Paddling the Scuppernong River

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

scuppernong river rendering

The Scuppernong River – Where Water meets Land

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

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

scuppernong river floating dock

Not so Perfect Landing

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

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

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

day's end paddle scuppernong river

 

 

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

 

Going Green in the Tar Heel State

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There appears to be an increasing trend of responsible travelers who consider the environment and sustainability when booking a trip, visiting a park or dining out at a local restaurant. Today it seems, “Going green is more than being cool, it is also smart!” From “green city” travel apps to eco-friendly lodging, more and more travelers, vendors, and travel organizations are choosing eco-friendly options. In May, Mandala Research and Sustainable Travel International released an 80+page report that surveyed nearly 3,000 travelers. Sixty-three percent of all travelers say they are much more likely to consider destinations where there is a strong effort to conserve and protect natural resources. Fortunately, the Tar Heel State offers a wealth of resources for the green-conscious traveler.

Businesses Strive toward a Green Standard

North Carolina’s GreenTravel Recognition Program is one of the most comprehensive in the nation. It was launched in 2011 becoming NC’s first statewide sustainable travel recognition program. Businesses that demonstrate a commitment to green tourism practices and achieve voluntary standards are eligible for recognition. These standards include compliance to regulatory rules and regulations, environmental protection policies, sustainability practices, waste reduction and recycling, energy management procedures and other guidelines.nc green travel initiativeGreen tourism operations include lodging, food service, attractions, museums, parks, vacation rentals, convention centers, festivals and other travel-oriented businesses. The initiative has been developed through a partnership of the North Carolina Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service; The Center for Sustainability at East Carolina University; Visit North Carolina, and the Waste Reduction Partners program.

Tim Rhodes, Program Director of the NC GreenTravel Initiative, recently explained, “The purpose of the NC GreenTravel Initiative is to encourage a strong economy and promote sustainable tourism by awarding recognition to those businesses that apply and are accepted into the program.” The recognition program promotes robust economic growth and environmental stewardship in the travel and hospitality sector through the recognition of “green” travel-oriented businesses. Best of all, there is no cost involved in becoming a recognized NC GreenTravel business.

Digital Directory & Helpful Links

The website is a valuable toolkit for both residents and visitors traveling in North Carolina. Visitors to the site can browse a list or navigate a state map of Recognized NC GreenTravel members across the state. Tourism sectors are broken into several categories from lodging, dining, attractions, parks, festivals, vine & wine, nature-based and breweries. More than 100 businesses, parks, travel centers and other tourism sites are listed on the map and crisscross the state from Walnut Hollow Ranch in Hayesville to Cape Hatteras B & B in Buxton. Rhodes noted that there are 14 North Carolina State Parks participating in the NC GreenTravel Initiative including Merchants Millpond State Park in Gatesville, NC. The initiative has recently announced that Sustainable Farms can now apply for recognition. Farms currently listed on the program’s website include Hop’n Blueberry Farm in Black Mountain, Summerfield Farms in Summerfield, Ninja Cow Farm in Raleigh and Good Karma Ranch in Iron Station. These farms have met and exceeded the required criteria for becoming recognized as a Sustainable Tourism Farm.

merchants millpond state park

NC GreenTravel recognized Green Park – Merchants Millpond State Park

Whether you’re a business or traveler, you’ll discover a number of sustainable travel resources and links throughout the website – from NC Agritourism, tips for sustainable practices to green dining. Thanks to this exciting green travel program and partnership, NC travelers can now easily discover and support sustainable businesses throughout the Old North State.

Want to learn more? The North Carolina Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service (NC DEACS) can help businesses become more sustainable by providing them with non-regulatory, no-cost technical assistance and information. For information about the services provided by NC DEACS, contact tom.rhodes@ncdenr.gov or call (919) 707-8140.

Green Trips & Tips Along the Albemarle Sound Region

 

 

Step back in time and stay at the Beechtree Inn located in Hertford, NC. Choose among five pre-Civil War houses perched along 40 acres. A few of the cottages are pet-friendly. After a hearty country breakfast, take a road trip to Merchants Millpond State Park. Rent a canoe and paddle the enchanted cypress swamp and millpond.

 

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Day 2. Enjoy a lovely north-of-the-sound drive to the Outer Banks. Start the morning along one of NC Birding Trails at North River Game Land in Camden Co. Spend a casual afternoon fishing or strolling along NC Aquarium’s Jennett’s Pier in Nags Head, NC. Be sure to buy some NC Local Catch seafood while your dining out or shopping at the local market.

 

Paddling Milltail Creek

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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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A Moveable Fest along the Albemarle Sound

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Even before the summer season officially begins, three towns along the Albemarle Sound and Outer Banks kick off a trio of festivals that highlight our region’s wonderful resources. Here’s a summer sampling of early festivals that welcome the season and promise to be filled with lots of summer fun! One features craft beer, one showcases the black bear and water takes center stage for another festival. The only challenge may be the fact that they take place along the same week or weekend. I’m opting for a moveable feast checking out the bears on Friday, paddling on Saturday and sipping on a delicious cold brew on Sunday. Three fests, spread out over 60 miles but connected by the Albemarle Sound!

outerbanks craft beer summer events albemarle sound

Outer Banks Craft Beer Week

May 30 – June 5
Various Venues along the Outer Banks

This year’s celebration of small batch brewing has grown from a single day craft beer fest in Nags Head into an exciting week-long marriage between the craft beer industry and the arts! The Outer Banks Craft Beer Week features multiple venues and sponsored events along NC’s Outer Banks! Event organizers have taken the best of last year’s favorite happenings and added six more days of brews-infused experiences including the OBX Brewfest, Brewathlon, a craft brewer retreat, live music, an art show, beer-meets-yoga, beach parties and more.

Over 80 breweries and soda purveyors will be featuring more than 180 styles of craft beverages. Tickets sold out last year so order early and enjoy one of the region’s best craft beer festival. More info and tickets.

 

Edenton Music Festival_Flyer

18th Annual Edenton Music and Water Festival

Friday & Saturday
June 3 & 4

Edenton, NC

Jump start the summer in style with a sizzling weekend of music, paddle sports, demo’s, children activities and more! A Friday evening sunset paddle kicks off the festival at 6:30 pm. Kayaks and canoes will be available for free with advance reservations. This year’s event promises to be an exciting fest with the addition of live music and a beverage garden on Friday, 7 – 10 pm.

Saturday is chock full of music, free boat rides, paddling clinics, arts & crafts, food vendors and other family-friendly fun. Be sure to watch the U.S. Coast Guard’s simulated rescue along Edenton Bay! More info.

 

ncblackbearfestivaleventsalongalbemarlesound

2nd Annual NC Black Bear Festival

Friday through Sunday
June 3 -5
Plymouth, NC

The NC Black Bear Festival celebrates and recognizes one of our region’s precious natural resource — part celebration, part education and all about fun! The 2nd annual festival offers a variety of events from bear tours in the wild to a 5K Run with the Bears. Other activities during the weekend include paddling events, a classic car show, wooden boat show, beauty pageant, storytelling, live music, fireworks, crafts, free boat tours, children’s events and more. Check out the entire schedule of events. More info.

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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Bennett’s Millpond

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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

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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.

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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.

WaveLINKS Autumn Gear Review

wavelinksgearreview

Cheers to cooler weather and lower humidity! For some of us outdoor adventurers, autumn is the perfect season for camping, paddling, hunting, biking and hiking. Here are a few pocket-size and affordable gear options that are sure to lighten your load and sweeten your next outing.

waveLINKS gear reveiw

photo courtesy of Sawyer Products

H20 on the Go!

Regardless of your pleasure, safe potable water is essential to any outdoor experience. It can also be one of the most challenging elements to carry. Remember the rhyme, “A pint’s a pound, the world around” so 8 pints to the gallon weighs eight pounds. Three quarts (6 lbs.) per person per day may be sufficient for the average day hiker while a kayaker may get by on less especially during a cool overcast day. A portable filtration system turns streams and springs into a valuable asset and in some cases, a lighter hydration alternative. Whenever I venture into the woods, paddle skinny water or tour back roads of eastern NC, I often include a water filter in my gear checklist.

The Sawyer MINI is one of the most versatile and effective portable filtration systems that I’ve personally used. According to Sawyer’s product details listed on their website, the MINI removes 99.99999% of all bacteria, such as salmonella, cholera and E.coli. It also removes 99.9999% of all protozoa, such as giardia and cryptosporidium.

The high performance filter fits in the palm of your hand and attaches directly to the reusable drinking pouch, standard disposable bottles and hydration packs. Or simply use the system’s straw to drink directly from your water source. A cleaning plunger provides easy backwashing after extended use.

WaveLINKS gear review - MSR Rapid Cooking Pocketrocket™ Fuel to Gruel

Our second piece of gear pairs well with the Sawyer MINI especially if you like hot beverages or tasty food while exploring overnight adventures. Again if you prefer palm-size convenience and lightweight options, you’re sure to appreciate the MSR Rapid Cooking Pocketrocket™ ultralite canister stove. It’s one, two, three and your ready to fire up some cowboy coffee or cook a delicious one-pot meal. The stove and valve body fit inside a small plastic case. Simply connect the stove with an IsoPro canister, (80/20 blend of isobutane and propane), then light a match over the edge of the burner head, open the flame adjuster valve and presto, you’re ready to boil the pint of water you just filtered in only a few minutes! The glove-friendly flame adjuster control is a nice addition and is easy to ‘dial in’ from simmer to full boil positions.

waveLINKS gear review

photo courtesy of Hydrapak™

Collapsible & Adaptable

Our last autumn gear tip features an innovative design and eliminates the waste of plastic disposable bottles. Hydropak is a company whose slogan boasts, “Always Innovate. Never Compromise.” Their outdoor athletes-tested personal hydration products are quickly becoming one of the most popular and most functional products in the industry. They have been designing multi-purpose and collapsible bottles, flasks and reservoirs for the past 12 years. One of my favorite bottles is the Hydrapak™ 500 ml (17 oz.) Softflask™. The flask is made of  thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) film body with a molded screw cap. The leak-proof design is easy to use and it collapses to a fifth of the original size when empty. The bottle includes a comfortable high flow soft silicone bite valve, twist shutoff valve, dust cap and nylon finger loop. The softflask works well for paddle boarding, running and cycling and it neatly packs away when empty. The sportflask™ line also includes 350 (12 oz.) & 750 ml. (77 oz.) bottles.

So all you gear geeks out there, be sure to give these products a field test during your next autumn adventure.

 

 

Suspension Therapy – When’s the last time you laid in a hammock? Check out Eagle Nest Outfitters hammocks for some serious hang time. Not only are they way cool, they are also comfortable, lightweight and durable. When used responsibly, they have a minimum impact on the trees and surrounding environment.
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