling trails we wanted to explore. A couple of others intuitively scouted out the launch options to various routes. Immediately from the launch area, boaters face a decision to paddle up a narrow canal (red trail) filled with alligator weed or sneak through a narrow passageway underneath a small bridge and escape into Milltail Creek. Since the wind was light in the morning, we opted for the wide-open space and methodically launched each of our boats, paddled under the wooden bridge, scooted through a weed-clogged barrier and eased into a panoramic view of Milltail Creek.

Even though we were only an hour or so from our paddling commute, we were now paddling in paradise on a gorgeous day and one filled with endless possibilities.

Milltail Creek

Our colorful kayaks provided a delightful contrast with the tannin-soaked water and green alligator weed-choked shoreline. Milltail Creek appeared more of a lake than a creek in some areas. We chose to hug the eastern shore where we soon noticed a trail marker with multiple colors that indicated the intersection of the green Sawyer Lake Trail. We continued along Milltail Creek and paddled approximately 1.5 miles into a beautiful cove. Once out of the cove, we noticed a significant headwind blowing from the south. We paddled another half mile and crossed over the expansive creek then continued along the west bank. A few of us noticed the blue markers along the trail as we completed a circuit on Milltail Creek.

redtrailmilltailcreek

Returning back to the landing, we took advantage of a restroom and snack break then forged ahead up the small canal trail. This section parallels the Sandy Ridge Wildlife Trail – a half-mile footpath that heads out of the parking lot. The narrow passage proved to be lots of fun as our train of boats zigzagged through alligator weed thickets, over downed trees and under outstretched limbs. After twenty minutes, we reached the same intersection that we had scoped out earlier and picked up the blue trail leading to Sawyer Lake.

Sawyer Lake

As we entered Sawyer Lake, OBX Kayak Adventures was leading an Alligator River NWR tour with approximately ten paddlers. The refuge offers licensed commercial outfitters special permits for guiding activities. Several outfitters from the Outer Banks conduct paddling tours to the area.

The lake is surrounded by wetland forests of bald cypress-gum, cedar, loblolly pine, and a variety of bay forest species. Remnant stands of Atlantic White Cedar can be observed throughout the refuge’s forests. We noticed several cavities hammered out by woodpeckers in a number of snags lining the shore. The shoreline is quite deceptive and really isn’t defined by solid ground. A few of us stuck our kayak paddles into the water as depth finders near the islands of alligator weed and lily pads. In most cases, we didn’t hit bottom.

fragrantwaterlilymilltailcreek

In a secluded cove, we instinctively huddled into a rafting group on the northeast corner of the lake and simply let the wind direct our course of travel. We seemed quite content drifting along as we marveled at the natural landscape and mirrored reflections of the lake, forest and sky. Conversations of the historic past were casually discussed. Days of moonshining, dodging revenuers and Buffalo City memoirs were tossed around as we unconsciously shared the natural wonders of wild space.

Reluctantly, we slowly paddled our final leg of the day’s journey. Combining the various trails, our group covered approximately seven miles while utilizing three different trails. Even though we didn’t observe any bears or alligators, the Milltail Creek paddling trip gifted us with a “taste of the wild” and a greater appreciation of the region we work live and play in. Our paddling experience in the Alligator National Wildlife Refuge reminded all of us how good it can be when we successfully balance conservation, education, research, and wildlife with nature, recreation and wilderness. Paddle on!

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Paddling Season!

Perquimans River

Historic Hertford, NC along the Perquimans River

My wife and I have officially begun the 2016 paddling season. April Fools Day marked our first anniversary residing in northeastern NC. This year we’re expanding our paddling region so public access and boat landings have been on our minds ever since we’ve been researching the countless options along the creeks, rivers and open waters of the Albemarle Sound Basin. Here’s two paddling parks on the north side of the sound that provide convenient access, safe parking and additional amenities that enhance the paddling experience –one’s a hometown favorite and the other’s just a short drive down the sound.

Discover the Perquimans River

Every time I drive over the Perquimans River, I slow down, stretch my neck out and look out over the broad body of water and the cypress-lined banks. There’s several paddling trails along the river and it’s tributaries. On a recent scouting trip, my wife and I drove to Historic Hertford and spent an afternoon paddling a section of the Perquimans. We put in at Missing Mill Park, which is located just a few blocks from downtown Hertford. The park facilities include picnic tables, a canoe/kayak launch, a fishing pier and a boardwalk.

missing mill park

Missing Mill Park paddle sport launch

There are several route options paddlers can access from Missing Mill Park including Raccoon Creek Trail, Mill Creek Trail and sections of the Perquimans River Trail. Most of these trails offer overnight camping platforms for multi-day trips. We launched our boats in 15 mph winds with gusts over 20 mph so we opted for a shorter trip upstream. We paddled along the eastern side to avoid a strong headwind and turned around at Windfall Park, which provides an alternative launching area. On our return we wanted to explore Tom’s Creek but a large power line was obstructing the entrance under the railroad trestle. These “discovery” trips give one a taste of paddling in a new area and a chance to check out other trails and public access areas for future adventures. Up next for us will be a morning excursion along the Mill Creek Trail.

Pembroke Creek Park

Chowan County has recently completed a public water access for paddle sport and fishing at Pembroke Creek Park in Edenton, NC. The improvement project included new handicap parking areas, installation of two 50’ piers, and a floating dock for kayak and canoe launch. A storage shed, solar lighting along the boardwalk, a new bulkhead and an improved entrance were also part of the project, which was funded through a $149,720 grant from the NC Public Beach and Coastal Waterfront Access Program with matching funds from the county. The park is located at 716 West Queen St. approximately 1.5 miles west of downtown Edenton.

Pembroke Creek Park

Pembroke Creek Park improvements include a new floating paddle sport launch

My wife and I recently utilized the new floating launch pad and found it very user-friendly for both launching and take out. The two 50’ piers, which were built perpendicular to an existing boardwalk allow anglers access to deeper water and provide more surface area for casting. We also noticed new picnic tables and a few new benches installed along the boardwalk. Be sure to come by for a picnic or a day-trip along the creek and enjoy the new improvements.

The 4-mile Pembroke Creek Trail includes a couple of point-to-point options requiring a shuttle or multiple vehicles. There are three sets of camping platforms located on John’s Island. Most local paddlers put in at the Edenton’s Town Harbor floating dock or Pembroke Creek Park. There are several smaller creeks to explore, light development and beautiful cypress and gum forested banks. The area is popular among bass anglers so there can be moderate motorboat activity especially on weekends during fishing tournaments. Boaters should also be cautious on the stretch of open water while paddling along the shallow bay that can quickly turn rough on windy days and storms.

Both of these paddle trails offer many options from short day-trips to overnight camping. So if you’re looking for a couple of convenient paddle-friendly parks, check out these two gems and set aside a little time to visit the charming waterfront towns while you’re exploring the area.

 

 

 

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Take a Virtual Tour of the Roanoke River

Roanoke River TrailA partnership with GOOGLE Trekker and The Conservation Fund is helping to connect people all around the world with NC’s Roanoke River Paddle Trail and five other historic American trails. Carol Shields, Executive Director for the Roanoke Rivers Partners, Inc. explained, “This project was the result of RRP’s long-time partnership with The Conservation Fund.”

According to the The Conservation Fund’s news release, the project used Google’s Street View Trekker; a 4-foot-tall, 40-pound camera and backpack. Using this technology, staff from the Fund and its local partners set out to create a 360-degree digital view of the trails, waterways, landscapes, vistas and outdoor sites where America’s story begins.

Be sure to check out the virtual tour and plan on scheduling an outing this year along one of the Southeast’s finest and wildest rivers!

NEWS RELEASE

TAKE A VIRTUAL TOUR OF AMERICAN HISTORY WITH THE CONSERVATION FUND AND GOOGLE MAPS
Featuring Iconic Lands Where Natives, Pioneers, Soldiers and Other Heroes Shaped America

ARLINGTON, Va. (March 8, 2016) – For the second year, The Conservation Fund has teamed up with Google Maps to provide Street View virtual tours of some of America’s most renowned and treasured places. From the hallowed battlefields of Gettysburg to the rugged trails that Lewis and Clark explored on their journey west, people can now explore, hike and paddle—via their digital devices—important historic and cultural sites protected by The Conservation Fund and its partners at Google Map’s Street View.

Using Google’s Street View Trekker, a 4-foot-tall, 40-pound camera and backpack, staff from the Fund and its local partners set out to create a 360-degree digital view of the trails, waterways, landscapes, vistas and outdoor sites where America’s story begins. Read more…

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