#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!

 

Queen Anne Creek – Jewel along the Albemarle

paddletrailsalbemarlesound

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.

edentonbay

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.

Autumn Solitude on Bodie Island

bodieislandlighthouse

We’re still on our fall discovery tour and taking advantage of good weather and fewer crowds. I call this the “edge effect” which occurs between two seasons. I’ve sneaked in some of my best adventures during these opportunistic times. I’m back on the road and trail and this time I’m exploring Cape Hatteras National Seashore. In 1953, Congress protected this coastal resource, which was designated as being natural and recreational significant to preserve forever. Cape Hatteras National Seashore is administered by the National Park Service, which preserves and protects the windswept seacoast stretching nearly 80 miles. The seashore spans north to south across three islands – Bodie, Hatteras and Ocracoke.

Seasonal Notes

Cape Hatteras National Seashore is open year-round although facilities, programs and activities change with the seasons. For example, the three lighthouses along these islands are not open for climbing after Columbus Day and don’t reopen until the third Friday in April 2016. Cape Point Campground located on Cape Hatteras, is the only National Park Service campground open during the fall through the end of November.

So during the off-season, I’ve personally found you give up a few perks offered during summer’s peak season including interpretive programs but you end up with rewarding self-guided and intimate adventures.

Editor’s note: The Ocracoke Island Lighthouse is not open for climbing year round. Only base tours are available during the summer.

bodieislandlighthouse

Accessible Adventures

One of the first points of interest on the northern section of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is the Bodie Island Visitor Center & Lighthouse. It is located off of NC 12 between Nags Head and the Oregon Inlet approximately eight miles south of Whalebone Junction (US 158 and US 64 intersection).

From the parking lot in front of the lighthouse, visitors can conveniently discover a variety of habitats including open fields, remote wetlands, maritime forests, salt marshes, beaches and dunes. During a recent trip, the only visitors I observed were wildlife photographers, birders and birds. According to the NC Birding Trail, late fall and early winter is the perfect time to observe wading birds and numerous waterfowl species which migrate and/or winter along Hatteras.

The wildlife trail from the parking area leads visitors along a half-mile boardwalk to an observation deck that overlooks an expansive freshwater pond. The last day of October, I observed Horned Grebes, Northern Shovelors, several Black Scoters, and a Tri-colored Heron feeding among the cordgrass.

bodieislandblackducks

American Black Ducks – Bodie Island

Another wildlife area to explore begins at the gravel road near the south end of the parking lot. A gated service road extends out to a tidal creek and a dock owned by a private hunting club. Anglers are often seen fishing this local creek from the dock and small skiffs. I enjoyed watching two fly fisherman or “water whippers” roll casting along the edge of the bank.

Visitors often see marsh rabbits, turtles, crabs along the creek and marshlands. Occasionally, one can hear the short series of clacking sounds from the Clapper Rail but seldom do hikers get a chance to view this large rail species– one that locals refer to as a marsh hen or mud chicken. Both of the walks reward the hiker with wide open vistas, wildlife viewing and of course, strategic views of the 170’ lighthouse.

Bodie Island can be enjoyed as a brief stopover or a half-day excursion. Binoculars are recommended to get up close and personal with our feathered friends. Also, be sure to check the local hunting season scheduled during the fall/winter. The Bodie Island Lighthouse is open daily, 9am to 5pm, September – May; 9am to 6pm. Oh yeah, act like a local and be sure to pronounce Bodie correctly (Body).

 

 

 

 

Sound-to-Sea Adventures

soundtoseabeach

October can be one of the best times to visit the Albemarle Sound and the Outer Banks. Autumn ushers in cooler weather, subtle fall colors and secluded beaches. WaveLINKS recently hit the road on a sound-to-sea day trip filled with yummy food, hiking adventures and seasonal discoveries.

1st stop: Belcross Bake Shoppe

The River City Cycling Club includes this delightful bakery along their 33-mile Tarwheel route from Elizabeth City through Camden, NC. After trying one of the bakery’s famous sweet potato biscuits, I found myself willing to extend the distance and cycle all the way from Edenton! Check out their popular ham & cheese or bacon & cheese pinwheel biscuits specially baked on Tuesdays only. Or pick up some their takeout baked goods and sweet treats too. Lunch specials include Shepherds pie, biscuit potpie and a fiesta taco salad. Family owned and very friendly service!

Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve

According to the Nature Conservancy, which owns and manages the preserve, Nags Head Woods is one of North Carolina’s most significant natural areas and one of the Outer Banks’ most important community resources. The 1,400-acre preserve features a variety of fauna and flora including a maritime deciduous forest, a maritime shrub forest, several interdunal ponds, more than 50 species of birds and over 300 species of plants. The ancient wooded dunes afford a steep contrast to the adjacent seaside landscape. Large holly and beech trees remind me of the forested coves in the southern Appalachians.

soundtoseapreserve

Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve

The preserve offers several hiking and wildlife viewing opportunities – a .5-mile handicap accessible loop trail to longer, more strenuous hikes of up to five miles. We opted to combine a couple of trails including the scenic Roanoke and Discovery Trails. From the visitor’s center parking lot, the trail immediately introduces you to the lush, wooded dunes and fresh water ponds throughout the forest. We picked up the Roanoke Trail after crossing over the sandy Old Nags Head Rd. The 1.5-mile out and back trail meanders through the salt marsh, crosses over a board walk and ends at a beautiful beach and overlook along the Roanoke Sound.

dogfriendlyalbemarlesound

 

The Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve’s ADA Trail is ideal for families with small children and those with disabilities. The ½-mile loop trail is a combination of paved surfaces and boardwalks that overlook an interdunal freshwater pond and a brackish marsh.

Hideaway Beach

Sorry but we can’t give away all of our secrets! Here’s a hint though, south of milepost 16, beyond the vacation rentals and north of the Bodie Island Lighthouse. Some O’bankers call autumn the tranquil season or the season of tranquility. Sounds good to me especially when I find convenient parking, vacant beaches and a Carolina blue sky all to my lonesome. This is the perfect season to pack a lunch or stop by the deli at Kill Devil Hills Stop N Shop and grab a beach lunch to go. Either way, you won’t be disappointed with your beachside picnic.

soundtoseamarina

Coinjock Marina & Restaurant

Migration Season

I recently heard that the general rule of thumb for the return of migrating Tundra Swans to the Albemarle Peninsula is the first full moon in November. The month before begins another seasonal ritual when southbound boaters sail toward southern latitudes along the Intracoastal Waterway (IRC). My wife and I witnessed this funky phenomenon while taking the road less traveled to Coinjock Marina and Restaurant. Happenstance can lead travelers to some of the most entertaining adventures and this was definitely the case as we enjoyed an autumn sunset while dining along the waterfront of the IRC. The captains and the deckhands amusingly provided the entertainment for the evening. We heard tall tales from the sea. One young sailor talked about snow on the bow just a few weeks ago after he set sail from New England. Another captain and his wife shared adventures of their four-week odyssey and “loose” plans to sail to “Key West and beyond!” All the while, deckhands offered their assistance along the marina’s long fixed face dock.

Coinjock Marina & Restaurant is a mariner’s delight and a favorite stopover for boats making the “cut” between the Currituck Sound and the North River, which empties into the Albemarle Sound. Part of the attraction is the friendly customer service but some of it is the restaurant’s reputation for fine food and drink. Boaters often call in advanced dinner orders for its famous 32 oz. prime rib.

My wife and I chose a selection of specials including their Hatteras Clam Chowder, a ‘skewered’ catch-of-the-day sampler of tuna, shrimp and scallops, along with a tasty appetizer of lump crab cakes. During our meal, over 15 boats came in to dock and nearly all of those on deck had a cheerful smile on their face but no shoes on their feet!

Our day trip along the north side of the Albemarle could be charted exactly like one of the salty dog’s take on his day on the ICW. “Eight bells and all’s well!”

Cycle NC Ride Returns to Edenton in 2016

2016 Cycle NC Coastal Ride Edenton, NC

 

Online registration for the exciting 3-day cycling event begins October 24, 2015. Here’s a press release on the event:

Cycle NC Coastal Ride
Edenton, NC
April 22-24, 2016

DURHAM, N.C. (September 10, 2015) – North Carolina Amateur Sports announced that the thirteenth annual Cycle North Carolina Coastal Ride will return to Edenton, NC on April 22-24, 2016. Cycling routes of varying lengths from 5 miles to 100 miles will be offered to celebrate the start of the spring cycling season.

Edenton will host the Coastal Ride for the fifth time, allowing participants to camp along the waterfront in downtown or inside at the armory. Many other participants will fill the hotels, bed and breakfast inns and vacation homes for the weekend.

cycling events albemarle sound edenton

photo courtesy of Kip Shaw Photography

The fun-filled weekend will offer three days of cycling and feature some great Coastal Carolina food, music and festivities. The CNC Coastal Ride will also include many off-the-bike recreational activities in the Edenton area. Canoeing, kayaking, bird watching, historic tours, boat rides and beautiful sunsets will fill time away from the bike and provide the participants with many different ways to experience what Edenton has to offer.

The Coastal Ride has set a participation record every year since 2011. Participation has grown from just over 1,000 cyclists to over 1,400 in that time. Edenton was the host for the inaugural Coastal Ride, where 550 cyclists participated. Click here for more info.

 

 

South of the Sound Autumn Fundraisers

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

 

Pocosin Arts Albemarle Sound

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

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

Pocosin Arts

Circle Jar by Matt Repsher
2015

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

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

 

Paddling Albemarle Sound

Fall paddling along the Albemarle Sound
Photo courtesy of Susan Johnson

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

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

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

 

 

 

Cycling Around the Albemarle Sound

Views of Croatan Sound reward cyclists along Manteo's multi-use path.

Views of Croatan Sound reward cyclists along Manteo’s multi-use path.

My wife and I recently moved to the land along the Albemarle Sound. Cycling the area has been a great way to discover the coastal region. I’ve always enjoyed exploring a new place while I’m running, hiking, walking or riding. You instantly get a ‘feel’ of the topography, smell the fresh tilled farms and develop a muscle memory of the landscape. There’s something about cycling that causes me to reflect upon a pleasant nostalgia of distant journeys, dirt-ball adventures and happenstance encounters. So whenever I clip in, saddle up and ride along the white line of the highway, I eventually contemplate the past, present and future. If you’re planning your own cycling adventure along the Albemarle Sound, here’s a few pre-trip planning resources that might assist you with your next ride.

Albemarle Sound Advice

North Carolina Department of Transportation’s (NCDOT) Division of Bicycle & Pedestrian Transportation designated a system of bicycling highways. They publish free maps of each route. The state system of bike-friendly routes offer nine different routes that cover over 3,000 miles of lightly traveled highways. Several years ago, I traveled the 300-mile Ports of Call Route (NC Bike Route 3) from South Carolina to Virginia. The route leads cyclists along a historic colonial-era rendezvous of the Tar Heel state’s historic port cities and towns.

bike route

The Division of Bicycle & Pedestrian Transportation also publishes regional and local maps. One of the ‘go-to’ guides I suggest for cyclists of all levels is Bike Albemarle. The guide offers more than a dozen local loop routes, several connector routes and additional state and extended routes. The resourceful guide showcases interesting towns, points of interest, bicycle shops, restaurants and camping facilities. I’ve found the map the perfect planner and companion guide for local day-trips to weeklong outings. All of the maps provide a section of bicycle safety and NC state laws, which are useful for both novice and experienced riders.

Cycling the Outer Banks

There are several cycling options along the OBX albeit summer months may not be the best season for cyclists due to the increased traffic and visitation to the coast. The Dare County Bicycle Map offers a series of contiguous rides along wide paved shoulders, multi-use paths, and other longer routes including a section of the Mountains to Sea cross-state bicycling highway. The 7-mile side-path option along Roanoke Island offers a perfect outing for families. A number of historic sites and parks can be conveniently accessed along the trail including Roanoke Island Festival Park, NC Maritime Museum, NC Aquarium and Fort Raleigh Historic Site.

Part of a rewarding and successful cycling experience begins with a detailed map and a trip checklist. So order a free set of maps to help you navigate the scenic backroads along the sound. Be safe and invite a friend along for your next ride!

cyclingalbemarlesound

Roanoke Island Paddling Excursion

 

break along Roanoke IslandSugar sand beaches, calm waters and Carolina blue skies welcomed us on our paddling group’s first summer outing. Allan, our trip leader, had sent us three wonderful options along the Albemarle Sound corridor. The group’s top choice was a half-day circuit on the southern shores of Roanoke Island. The paddle trail description showcased a variety of interesting features including views of Jockey’s Ridge, open waters, beaches, tidal creeks and numerous areas to observe wildlife. Boaters often see dolphins playfully swimming and feeding around the Roanoke Sound Channel.

We put in at the convenient Washington Baum Bridge landing east of Manteo which dropped us directly onto the channel. Since the wind was light, we opted to paddle the open water section first then complete the loop through a series (maze) of tidal creeks, ditches and cuts. The total distance was approximately seven miles.

The five of us never saw any dolphins in the sound. However, as we paddled around Broad Creek Point, we spotted a sweet little sandbar perfect for our first snack break. The water was so clear that we observed several crabs in the shallow waters. Blue Herons and Great Egrets were feeding in the marshes and we sighted an armadillo scurrying along the banks.

We looked over the large creek and noticed the secluded fishing village of Wanchese, NC. Allan said he had heard of paddlers who paddled directly up to the marina for cold beer and delicious fresh seafood. But today it was P & J sandwiches, a banana and lots of water. The first summer heat wave had come early this year and today’s forecast predicted mid-90’s. With this on all of our minds (and cold beer) and the fact that we would have zero shade for the rest of the day, our group packed up and launched the boats back into the water.

Using a primitive map of Roanoke Island, we navigated our way up a diminishing creek. I’d been stranded at low tide on tidal creeks before so I was a bit anxious about finding the correct cut through the island. The map revealed several dead-end waterways so I continuously checked the map and looked for telltale landmarks. Unfortunately, there were no trail markers so we were now on a discovery tour – or scavenger hunt as it turned out.

Most of the land surrounding the creek is managed and owned by the NC Wildlife Resource Commission. According to the Nature Conservancy, this tract of 1,766 acres includes one of the most undisturbed black needlerush marshes remaining in North Carolina. Smooth cordwood grass is also common along the brackish waters. The marshlands and associated waters offer a rich biological soup of nutrients and habitat for wading birds, shorebirds, mammals, fish and crustaceans.

After a few hours in direct sunlight, some in our party were beginning to second guess our current route and the “biological soup” metaphor wasn’t exactly the best choice of words since we were slowly starting to “stew” ourselves in the blazing sun. We ventured into a couple of smaller creeks only to have to turn around and search for another outlet. This created a chain reaction of boats having to reverse their course, sweep their paddles wide and turn back toward the larger opening. Finally, just when we were getting close to a modern day mutiny of the bounty, we found the opening to John’s Ditch. More importantly, a motorboat full of enthusiastic teenagers assured us that we were back on track. Allan and I knew it all the time. Sure thing!

The final couple of miles of paddling turned out to be some of the best as we meandered through the waters of Sand Beach Creek to the beautiful beaches at Johns Creek along the Roanoke Sound. Just beyond the point we discovered safe haven and the expansive bridge above the take out. A few of us took a break on the sandbar and I finally ate my delicious sandwich, swam in the refreshingly clear water then tanked up on more water for the last section of the trip.

Back again on the sound, the wind was still light but the increased afternoon motor boating around the landing created lots of chop within the wake zone. Tough day out in the sun but a great trip and one which I’ll do again and again!

 

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