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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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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South of the Sound Autumn Fundraisers

pocosin arts columbia, NC albemarle soundHere’s a couple of special fundraisers to help welcome the fall season. These exciting opportunities feature two unique sound side centers. One event includes a benefit auction hosted by a regional arts center. The other fundraiser presents a family friendly paddling tour which benefits a local environmental/sustainable agriculture organization. Get out and support these organizations, which help promote a better understanding and appreciation of the cultural and natural resources of eastern NC. Have fun, plug-in and get involved!

 

Pocosin Arts Albemarle Sound

Annual Benefit Auction at Pocosin Arts
Columbia, NC
Saturday (9/26)
5 – 9 pm

Come out for an exciting evening of art, music, local seafood and fun! Pocosin Arts has been promoting the arts of the Albemarle Sound region with classes, workshops and retreats for more than 20 years. The non-profit center is located on the historic waterfront in Columbia, NC along the Scuppernong River.

Pocosin Arts

Circle Jar by Matt Repsher
2015

Several established and emerging artists have generously donated their mixed-media works of art. Featured artists include resident ceramic artist, Matt Repsher and renowned North Carolina artist Robert Johnson. Johnson’s work blends surreal landscape paintings and ‘field guide’ inspired botanical sketches. His paintings have been exhibited in the North Carolina Museum of Art, The Eno Gallery, The Asheville Art Museum and The Morris Museum of Art. All proceed benefit Pocosin Arts.

Click here to register and to view the complete schedule of events. $

 

Paddling Albemarle Sound

Fall paddling along the Albemarle Sound
Photo courtesy of Susan Johnson

Spruill Farm Fun Paddle
Roper, NC
Saturday (10/24)
7am – 3pm

Enjoy a fun full day of paddling, food and adventure along Kendrick Creek and the Albemarle Sound. The 5–7 mile excursion benefits the Spruill Farm Conservation Project, a 110-acre farm that engages in sustainable farming, environmental research and education.  A light breakfast and full lunch will be served.

To guarantee a commemorative t-shirt, register online by Friday (10/16), 2pm. Registration day of event 7–8:30am. Participants may bring their own boats or kayak/canoe rentals can be reserved in advance at Roanoke Outdoor Adventures. $

 

 

 

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