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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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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Currituck, the Road Less Traveled

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Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost

The summer traffic coming and going to the Outer Banks is heaviest on Saturday during the biggest check-in day. My wife and I found this out through firsthand experience. We had embarked on a Saturday trip to Corolla from Edenton, NC. At the intersection of Hwy. 158/Hwy. 168 in Barco, we noticed a travel time message sign indicating “delayed traffic” toward the beach. Following the lead of the Pulitzer Prize poet, we decided to take the one [road] less traveled and turned north and “that made all the difference.” We shifted gears, took an alternate route and ended up having a delightful afternoon touring the back roads of Currituck County.

Just a couple of miles north, we stopped at Morris Farm Market – a place that has blossomed into an authentic quintessential Northeastern NC family experience. What started as a roadside stand in 1982 has now grown to include “acres and acres” of produce, baked goods, ciders, NC craft beer & wine, tractor-churned ice cream, farm animals, tractors and more! We picked up a variety of grab-n-go snacks for an afternoon picnic then stopped by the outdoor bar to savor a pint of Mother Earth Brewery’s Sister of the Moon IPA. We listened to a local duo perform a few nice acoustic tunes while we planned the rest of the day’s backup itinerary. The chalkboard sign above the bar suggested to “Sip while you Shop” confirming that we had made a good decision to adjust our original travel plans. Down-home, down east and pet-friendly, Morris Farm Market is a “must do” stopover on your next outing to the OBX!

outdoorbarmorrisfarmmarketcurrituck ­­Currituck \KURR-i-tuck\

With our alternate plans settled now, we had a little extra time to explore the area before we set off on the afternoon ferry. The thin strip of land stretching down Currituck County mainland is primarily farmland, wetlands, open space and water. This peninsula connects the coastline and is bounded by Currituck Sound on the east, the North River on the west and the Albemarle Sound south of Point Harbor. The Currituck Courthouse and the Old Currituck Jail are both near the ferry terminal so we parked our car and walked over to the historic site and learned that the jail was constructed circa 1820 making it one of the oldest extant jails in North Carolina. Both buildings stand sentinel above the expansive backdrop of Currituck Sound.

oldcurrituckjailApproximately 15 vehicles loaded the ferry and we departed on schedule at 3 p.m. The 45-minute ferry crosses a 5-mile section of the sound, which according to the ferry captain averages depths of eight feet. The Currituck/Knotts Island Ferry is a year-round free ferry that’s managed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Ferry System. It makes six round-trips daily during the summer season.

Currituck, Adventures Past & Present

Local islanders refer to travelers who visit their paradise as “daytrippers.” Our Knotts Island adventure started with a scenic driving tour of Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge. The Fish and Wildlife Service administers the refuge located on the NC/VA state line along North Landing River. The majority of the refuge’s land is located in Currituck County. The island is actually a peninsula connected to Virginia’s mainland with a solitary road along a man-made causeway. The peninsula appeared as Knots Isle on early pre-colonial maps of the 17th century. Water and the geographic isolation has always defined the region and its inhabitants so naturally, it has developed a rich heritage of hunting, fishing and outdoor life. Locals claim that the origin of the name “Currituck” was loosely derived from Carotank; a Native American word for “land of the wild goose.” Today these lands provide a sanctuary for thousands of migratory waterfowl including numerous species of geese.

MackayIslandNWR

The peninsula changed ownership several times since 1728 when NC commissioners drove the first stake in the ground to mark the Carolina-Virginia border. One of the most influential landowners was Joseph Palmer Knapp. The wealthy New York publisher and philanthropist purchased property on the island in 1918 and built a hunting lodge and grand resort. He also experimented with innovative wildlife management practices. Knapp and a small group of conservationist pioneers became concerned about dwindling waterfowl breeding habitat in the U.S. and Canada. The group began fundraising across the country to create a conservation organization in 1930, which eventually became Ducks Unlimited. From these humble roots, Ducks Unlimited has become one of the preeminent sportsmen-based conservation and wetlands conservation advocacy organizations in North America.

The refuge is located primarily in the southwest region of the marshy peninsula. Basically, three access roads provide entry into the refuge. Sections of the refuge may experience seasonal closures during the winter because of prescribed burns and other management-related activities. A variety of habitats can be discovered along the Marsh Causeway (NC-615), the refuge internal roads, various overlooks and pedestrian trails. Cycling is allowed along some roads and trails. The .3-mile Great Marsh Trail can be easily accessed directly on NC-615. We opted for a convenient stop at the Kuralt Trail Overlook. The observation site is popular among birders and wildlife photographers. Two spotting scopes located on the elevated platform above the Great Marsh allow excellent, up close viewing of birds and other wildlife. We also stopped by Corey’s Ditch where we enjoyed a short break throwing a cast net in the creek and observing the wide-open marshlands.

cyclingcurrituck

Take Me Home, Country Roads

We chose to explore the terrestrial way home instead of back tracking on the ferry. We saw several groups of cyclists riding the rural roads. NC-615 and other low motor traffic roads along the peninsula are popular bike touring routes. The Tidewater Bicycling Association in Chesapeake, VA utilizes these routes each spring for their signature cycling event. This year they celebrated the 40th Annual Knotts Island Century, which included five route options – two that include ferry ‘hops’ during the rides.

Before our own ‘century trip’ ended, we stopped by Frog Island Seafood located at the junction of Hwy 158/168 in Barco, NC. We took their advice to “Buy Today – Feast Tomorrow!” and purchased some fresh scallops. We also sat down for a delicious meal in their diner section of the market and reflected on the day’s journey. The country roads and scenery along Currituck Sound proved to be a delightful retreat away from the bustling beach season along the OBX. We feel like we know this charming slice of land a little better now and it makes us appreciate the northeastern most region of NC we now call home!

frogislandseafood

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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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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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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Bennett’s Millpond

bennettsmillpond

Bennett’s Millpond is one of those places where you can feel a bit of history right up under your feet. In my case, I stumbled upon a piece of its history as I explored the spillway along the earthen dam. One of the gristmill’s original millstones embedded in the leaves caught my foot as I walked along the banks of Rocky Hock Creek. For nearly a hundred years, Bennett’s Millpond was an essential regional industrial resource. It operated as a water-driven corn mill and served as a gathering place for community activities.

millstone at Bennett's Millpond

Original millstone along Rocky Hock Creek

On this crisp February day, the only activity I noticed was a lonely heron feeding along the shallows across the pond. The site has become one of my routine stopovers on a 30-mile cycling route in Chowan County. Earlier in my ride along rural Paradise Road, I saw hundreds of Tundra Swans feeding in fallow fields. I also witnessed a Bald Eagle devouring a deer carcass in a roadside ditch. It was so enthralled with its meal that it appeared unruffled as I cruised within a few feet of the massive bird of prey.

cycling to Bennett's Millpond

Cycling in Edenton and Chowan County has been a great way for me to learn more about the area. Thinking back about the winter avian resident, I reflected on my own migration to the region. My wife and I moved here last spring from the mountains of Western NC. We’re now discovering ourselves immersed into the land, culture and natural history of the Albemarle Sound. Most of our explorations have been self-discovery tours on foot, bike or from the cockpit of a kayak.

The Albemarle Sound Basin encompasses nearly 3,900 square miles of wetlands and large areas of open water in northeastern North Carolina. So when you’re cycling the flat, rural roads of the region, you often observe small streams, open bays and expansive views of the sound.

Bennett’s Millpond Extensions

The ride to Bennett’s Millpond is no exception. Roadsigns with names like Chamber’s Ferry, Emperor Landing and Gum Pond reveal the region’s connection to land and water. Local cyclists refer to this route as the “North of Sound” ride — a 38-mile circuit from downtown Edenton. Some riders include Dillards Mill Road (north of Rocky Hock Rd.) to add another 10 miles to their itinerary. Most of the routes includes low-volume roads, scenic farmland and flat coastal plain terrain.

NC DOT’s Division of Bicycle & Pedestrian Transportation publishes a handy map and route guide entitled Bike Albemarle. Unfortunately, the digital version is no longer available online. The map features 15 loop routes and four connector options. Some include state and local signed routes, extended state routes and sections of national routes including the developing trail system along the East Coast Greenway. Bike shops, campgrounds, visitor’s services and local landmarks such as Bennett’s Millpond are highlighted on the map.

After nearly four decades of adventure travel, backpacking and long distance touring, I’ve refined the ‘art’ of taking a break. Bennett’s Millpond is one of my recommended rest stops and local landmarks while cycling around the sound.

 

Trip Notes: Bennett’s Millpond facilities include a covered pavilion, boardwalk, primitive camping, hiking trail, paddling trail, fishing and the NC Birding Trail. The park is located approximately 6 miles north of Edenton off Hwy 32 at 2100 Rocky Hock Rd.

 

spillway along Bennett's Millpond

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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#OptOutside on Black Friday

#optoutsidealbemarlesound

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth – Henry David Thoreau

We all have many options everyday we wake up. On Black Friday, millions of folks are opting outside versus hanging out in the malls, consuming goods we don’t need or sitting hours in traffic. Cheers to REI and its adventurous campaign to close its doors today and pay all employees to explore the outdoors on one of the busiest shopping days of the year! The nation’s largest consumer co-op and specialty outdoor retailer walks the talk and in this case boldly takes the lead to inspire others to, “Invest in helping people get outside with loved ones this holiday season, over spending it in the aisles.”

Start the holidays off with an active day out and invite your family, friends and loved ones to #OPTOUTSIDE!

 

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