Edenton National Fish Hatchery & Aquarium

Striped Bass at Edenton National Fish Hatchery

NC boasts one of the nation’s best striped bass fisheries

Last week, I spent a leisurely afternoon strolling around the Edenton National Fish Hatchery & Aquarium (ENFH). The facility is operated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and serves as one of the oldest in the nation. For more than a century, the Edenton Fish Hatchery has been raising warm water fish for public use and restoration.

Some visitors are surprised to discover that the hatchery includes a small aquarium, which features various aquatic species living in Eastern NC. The aquarium has a number of interesting interpretive displays, a 700-gallon tank and three smaller tanks.

Visitors are also invited to walk around the rearing ponds and enjoy the scenic wetland boardwalk, which overlooks Pembroke Creek. The raised boardwalk is an ideal wildlife observation area. During my tour, I spotted a variety of woodland birds, several species of waterfowl and a Bald Eagle perched in a towering cypress.

Edenton National Fish Hatchery boardwalk

The Edenton National Fish Hatchery plays an important role in our state’s concerted efforts to maintain healthy fish populations in the region’s waters. According to their brochure, the ENFH “produces more than 200,000 striped bass for interjurisdictional restoration each year.” Naturally, fish migrate across various state boundaries and waters. Some of the fish raised and tagged at Edenton have been caught as far away as Cape Hatteras to New England.

From Restoration to Recreation

The hatchery currently provides restoration efforts for American Shad, repopulates or restores fish species impacted by natural or manmade disasters and assists in fishery management to other National Wildlife Refuges in the Carolinas and Virginia.

From a recreational perspective, North Carolina anglers are very appreciative of all of the fish hatchery projects around the Tar Heel State. Results from a 2011 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Participation Survey revealed that 1.5 million NC residents and non-residents fished our state’s waters. And thanks to the ENFH’s historic conservation, preservation and enhancement efforts, they continue to provide great angling opportunities for our region.

The fish hatchery is located at 1102 W. Queen St., Edenton, NC and is open to the public year round, weekdays from 7:00 am – 3:30 pm.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Queen Anne Creek – Jewel along the Albemarle

paddletrailsalbemarlesound

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.

edentonbay

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.

hayesplantationbridgequeenannecreek

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.

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.

bodieislandblackducks

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).

 

 

 

 

Sound-to-Sea Adventures

soundtoseabeach

October can be one of the best times to visit the Albemarle Sound and the Outer Banks. Autumn ushers in cooler weather, subtle fall colors and secluded beaches. WaveLINKS recently hit the road on a sound-to-sea day trip filled with yummy food, hiking adventures and seasonal discoveries.

1st stop: Belcross Bake Shoppe

The River City Cycling Club includes this delightful bakery along their 33-mile Tarwheel route from Elizabeth City through Camden, NC. After trying one of the bakery’s famous sweet potato biscuits, I found myself willing to extend the distance and cycle all the way from Edenton! Check out their popular ham & cheese or bacon & cheese pinwheel biscuits specially baked on Tuesdays only. Or pick up some their takeout baked goods and sweet treats too. Lunch specials include Shepherds pie, biscuit potpie and a fiesta taco salad. Family owned and very friendly service!

Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve

According to the Nature Conservancy, which owns and manages the preserve, Nags Head Woods is one of North Carolina’s most significant natural areas and one of the Outer Banks’ most important community resources. The 1,400-acre preserve features a variety of fauna and flora including a maritime deciduous forest, a maritime shrub forest, several interdunal ponds, more than 50 species of birds and over 300 species of plants. The ancient wooded dunes afford a steep contrast to the adjacent seaside landscape. Large holly and beech trees remind me of the forested coves in the southern Appalachians.

soundtoseapreserve

Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve

The preserve offers several hiking and wildlife viewing opportunities – a .5-mile handicap accessible loop trail to longer, more strenuous hikes of up to five miles. We opted to combine a couple of trails including the scenic Roanoke and Discovery Trails. From the visitor’s center parking lot, the trail immediately introduces you to the lush, wooded dunes and fresh water ponds throughout the forest. We picked up the Roanoke Trail after crossing over the sandy Old Nags Head Rd. The 1.5-mile out and back trail meanders through the salt marsh, crosses over a board walk and ends at a beautiful beach and overlook along the Roanoke Sound.

dogfriendlyalbemarlesound

 

The Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve’s ADA Trail is ideal for families with small children and those with disabilities. The ½-mile loop trail is a combination of paved surfaces and boardwalks that overlook an interdunal freshwater pond and a brackish marsh.

Hideaway Beach

Sorry but we can’t give away all of our secrets! Here’s a hint though, south of milepost 16, beyond the vacation rentals and north of the Bodie Island Lighthouse. Some O’bankers call autumn the tranquil season or the season of tranquility. Sounds good to me especially when I find convenient parking, vacant beaches and a Carolina blue sky all to my lonesome. This is the perfect season to pack a lunch or stop by the deli at Kill Devil Hills Stop N Shop and grab a beach lunch to go. Either way, you won’t be disappointed with your beachside picnic.

soundtoseamarina

Coinjock Marina & Restaurant

Migration Season

I recently heard that the general rule of thumb for the return of migrating Tundra Swans to the Albemarle Peninsula is the first full moon in November. The month before begins another seasonal ritual when southbound boaters sail toward southern latitudes along the Intracoastal Waterway (IRC). My wife and I witnessed this funky phenomenon while taking the road less traveled to Coinjock Marina and Restaurant. Happenstance can lead travelers to some of the most entertaining adventures and this was definitely the case as we enjoyed an autumn sunset while dining along the waterfront of the IRC. The captains and the deckhands amusingly provided the entertainment for the evening. We heard tall tales from the sea. One young sailor talked about snow on the bow just a few weeks ago after he set sail from New England. Another captain and his wife shared adventures of their four-week odyssey and “loose” plans to sail to “Key West and beyond!” All the while, deckhands offered their assistance along the marina’s long fixed face dock.

Coinjock Marina & Restaurant is a mariner’s delight and a favorite stopover for boats making the “cut” between the Currituck Sound and the North River, which empties into the Albemarle Sound. Part of the attraction is the friendly customer service but some of it is the restaurant’s reputation for fine food and drink. Boaters often call in advanced dinner orders for its famous 32 oz. prime rib.

My wife and I chose a selection of specials including their Hatteras Clam Chowder, a ‘skewered’ catch-of-the-day sampler of tuna, shrimp and scallops, along with a tasty appetizer of lump crab cakes. During our meal, over 15 boats came in to dock and nearly all of those on deck had a cheerful smile on their face but no shoes on their feet!

Our day trip along the north side of the Albemarle could be charted exactly like one of the salty dog’s take on his day on the ICW. “Eight bells and all’s well!”

Cycle NC Ride Returns to Edenton in 2016

2016 Cycle NC Coastal Ride Edenton, NC

 

Online registration for the exciting 3-day cycling event begins October 24, 2015. Here’s a press release on the event:

Cycle NC Coastal Ride
Edenton, NC
April 22-24, 2016

DURHAM, N.C. (September 10, 2015) – North Carolina Amateur Sports announced that the thirteenth annual Cycle North Carolina Coastal Ride will return to Edenton, NC on April 22-24, 2016. Cycling routes of varying lengths from 5 miles to 100 miles will be offered to celebrate the start of the spring cycling season.

Edenton will host the Coastal Ride for the fifth time, allowing participants to camp along the waterfront in downtown or inside at the armory. Many other participants will fill the hotels, bed and breakfast inns and vacation homes for the weekend.

cycling events albemarle sound edenton

photo courtesy of Kip Shaw Photography

The fun-filled weekend will offer three days of cycling and feature some great Coastal Carolina food, music and festivities. The CNC Coastal Ride will also include many off-the-bike recreational activities in the Edenton area. Canoeing, kayaking, bird watching, historic tours, boat rides and beautiful sunsets will fill time away from the bike and provide the participants with many different ways to experience what Edenton has to offer.

The Coastal Ride has set a participation record every year since 2011. Participation has grown from just over 1,000 cyclists to over 1,400 in that time. Edenton was the host for the inaugural Coastal Ride, where 550 cyclists participated. Click here for more info.

 

 

Cycling Around the Albemarle Sound

Views of Croatan Sound reward cyclists along Manteo's multi-use path.

Views of Croatan Sound reward cyclists along Manteo’s multi-use path.

My wife and I recently moved to the land along the Albemarle Sound. Cycling the area has been a great way to discover the coastal region. I’ve always enjoyed exploring a new place while I’m running, hiking, walking or riding. You instantly get a ‘feel’ of the topography, smell the fresh tilled farms and develop a muscle memory of the landscape. There’s something about cycling that causes me to reflect upon a pleasant nostalgia of distant journeys, dirt-ball adventures and happenstance encounters. So whenever I clip in, saddle up and ride along the white line of the highway, I eventually contemplate the past, present and future. If you’re planning your own cycling adventure along the Albemarle Sound, here’s a few pre-trip planning resources that might assist you with your next ride.

Albemarle Sound Advice

North Carolina Department of Transportation’s (NCDOT) Division of Bicycle & Pedestrian Transportation designated a system of bicycling highways. They publish free maps of each route. The state system of bike-friendly routes offer nine different routes that cover over 3,000 miles of lightly traveled highways. Several years ago, I traveled the 300-mile Ports of Call Route (NC Bike Route 3) from South Carolina to Virginia. The route leads cyclists along a historic colonial-era rendezvous of the Tar Heel state’s historic port cities and towns.

bike route

The Division of Bicycle & Pedestrian Transportation also publishes regional and local maps. One of the ‘go-to’ guides I suggest for cyclists of all levels is Bike Albemarle. The guide offers more than a dozen local loop routes, several connector routes and additional state and extended routes. The resourceful guide showcases interesting towns, points of interest, bicycle shops, restaurants and camping facilities. I’ve found the map the perfect planner and companion guide for local day-trips to weeklong outings. All of the maps provide a section of bicycle safety and NC state laws, which are useful for both novice and experienced riders.

Cycling the Outer Banks

There are several cycling options along the OBX albeit summer months may not be the best season for cyclists due to the increased traffic and visitation to the coast. The Dare County Bicycle Map offers a series of contiguous rides along wide paved shoulders, multi-use paths, and other longer routes including a section of the Mountains to Sea cross-state bicycling highway. The 7-mile side-path option along Roanoke Island offers a perfect outing for families. A number of historic sites and parks can be conveniently accessed along the trail including Roanoke Island Festival Park, NC Maritime Museum, NC Aquarium and Fort Raleigh Historic Site.

Part of a rewarding and successful cycling experience begins with a detailed map and a trip checklist. So order a free set of maps to help you navigate the scenic backroads along the sound. Be safe and invite a friend along for your next ride!

cyclingalbemarlesound

Craft Beer, Small Batch & Big Rewards!

Weeping Radish - craft beer on the Albemarle SoundA fine beer may be judged with only one sip, but it’s better to be thoroughly sure.

I laughed when I walked in the pub and read the quote inscribed on the chalkboard. Down near the bar, a couple was test-driving a flight of small batch beer crafted on site at Weeping Radish Brewery Butchery & Pub. Over the past decade, North Carolina has quickly sprouted into one of the top craft-beer states in the nation. According to the NC Craft Brewers Guild, “The state boasts the greatest number (132) of craft breweries in the American South.” Weeping Radish can claim fame as being the Tar Heel State’s oldest operating brewery and one of three microbreweries located within the Albemarle Sound corridor.  The Currituck County brewery has “proudly brewed on the Outer Banks since 1986.”

The unique brewery-farm-pub often surprises travelers making their manic drive to or from the Outer Banks. The brewery is located on the Caratoke Hwy. which straddles a narrow strip of rural mainland bordered by Currituck and Albemarle Sounds.

My wife and I scheduled a brewery visit while looping the sound on a 180-mile driving tour. I wanted to sample the “handcrafted 100% natural beers” so I set off on my own flight plan which included a chance to taste the microbrewery’s signature brews and a couple of their seasonal ales. The friendly waitress delivered us a paddle of seven, gently brewed beers. I reviewed the laminated beer cheat sheet which was placed below the paddle and in the same order as the flight of craft beers. Perfect!

 

Weeping Radish's flight of craft beersThe Bitter Bee was first choice in my flight and definitely the one which sounded the most intriguing. This was the brewery’s version of an American IPA but distinctively brewed with locally sourced honey. My wife & I took turns sipping on the golden-colored ale. We both noticed a subtle yet lingering taste of honey. The IPA was light on the “hoppy” side and it had a  ‘creamier’ texture than most traditional IPA’s. My first take: A refreshing summer IPA with a slight hint of citrus.

The flight guide described their Ruddy Radish as a “bright ruby colored, well-balanced dry hopped with strong malt character.” The medium body ale had a slight but pleasant buttery aroma and mild notes of caramel. The OBX Kolsch may have been my favorite! The crisp, light and fruity flavor and medium carbonated beer paired well with the pub’s soft baked pretzel — so well, that I treated myself to a 4-pack of OBX Kolsch to share with my friends back home. Oh yeah, and a mixed pack of Ruddy Radish, Bee Bitter and Corolla Gold.

On your next outing to the Outer Banks, be sure to stop by the brewery or search for the fine local craft beer at this location.

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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