Autumn Events Happening along the Albemarle Sound Sneak Preview

AutumnEventsalongAlbemarleSoundThe dog days of August are upon us and some folks are eagerly looking forward to fall adventures. Autumn along the Albemarle Sound transitions well from the summer tourist season along the coast. Cooler temps, clear skies and a refreshing breeze beacons all of us to continue our outdoorsy ways and celebrate whatever season blows our way. Here’s a fall sampler of serious fun and excitement. Take advantage of the “coastal comfort” and check off a few of these outings on your fall calendar. There’s a little something for everyone – from the artist to the outdoorsman to the wine and craft beer enthusiast or history buff. How about a challenging hundred-mile bike ride through the countryside or a point-to-point foot race along the Outer Banks? We may have to weather a few hurricanes or tropical storms in the near future so get ready for an active autumn and cheers to an endless summer!

2017 Pocosin Arts Annual Benefit Auction

Pocosin Arts Annual Benefit Auction
September 23, 2017
Columbia, NC

Pocosin Arts welcomes you to an exciting evening under the stars to view and bid on more than 100 handcrafted works of art in their silent and live auctions. Great food, fellowship, arts and crafts and local craft beer!

Proceeds help support the arts center’s scholarship programs. These scholarships allow countless students to participate in the workshops, classes and weekly programs at Pocosin Arts. Béatrice Coron is this year’s featured Artist. The local culture, flora, fauna, and wildlife inspire her art. $

 

Cotton Country Century 2017

2017 Cotton Country Century
September 24, 2017
Greenville, NC

Welcome in the fall season with your two-wheeled friends and cycle along scenic country roads through the flat countryside of Eastern North Carolina. The Cotton Country Century offers three routes and distances — a 30-mile route, a metric century (62 miles) and an English century (100 miles). The routes are on lightly traveled country roads in the heart of cotton country USA. The 2017 CCC will start and end in Greenville, NC at Trollingwood Taproom & BreweryRegistration is required by Thursday, September 21, 2017. $

 

The Lost Colony Wine & Culinary Festival

The Lost Colony Wine & Culinary Festival
September 30, 2017
Manteo, NC

Fine wines, food, and craft beer and highlight this year’s fest held at the Lost Colony. Entertainment and seminars will compliment the event. The Roanoke Island Historical Association presents the inaugural two-day event. $

FR (9/29); Vintners Dinner at the Duck Woods Country Club. Tickets and more info.
SA (9/30) The Grand Tasting takes place at the Sound Stage Theatre surrounded by the beautiful views of Roanoke Sound. Local restaurants will pair their fine foods with a variety of wines from Virginia Dare Winery. More info.

2017 Duck Jazz Festival

2017 Duck Jazz Festival
October 7 & 8, 2017
Duck, NC

Enjoy live music from a variety of jazz performers at the beautiful outdoor town green. Food and drinks will be available to purchase from local restaurants. Festival participants are invited to bring food, coolers, chairs, blankets and pets.  Beach umbrellas and tents are prohibited. Click here for an updated line-up of performers and more information. FREE.

 

Queen Elizabeth II sails to Edenton, NC

Elizabeth II Sails to Edenton
October 13 & 14
Edenton, NC

In celebration of the 1767 Chowan County Courthouse 250th Anniversary, the Elizabeth II will leave their Festival Park port in Manteo, NC and travel up the Albemarle Sound to Historic Edenton. On Friday, NC students will tour the boat. The boat will be available for touring by the public on Saturday. More info. FREE.

 

Sound Rivers

31st Annual Oyster Roast for Sound Rivers
November 11, 2017
Washington, NC

Come out and join the non-profit organization to celebrate the lowly oyster and the beautiful Tar-Pamlico River. Steamed oysters and chili served under the stars with The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery on tap. Soft drinks and other beers will be available, with a silent auction for your bidding pleasure.

Oysters served from 6:15pm until about 8:30pm. Music begins at 7:30 for dancing and fun.

Sound Rivers monitors and protects the Neuse River and Tar-Pamlico River watersheds, which cover nearly one-quarter of North Carolina. Through partnerships with concerned citizens, members and three riverkeepers, the non-profit organization strives to preserve the health and beauty of the river basin through environmental justice. More info. $

2017OuterBanksMarathon

12th Annual Outer Banks Marathon Weekend
November 10-12
Outer Banks, NC

A full weekend of competition, fitness, fun and running events for the entire family. Choose your flavor from a full-fledge marathon to a family fun run with a number of options and distances sprinkled in between.

Here’s a summary of races and information to get you started. Click here to register and more info. Please check the event’s website for specific times and dates of the various events. $

SU (11/12), 7AM- Towne Bank Outer Banks Marathon & Southern Fried Half Marathon

Running Swag
Relays
Custom Medals For All Finishers
Free Shuttle Service (26.2 & 13.1)
Event T-Shirt
Free Runner Food & Beer (21+)
Runner Expo – Open To The Public
4 Challenges
5k & Full | 5k & Half | 8k & Full | 8k & Half

 

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Weather or Not, Here We Go! Midwinter Sound Sampler

Midwinter Sound Sampler of things to do around the Albemarle SoundSo far this winter, we’ve experienced a baffling pattern of weather. A series of cold, windy days gives way to near record high temperatures the following day. Just when you start to take advantage of a spring-like day, the weather changes. Regardless of the unpredictable forecast, we’ve designed a sundry list of things-to-do for the next month or so. This midwinter sampler of events includes a celebration of Black History Month and a state park rain-or-shine outing. We’ve also featured a local Mardi Gras fundraiser and a spring gardening workshop. As you all know, when February rolls around, we coastal plain dwellers optimistically predict that spring is only a few weeks away. Some years, that’s certainly the case so keep your fingers crossed and sync one or two of these events to your personal calendar. We tried to make it easy for you by including indoor and outdoor events. And just in case the fickle weather continues, we added a few more options under the quick-links listings.

Judging by the early display of flowering quince and daffodils blooming in my neighborhood, it looks like smooth (spring) sailing ahead!

Featured Events

Black HIstory Month events along the Albemarle Sound

Slave Voices in North Carolina
Creswell High School Auditorium
Saturday, February 18, 1pm

Somerset Place State Historic Site will share a Black History Month lecture “Slave Voices in North Carolina,” at Creswell High School. The free program will present words from the enslaved including the personal narratives of Moses Roper, Lunsford Lane, and Harriet Jacobs; and the poetry of George Moses Horton.

Lucinda MacKethan, Ph.D. will present the lecture drawing from these narratives and interviews from the Works Program Administration. She will discuss how these works offer an authentic picture of how NC slaves lived, worked, created families, worshipped, and sometimes escaped from bondage.

The lecture will focus on Somerset Place in Creswell, and Historic Stagville State Historic Site in Durham. A reception will follow the program. This project is made possible by funding from the North Carolina Humanities Council. More info.

 

Programs at Goose Creek State Park

Wetland Wonders!
Goose Creek State Park
Washington, NC
Saturday, February 25, 2017 – 2:00pm

Spend the afternoon with a ranger while learning about the amazing animals that call our wetlands ‘home’.  This program will take place in the Discovery Room which is located in the visitor center. More info.

Goose Creek State Park's Discovery Room

 

 

Goose Creek State Park Trip tip ~ Plan on taking some extra time before or after the program to explore this natural treasure perched along Goose Creek and the Pamlico River. Check out the trails, enjoy a picnic and discover the coastal gem. Be sure to tour the wetlands along the .5 mile Palmetto Boardwalk or enjoy the family-friendly Discovery Room that includes interactive exhibits and a bird observation station.

2017 Mardi Gras Gala for the Outer Banks Children @ Play Museum

The 2017 Mardi Gras Gala for the Outer Banks Children @ Play Museum
Saturday, March 4, 2017, 7:00pm
Jarvisburg, NC

The event hosted by Sanctuary Vineyards features a traditional New Orleans style buffet, wine and beer, live music, dancing, a silent auction and more. Proceeds from the gala benefit the Outer Banks Children @ Play museum – a family interactive museum designed to encourage families to learn and grow together through play! Tickets sell out quickly. $65/person.

 

The Elizabethan Gardens Spring Annuals Workshop

Spring Annuals Workshop
Saturday, March 11, 10am – 12pm
Manteo, NC

The Elizabethan Gardens invites folks to come out from under the winter chill and join the staff for the hands-on workshop. Gardens and Facility Mgr. Jeffrey Wuilliez will discuss and demonstrate techniques in cutting, setting up and designing dormant beds, design layouts and the plantings of spring annuals. Advanced registration required. Limited to 12 participants. $15 for members. $30 for not-yet members.  Some events are subject to change and availability. Please call ahead to confirm details and interest 252.473.3234.

 

things to do along the Albemarle Sound

Midwinter Quick Links

Through February – College of the Albemarle’s Annual Jewelry ExhibitDare County Arts Council host this annual exhibit of jewelry and metalwork, featuring the talents of College of the Albemarle’s Professional Crafts: Jewelry Program.

The Historic Edenton State Historic Site celebrates Women’s History Month with Daily tours throughout March. The guided tours focus on the women who lived and impacted the town and beyond. Historic sites include the James Iredell House, St. Paul’s Church, Cupola House, Barker House and the 1767 Chowan County Courthouse.

SA (3/11), 8am – Running of the Leprechauns, Nags Head, NC. The annual event offers a choice of 5K & 10K routes. Post race party with Irish Stew, Sweet Potato Biscuits & Beer. Packet pick-up will be held at Outer Banks Sporting Events from 4:30-7pm on Friday and race morning from 7-7:45am.

SU (3/12), 1:00-2:30pm – Merchants Millpond State Park invites you to Canoe the Pond in a canoe or kayak.  This is a good time to get a closer look at the mistletoe deformed water tupelo trees, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and various plant life. Meet at the visitor center located at 176 Millpond Road, Gatesville, NC. 27938.  Canoes and kayak provided by the park. FREE. For more information call: (252) 357-1191.

(3/23–27) – The Outer Banks Restaurant Association presents the Outer Banks Taste of the Beach which features four days of food, drink, fun and festivities. This year’s festival includes beer pairings, wine tastings, cooking classes, special multi-course menu presentations, brewery tours, tapas crawls, cook-offs, showdowns and progressive dinners. Over 30 participating venues and nearly 60 events along the Outer Banks showcase the innovative culinary opportunities and talents of the region’s creative chefs.

 

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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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Autumn Scenes along the Sound

altumnalbemarlesoundcollage

Autumn seems to linger a little longer in the Sound Country. Here’s a few fall scenes we harvested this season that remind us of some of our favorite autumn adventures. Sip on some (hard) cider and enjoy!

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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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10 Outings around the Albemarle Sound

passport to 10 albemarle sound outingsWe’ve assembled a collection of outings that circumnavigate the region of the Albemarle Sound. Most of these explorations have been featured in our blog posts, digital guides and maps. Others are recommendations from some of our soundside friends, local guides and park rangers.  Sample a few of these destinations on your next day trip or create your own Albemarle Sound Passport and visit each of the ten locations listed below. You’re sure to develop a better appreciation of our beloved Albemarle Sound! Check out the interactive map to help guide you effortlessly along your next journey through the area. Some of the links direct you to more in-depth information that we’ve showcased in our articles while others land you directly onto a map or website. Either way, we’d like to point you in the right direction and encourage you to get out and explore the enchanting region of land and water.

If you discover other hidden treasures along your journey, please let us know and we’ll add them to our growing list of special places along the Albemarle Sound. Our “Things to Do” map includes over 200 regional listings devoted to those who travel with adventure in their hearts and a guide in their pocket!

Choose Your Flavor

10 Outings around the Albemarle Sound

 

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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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Spring Outings along the Sound

4 spring outings the Albemarle SoundApril can be one of the best months of the year to enjoy the region. Refreshing weather, fragrant blossoms and seasonal events fill the spring calendar. So get outside, beat the summer crowds and checkout these four spring outings along the Albemarle Sound.

Climb Bodie Island Lighthouse

Lighthouse Climbs and Tours
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Beginning Friday, April 15

Cape Hatteras National Seashore includes three lighthouses. Two of these are open seasonally for self-guided climbs. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the Bodie Island Lighthouse open their lighthouses beginning the third Friday in April through Columbus Day. Reward yourself after the strenuous climb with the towering views of the sound, surf and sea. Climbing tickets: $8 adults/ $4 senior citizens (62 or older), & children (11 and under, and at least 42″ tall).

 

spring outings easels in the garden

Easels in the Gardens
Edenton, NC
FR & SA (4/15 & 16)

The weekend of “open air” painting includes regional artists’ inspirational works of art in local gardens including the Colonial Revival Gardens surrounding Edenton’s iconic Cupola House. Activities include garden tours, music, food, workshops and art for children. Tickets for the two-day event includes admission to Saturday’s Garden Party, which features food, drink, an art sale and auction. $30 advance/$35 on day’s of the event. More info.

 

spring outings events albemarle sound

OBX Cares
Kill Devil Hills, NC
FR (4/22), 2 – 7pm

The Outer Banks Brew Station and OBX Cares team up for the 3rd Annual Earth Day Celebration and Benefit. OBX CARES is dedicated to the focus of earth-friendly mindfulness and animal rescue in Dare and surrounding counties. Come out and support the OBX Community for Animal Rescue & Earth Sustainability and enjoy live music, food, CARES Beer, pony rides, local art and crafts and a silent auction.

 

spring outings the elizabethan gardensThe Elizabethan Gardens
Manteo, NC
Open Year Round

Seasonal Sensations! The Gardens celebrate their 65th anniversary this year and April is a prime season to tour the gardens. Spring is in full bloom so enjoy a stroll through the Great Lawn and Colony Walk to observe everything from dogwoods and Columbine to roses and azaleas. The Elizabethan Gardens were established to honor the first English colonists in the New World at the site of the original settlement. The 12-acre garden provides cultural and educational opportunities that encourage an appreciation of the art of gardening. Be sure to stop by the gift shop located in the historic gatehouse. The gardens are open year-round, seven days a week. April hours of operation are 9am-5pm. Admission fees: Adult/$9, Youth/$6, Children/$3, Dogs/$3.

things to do along the Albemarle Sound

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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Tenkara Fly Fishing along the Albemarle Sound

tenkara fly fishing albemarle soundA gentleman fishing one of the local creeks last fall quickly caught my attention. I was returning from an afternoon of paddling and fishing on Queen Anne Creek. When I returned to the dock, the angler was enjoying one of many catches using a traditional fly rod. Colin introduced himself and then laughed as he joked that he had come out to test some of his hand tied flies. The combination of the angler’s joy, art and skill intrigued me. A few weeks later, I tried my own luck with fly fishing albeit a centuries old technique called Tenkara.

This simple form of fly fishing originated from Japan over two hundred years ago and is still one of the most popular Japanese fresh water angling today. Simple is fine with me especially when it comes to gear and equipment — think rod, line and fly – no reel! Here’s a quick Tenkara lesson for fishing fresh water streams on the fly along the Albemarle Sound.

Tenkara beginnings

Traditional Japanese rods are made from solid bamboo. Modern tenkara rods are constructed from ultra light, high-tech carbon fiber. Rods vary in length from 8.5 feet to 13 feet and anglers can easily cast lines from 12’–30′ or longer. One of the great advantages of the tenkara rods is that they are telescopic and conveniently break down into the rod’s butt section. The rod “telescopes” out of the largest section of the rod and quickly sets up in seconds. My Patagonia rod’s length is 10’6” but packs into its 20.5” base section. I can easily carry my rod and fishing kit with me while cycling or walking to local creeks.

Tenkara 101

Tenkara rods have a tag of line called a lilian that adjoins the tip of the rod. A level line (fly line) of various lengths (twenty-foot, twelve-foot, eight-foot) is slipped over and hitched to the lilian utilizing a turle knot. This allows quick transition to longer/shorter lines in the field. Finally, a 4’–6’ tippet is tied to the fly line and the fly. Lately, I’ve been averaging about 20-24 feet of total casting line.

Once I arrive at the stream, I simply unwind my desired length of line, gently pull out the tip section, seat with the adjoining section until I’ve properly set the entire rod. I chose the 10’6” model for it’s springy action and all-around length for fishing coastal creeks with dry flies, soft hackles and streamers.

Fly Fishing on Queen Anne Creek

Different strokes

Most folks who experience the rhythm of Tenkara use words like “intuitive, FUN and instinctive” when describing the feel of casting and setting the hook. I prefer to move the rod quickly back to a vertical point then release the rod forward to approximately 10 o’clock. This allows your line to move forward and present the fly toward your target. I place my index finger on top of the handle for better control. Instead of moving my wrist to create a twitching motion on the fly, I gently squeeze my smallest two fingers on the cork handle. The flexible tip gently reacts to the squeeze and transfers a subtle motion to the fly. The majority of my strikes emerge while I’m retrieving the line to make another cast.

Tenkara fishing Albemarle SoundCompared to conventional fly fishing, the tip of the rod is held relatively high after the cast. This keeps a tighter line making it easier to set the hook. When I land a fish, I casually raise the rod up higher and calmly reach for the line. Fishing with longer line requires one to tilt the rod back, keeping your arm low and close to the body when recovering the line. With larger catches, use the line versus the rod to lift the fish out of the water. After securing the line, I often lay the rod down on the ground or dock and use both hands to reel the line in. Again, this technique seems fairly natural after a couple of successful landings. Since November, I’ve been routinely catching bluegill, black perch and yellow perch in the shallow, grassy waters of Queen Anne Creek and Pembroke Creek.

While some traditionalists or fisher elitists may scoff at the Tenkara fly fishing method, I’ve found it very exciting and effective for anglers of all ages and abilities. When you combine elegance, art and recreation, it’s all good! Some guides are finding it to be a great introduction and teaching tool to fly fishing. Regardless of your preference, share the love of fishing and fish on!

 

 

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