Occasionally, planning a group outing can take weeks of preparation and planning. Not this one. Instead it seemed to create a life of its own, a simple twist of fate and the next thing we know, we were venturing out on a spring passage that would return us to forever.
Not really but here’s how it all got started. Last month, I ran into one of my local paddling partners at the Edenton Farmers Market. I greeted him with, “Let’s plan another paddling trip.” Allan encouragingly agreed, “Send me some ideas and dates and I’ll take it from there.” Three weeks later, five paddlers were caravanning down NC-45 heading to Goose Creek State Park for a spring sampling of Pamlico paddling.
Telltales & Tall Tales
The park’s boat ramp at Dinah’s Landing is located approximately 12 miles east of Washington, NC in Beaufort County. We managed to load five kayaks onto two vehicles. I was riding shotgun and my job was navigator since I was the only one in our group who has paddled the Goose Creek Canoe Trail and the surrounding waters along the Pamlico River. Allan was driving and my neighbor, Mary was squeezed in the back seat between the gear. Manú and Maridale were right behind us in their car towing a nifty trailer and two spiffy kayaks. Both of them are experienced kayakers who gained most of their expertise on the Chesapeake Bay.
Our shuttle group caught up with each other while we traveled down the rural landscape. We randomly started sharing paddling “misadventures” over the years. Allan told us about a twenty-mile paddling trip on the Roanoke River. He and a friend had concocted the last minute trip over a few beers the night before. They got up the next morning and spotted a vehicle at the take out near the mouth of the river then drove to the put-in at Windsor, NC. The pair shared a full-day, full sun paddle that seemed like it would take forever. So this is the portion of the story that relates to “forever.”
I mentioned my all-star launch on the floating boat ramp along the Scuppernong River. In front of a large group of tourists, I embarrassed myself and my wife as the stern of my kayak got hung up on the defective ramp causing me to initiate a wet exit into the murky water. My wife got a big laugh out of it!
Both Allan and Mary recalled their Dismal Swamp/Lake Drummond group outing and the infamous cypress tree that was supposed to serve as their bearing point to reenter the canal. The problem they encountered after six hours on the water was that every cypress tree on Lake Drummond looked identical to their telltale landmark. Oops! This is second reference to the subtitle “forever.”
Wind on the Water, Sunshine on our Backs
We arrived at Dynah’s landing and scouted out an area to launch our kayaks. A grassy area parallel to the sandy shoreline provided our staging area as we off loaded the boats, gear, food and drink. A light breeze signaled an opportunity to paddle out to the expansive Pamlico River before the forecasted wind and chop increased. So we excitedly launched our boats, casually paddled out of the Upper Goose Creek to the river. A pod of dolphins immediately greeted us and appeared to escort our group along the southern shores of Goose Creek State Park. We paddled approximately a mile east taking in the views of the river and the narrow strip of marshland that separated Flatty Creek from the Pamlico River.
As we turned around and reversed our direction, I was surprised how the morning light, now behind us, accentuated the surface texture of the water. Each little ripple seemed to appear in high-definition in contrast to the land and sky. Just a few minutes earlier, the glare directly into the sun had dulled the light and exposed the thick moisture in the air. Now we all had brighter skies and a slight headwind to negotiate until we dipped back into the protected waters of Goose Creek. Without acknowledging the fact, we all knew we had made a good decision to paddle the river section of our trip first thing in the morning before the wind picked up.
As we entered the mouth of Upper Goose Creek, we saw a few pleasure boats and anglers trolling the shallow water near Flatty Creek. We hugged the eastern shore and continued along a remnant Cypress grove and exposed stumps closer to land. An hour into our trip, we paddle into the entrance of Flatty Creek. The thin strip of land we had seen while paddling the river provided a nice buffer against the wind. The stillness of the water against the Carolina blue sky was magnificent. Maridale noticed a large bird of prey perched in the top of a snag on the northern bank. Manú pulled out his binoculars and quickly confirmed the Bald Eagle.
I had observed a pair of eagles in the spring during a weekend camping and paddle boarding trip so it was refreshing to share a similar experience with my paddling pals. We soaked in the stillness and slowly drifted with the light wind through the narrowing creek. The water level was higher since the last time I paddled in the area so we were able to explore much deeper into Flatty Creek. I pointed out the 351-acre natural area of the park that is designated a National Natural Landmark. According to the National Park Service, which administers the program, the National Natural Landmarks Program recognizes and encourages the conservation of sites that contain outstanding biological and geological resources.
Only 13 properties in North Carolina share this unique designation. The .3-mile Flatty Creek Trail near the park’s campground provides hikers with an up-front and personal experience of the native flora and fauna of the park. A boardwalk and overlook leads visitors to an outstanding view of Flatty Creek.
If the Pamlico provided the “welcome” this morning, Flatty Creek felt like she kindly said, “Y’all come back” as we reluctantly parted her sanctuary and returned to the freshening southwest winds blowing across the upper reaches of Goose Creek.
We paddled around the bluff on the west side of the campground and beached our boats in a small protective cove. The group enjoyed a lunch-with-a-view from the two park benches on the bluff that are located at the western terminus of the 2.5-mile Goose Creek Trail. The hiking trail traverses the park’s southern shoreline and runs from the campground to the beach and swimming area.
From our lofted dining point, we ate a light lunch as we watched cruising boats and gliding kayaks on Goose Creek. After lunch we would continue our adventure along the Goose Creek Canoe Trail.
Each member of our party seemed eager to begin the afternoon session of our paddling excursion so we packed up our lunch, returned to the boats and one-by-one launched our crafts back into the water. A few of our party opted to utilize the campgrounds restrooms and take a sneak peek at the camping sites. I refilled my water bottles and chatted with a few boaters preparing to launch their SUP’s.
I’ve camped all four seasons at the park and I’ve shared the campground with sailors, boaters, paddlers, anglers and others who enjoy family camping.
Run the Same River Twice
The final leg of our trip seemed to be icing on the cake as we wittingly paddled the tranquil waters of Goose Creek. Manú took the unofficial lead toward the backwaters. We all seemed to be in awe of the splendid beauty of the natural landscape. A downed pine obstructed the passage along the stream’s most northern reach. But Manú carefully threaded the needle and led us all through a sneak route toward further adventures. We all followed one-by-one until we crossed over into a section of creek that seemed almost primordial. Rays of sunlight penetrated through the canopy of cypress, gum and cedar to highlight blossoms of swamp rose and lizards tail. A stunning outcrop of florescent green sedge sprouted from a rotting stump. Each bend of the creek lured us further upstream.
The lush vegetation slowly crowded in on us obstructing the breeze and trapping the moisture in the air. We decided to depart the dense wetland and return to the refreshing breeze on the open water. Once on the main channel of Goose Creek, we continued along the trail until the creek became impassible.
The final stretch to the landing became a reflective and joyous retreat. We combined three waterways to complete the 7-mile round trip and in turn the streams connected us to the region of the Pamlico. We’ll return that’s for sure but for now, we all realize that we shared a special day paddling the tributaries of the Tar-Pamlico River Basin.
Goose Creek State Park is located approximately 12 miles east of Washington, NC in Beaufort County on the north side of the Pamlico River. The peninsula-shaped property encompasses 1,672 acres and a variety of coastal plain habitats – from extensive wetlands along the rivers and creeks to cypress swamps and saltwater marshes.
2190 Camp Leach Rd, Washington, NC 27889; (252) 923-2191; firstname.lastname@example.org
Local Outfitter ~ Inner Banks Outfitters
Start or end your trip with a visit to Inner Banks Outfitters. Friendly, knowledgeable staff and full service paddling & cycling services. The shop offers kayak and paddle board rentals, paddling gear and accessories. Located on Runyon Creek near the City of Washington’s Havens Garden public boat ramp.
And while you’re there…
Stop by their neighbors at Blackwater Jacks Tiki Bar & Grill for some fine coastal seafood, a great selection of craft beers on draft, live music and monthly tiki parties!