Postcards from the Albemarle Sound Sketches, skiffs and seafaring tales

Albemarle Sound Postcard 2017

We’re sagging south on the Long Trail—the trail that is always new
– Jack London, The Sea-Wolf

As we welcome autumn to the region of the Albemarle Sound, we take time to reflect back on some of the exciting adventures we shared this spring and summer. Although most of our journeys were short excursions around our beloved Albemarle Sound, we also enjoyed day trips to inland treasures, overnight excursions to state parks and summer vacation island hoppin’ the Outer Banks. Coastal byways took us from Corolla to Ocracoke and Belhaven to Camden. Blackwater streams and intracoastal waterways led us to natural heritage sites, secluded beaches and wild wetlands. We skiffed, sailed, paddled, fished and kayaked skinny creeks, open bays and a number of sounds.

Along our travels, we met innkeepers, brewers, anglers, captains, tourists, artists, environmentalists, fish doctors, volunteers, retirees, old salts, and boat builders. The folks living in our region where land and water merge always inspire us. We discover something new and wonderful every time we venture out. This reminds me what a wise old neighbor once suggested. The Englishman softly spoke, “Learn young, learn fair; learn old, learn more.”

Here are a few of our favorite outings the past several months. Hope you enjoy!

 

2017 Postcards from the Albemarle Sound

 

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Goose Creek State Park Pamlico River Connections

Panoramic view of Flatty Creek

The Tar Heel State offers a lifetime of cultural, natural history and outdoor recreation opportunities from the mountains, foothills, sandhills and coast. Last year, North Carolina State Parks celebrated their centennial and nearly 17 million people visited the NC State Parks in 2015.

The NC State Parks System is managed by the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, which includes 41 state parks and state recreation areas, as well as 33 undeveloped conservation areas. These state protected properties feature ancient mountains, pristine beaches, lazy rivers, open waters and diverse forests. In 1980, Goose Creek State Park was designated a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. A plaque along the Goose Creek Trail states, “This site possesses exceptional value as an illustration of the nation’s natural heritage and contributes to a better understanding of the environment.”

As a 27-year resident of the Old North State, I’ve camped, fished, run, hiked, cycled and paddled most of the system’s parks. Since moving to the coastal plain, Goose Creek State Park has become one of my favorites!

Paddle boarding on Goose Creek

Natural Beauty, Nationally Recognized

The park is located approximately 12 miles west of Washington, NC in Beaufort County on the north side of the Pamlico River. The peninsula-shaped property encompasses 1,672 acres and a variety of coastal plain habitats – from extensive wetlands along the rivers and creeks to cypress swamps and saltwater marshes. These areas provide ideal habitat for birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. Wildlife sightings include alligators, bears, otters, bobcat, foxes, red wolves and a variety of waterfowl.

There are plenty of things to do for both outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. The park can be enjoyed all seasons and is open year-round with the exception of Christmas Day.

Friends of the park volunteer hiking along Goose Creek Trail

Take a hike!

Goose Creek State Park has one of the longest and best-maintained trail systems on the NC coast. There are 8 miles of maintained trails that meander through the property and more trails are currently being constructed. The entire trail system can be hiked leisurely in one day. Some trails have trail benches, boardwalks and interpretive signs to enjoy along the way. Most visitors prefer to break up the trails into sections varying from .2 miles to 2 miles. Trails are blazed in unique colors and different shaped markers. The Flatty Creek Trail offers a convenient and scenic stroll from the parking area along Campground Rd. The .3-mile orange-blazed trail loops through an upland pine forest and leads visitors to an outstanding vista overlooking Flatty Creek and the Pamlico River. The 2-mile Goose Creek Trail begins at the campground near the mouth of Goose Creek and snakes along the Pamlico River to a nice sandy beach and swimming area.

The half-mile Palmetto Boardwalk Trail is a good family friendly option. Various wildlife and plant ID markers assist visitors along the self-guided tour of the freshwater marsh.

Campground at Goose Creek State Park

Goose Creek State Park Activities

The parks’ family campground is ideal for families, hikers and anglers who plan on spending a night or two in the park. The facility offers 14 private tent sites each with tables and grills. Toilets and drinking water are centrally located in the campground. The park also has a reservation-only group camping area available from March 15 – November 15. Registered campers can easily access the six-mile Goose Creek State Park Canoe Trail  from the campground’s put-in area.

Anglers fishing on Goose Creek

Boating and fishing are both very popular activities at the park. There is a public boating ramp and parking area on the west side of Goose Creek at Dinah’s Landing.

Park visitors can access three picnic areas in the park. Picnic shelters are available on a first-come, first-served basis or can be reserved for a fee. Pets are permitted in NC State Parks so long as they are on an attended leash no longer than 6 feet. Whether you are day tripping or camping for a week, be sure to stop in the park’s Visitor Center to pick up a map, learn more about the park and view the wonderful exhibits.

Goose Creek State Park's Discovery Room

journey notes to road trip

 

Goose Creek State Park is an excellent “jumping off” point for Outer Banks-bound travelers heading to the Swan Quarter Ferry Terminal. The park is within and hour’s drive for tidewater townies looking for a day-outing chock full of adventure. Cyclists touring on the NC 2 Mountains to Sea Route should plan on a convenient overnight camp during their 700 mile, two-wheel odyssey.

Local eats ~ Grab a cup of NC-roasted coffee at Rachel K’s Bakery in the historic waterfront town of Washington. Be sure to try one of their delicious pastries, scones and hand tarts — yummy artisan sandwiches and wraps for lunch too! Experience Washington Crab and Seafood Shack for some of the best fried shrimp you’ve ever tasted. Quirky, quaint, quick and delicious! Not in a hurry? Kick back, select a steamer plate with a cold beer and enjoy the friendly staff and patrons!

Eats & Drinks at Washington Crab and Seafood Shack

Washington Crab and Seafood Shack

 

 

Register for one of the park’s upcoming events! The park organizes a number of monthly events. A quick peek at the park’s calendar revealed a children’s scavenger hunt, kayak fishing and a guided hike. Another way to plug into the park’s resources is to get involved with the Friends of Goose Creek State Park to join fellow members on paddle trips, hikes and volunteer projects!

Map of Goose Creek State Park

 

 

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Wood, Water & Craft 2017 North Carolina Wooden Boat Shows

Vintage photo of Skiff along Edenton BayI live along the Albemarle Sound — a region where water and land merge. Aerial views of the area reveal an intricate network of serpentine rivers and trunk estuaries. Waterways used to be the highways of the region so naturally, boats were an integral part of the culture. Wood skiffs with their shallow drafts were ideal for navigating skinny creeks and lazy rivers with depthless waters. These flat-bottom boats could be rowed, paddled or poled.

The expansive sounds of the region were relatively shallow but exposed so they were vulnerable to high winds. A number of historic boats were modified so that their designs were well suited to handle the shallow waters, shoals and weather conditions of the sounds. Some of these vessels were work boats or seine boats and eventually customized into Shad Boats. In the late 1800’s, George Washington Creef of Roanoke Island built the first shad boat in North Carolina.

shadboatmarsheslighthouse

Reproduction Albemarle Shad Boat in front of Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse

The Albemarle Shad Boat was a traditional fishing boat known for being stable, able, strong and seaworthy. They were also capable of carrying large loads of herring or shad. In 1987, the NC General Assembly designated it as the North Carolina State Boat. Visitors to the Roanoke Island Maritime Museum can learn more about the region’s wooden boat heritage and view a shad boat on display at the center located in Manteo, NC.

The versatile Core Sounder was another original shallow water wooden work boat indigenous to the coast of North Carolina. These classic “sinknetter” fishing boats of the Core Sound region were used for trawling and long haul fishing. Wood was the material of choice for work boats and pleasure crafts before the advent of molded fiberglass.

Signature, Style & Grace

Another legendary pleasure boat with Tar Heel roots was the Simmons Sea Skiff. In the late 1940’s, Tom “Sims” Simmons was commissioned to build a fishing boat with a dory-like hull which could be launched off the beach and have room in the back for hundreds of yards of fishing net. His hybrid creation evolved into a very clever and stylish skiff that didn’t sink in the surf with its heavy payload. A few subsequent designs later, Simmons introduced a motor well and a high “raked” transom. Other modifications included a V-shaped bottom and longer and wider designs. The Simmons skiff quickly garnered a reputation and his business flourished in the mid-fifties. Today, the highly sought after rigs continue to steal the show at wooden boat shows across the east coast!

Simmons’ boats were originally built of Atlantic Cedar with mahogany framing. Later, Simmons started using Douglass fir plywood for planking. One of his signature features was the closely spaced bronze ring nails that fastened the planking. His joints along the planking were so tight that he never used glue or caulk to seal the wood. Another material he never used was fiberglass.

Wooden Boat Revival

The manufacturing of fiberglass along with other manmade materials in the mid 20th Century dramatically changed the culture of boatbuilding. Molded composite fiberglass materials allowed companies to mass-produce boats of all shapes and sizes. The cost of building boats was greatly reduced. This turned out well for pleasure boaters but wooden boatbuilding soon became a lost craft.

Fortunately for those of us who love the feel of wood on water, there has been a rebirth in both wooden boat construction and restoration over the past twenty years. Fairly recent technology and materials have spearheaded this back-to-wood revolution. Epoxy adhesives and urethane coatings have helped revolutionize the marine paint industry providing a more convenient and longer-lasting alternative to traditional paint and varnish maintenance. Marine-grade plywood, durable caulk and adhesives offer additional methods and alternative wood boatbuilding options.

For some boaters, wood might be considered artsy but it has also proven to be strong, durable and lightweight. Plus, it does not fatigue like manufactured materials. Its bending qualities allow for smooth and attractive form.

Boatbuilding may be a tradition and way of life for others but it can also be practical. Sure it may take more time in its artisan-like construction but most people with some woodworking basics can build a simple design in a relatively small space and with limited tools. In other words, build at a level suitable for your skill set and for the simple pleasure of the craft. At a recent boat show demo in Wilmington, I watched a craftsman and a 15-year old girl build the hull of a 12’ wooden dinghy in less than four hours.

Cape Fear Community College Boat Building Program

Living Reminders of a Rich Boating Heritage

I’ve talked to various wooden boat craftsmen and women who describe the building process as a love of labor while others admit that it’s more of a partnership with nature. Others confess that they gain a better appreciation for natural materials. One young student at Cape Fear Community College’s Boatbuilding School recently admitted that he “feels the history of the wood and the boat” whenever he’s working on a restoration project. A geometry of shapes, organized chaos and a rough draft still guide the modern day boatbuilder. And like their predecessors before them, some builders continue to build without plans and painstakingly puzzle together form into fashion.

Chris Craft Triple Cockpit 40's

Carolina Wooden Boat Shows – Bucket List

One of the best ways to get your own “feel” of wooden boats is to attend a classic or wooden boat show. Wooden boat owners are more than happy to share their stories and their personal relationships with wood, boats, restoration and the craft of constructing a boat. It’s also the perfect opportunity to learn more about the history and to develop a field guide knowledge about traditional boats. Some shows offer free rides and others have even have boats for sale. Regardless of the exhibit, there are plenty of family-friendly activities that accompany each show. Here’s a Carolina sampler of wooden boat shows and festivals along our coast. We also threw in a couple more outside the state to add to your maritime bucket list. Visit one of these maritime villages, get outside this summer and enjoy the timelessness of wooden boats.

CRCC Riverfront Wooden Boat Show 2017

Cape Fear Community College Riverfront Wooden Boat Show
Wilmington, NC
April 1, 2017
9:30am – 4:30pm

Although this year’s show has already passed, mark it down on your calendar for 2018. Held along Wilmington’s Cape Fear Riverwalk, the event includes 10 judging categories plus a special category for Simmons Sea Skiff awards. Come watch craftsmen and women demonstrate their craft, tour the college’s boatbuilding shop and enjoy a full day of wooden boat memorabilia. More info.

43rd Annual Wooden Boat Show

43rd Annual Wooden Boat Show
Beaufort, NC
Saturday, May 6, 2017
10am – 4pm

 The Southeast Tourism Society chose the oldest, continuously run wooden boat show in the Southeast as a “Top 20 Event” for May 2017. It is held along the Beaufort waterfront and includes the Carolina Maritime Model Expo, In-Water Boat Show, Wooden Boat Kids, and more! Free admission. Click here for more info and registration.

RDTboatshow

North Carolina’s Premier Antique and Classic Boat Show
New Bern, NC
Saturday, May 20, 2017
9am – 3pm

Come out to New Bern’s beautiful waterfront and enjoy the on-water “full-throttle” exhibition on the Neuse and Trent Rivers. The Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Triangle Chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society presents the event. The organization encourages first-hand experiences so some boats are available for free public rides. Check out the storyboards and educational displays to learn more about period boating, accessories and boating apparel. Visitors may vote on the People’s Choice Awards. The chapter provides a scholarship for the Cape Fear Community College’s Boatbuilding Program to help preserve this craft. Preliminary and post event activities for registered boat owners. Overnight docking is available at the show site. More info.

 

19th Annual Music & Water Festival Wooden Boat Show

19th Annual Music & Water Festival
Edenton, NC
June 2 & 3, 2017

Local wooden boat owners and builders share their skiffs, sailboats, dinghies and works-in-progress along Edenton’s historic waterfront on Saturday, June 3 from 10am-6pm. The on-land exhibition is part of the 2-day festival which includes a Friday evening sunset paddle, music in the park, paddle sport demos, arts and crafts, and more! Click here for more info and boat registration.

 

8th Annual Southport Wooden Boat Show

Southport 8th Annual Wooden Boat Show
Southport, NC
Saturday, September 30, 2017
10am – 4pm

The popular wooden boat show is held at the Old Yacht Basin and features both in-water and on land exhibitions. Visitors can meet and talk with wooden boatbuilders and owners. Boats will be judged on several categories from Best of Simmons to People’s Choice awards.

Additional events and exhibits include children activities; nautical displays; talks and demonstrations; maritime vendors and the award winning seafood chowder at the Taste of Cape Fear Tent.

Be sure to pick up one of the event’s beautiful t-shirts and a collector’s edition poster.

Click here for more info or to register a boat. Registration deadline: Wednesday, September 1.

tours Albemarle Sound Outer Banks

Roanoke Island Maritime Museum Wooden Boat Show
Manteo, NC
Saturday, October 28
9:00am – 5:00pm

The 6th annual event features new and restored wooden boats. The boats are displayed in the Creef Boathouse and Park, and in the water at the Roanoke Marshes lighthouse docks. Click here for more information and registration.

Out of State Wooden Boat Show Bucket List30th Annual Antique & Classic Boat Festival

Celebrate Father’s Day Weekend with a nostalgic tribute to the region’s treasured maritime history. Wooden classics, vintage race boats and Chesapeake Bay-related boats are displayed at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum for the 29th annual Antique & Classic Boat Festival and the Arts in St. Michaels, MD. The event is hosted by the Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the Antique & Classic Boat Society. More info.

28th Annual Georgetown Wooden Boat Show

Georgetown 29th Annual Wooden Boat Show
Georgetown, SC
October 27 & 28, 2017

The low country’s premier wooden boat show features more than 140 classic wooden boats ranging in size from kayaks to yachts. Boats will be displayed in the water and on land along Front Street. Visitors will have the opportunity to meet and talk to wooden boat craftsmen, manufacturers, and owners. Weekend activities include a Friday regatta, boatbuilding contest, kids’ model boatbuilding, knot tying contests and maritime art and crafts. Music, food, beer garden and lots more! Click here for a complete schedule.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Up the Creek with a Paddle Kayak Camping & Water Trails

Kayak Camping Roanoke River Paddle Trail

I haven’t backpacked since college. Although I have had a long love affair with camping, my only backpacking trip was more of a one-night stand. You know, one of those experiences that seemed like a better idea the night before than the morning after. Not that it was a bad experience. I just decided that carrying a 40-pound pack was not my thing. I always figured that bicycle camping would be my ticket for adventure travel until I ran across a picture in the Raleigh News and Observer. The photo captured a setting of several canoes tied to the dock of a small camping platform and nearly concealed within a cypress grove. Suddenly my desire to go camping was rekindled but this time I’d be sleeping out under the stars on camping platforms along a designated paddle trail.

Roanoke River Paddle Trail

The camping platform highlighted in the Raleigh News & Observer is part of a paddling trail network managed by the Roanoke River Partners — a grassroots non-profit serving the five North Carolina counties that border the Roanoke River. RRP operates 16 of these platforms that were constructed in the Roanoke River basin in order to bring tourist dollars into an area of North Carolina that had been hit hard by plant closings and the demise of the herring fishing industry.

When they were first built, locals weren’t so sure that they wanted outsiders paddling through their backyard playground but the project has proven to be quite successful. A recent study revealed that the Roanoke River Paddle Trail generates over $550,000 to the regional economy annually. This impact is the result of both the overnight campers and day-trippers utilizing the trail and facilities along the river. It is projected that since the construction of the first platform in 1997, the trail has attracted well over 15,000 overnight campers (with an estimated four to five times that many day trippers).

kayak boardwalk camping platform

Welcome Home!
photo courtesy of Tom Carmine

The Internet can be an adventure traveler’s best friend and through RRP’s website, I had two platforms reserved along with a growing file of information on kayak camping. Man learned thousands of years ago that a boat was better than one’s back for carrying a load, and I was planning to put that into practice. Packing a kayak for camping is like packing a backpack. The stuff has got to fit, and the weight has got to be properly distributed. Since we were not taking canoes, there was no place for coolers and lawn chairs.

1st Outing – San Souci Shuffle

Our target launch date was the last Friday of April, which we hoped would still bring cool nights to minimize the bugs that inhabit swampland. My goal for our first trip was a short paddle the first night and a longer paddle on Saturday and Sunday. We intended on camping one night at Lost Boat and the other at Otter One. Both camping platforms rest within the Roanoke River basin and are located just off Route 17, south of Edenton, NC on the Cashie River.

We arrived at Lost Boat just barely before dark after a four-mile paddle from the Sans Souci ferry landing. The camping platform was nestled in a small cove just off the Cashie River. We quickly set up our tents anticipating that the resident mosquito population would soon arrive to party with us but the cool spring evening kept the bugs at bay. Our first night was exactly what I had hoped for. The night was quiet except for the nocturnal sounds of owls, frogs and other wildlife at play in the woods.

The next day we could have paddled back to our launch site to restock for day two and paddled downstream to Otter One. Instead, we opted to take out our kayaks and spend part of the day in nearby Plymouth, which was hosting a large Civil War reenactment. After lunch and a tour of the town, we launched from Route 45 and paddled across the intersection of the Roanoke River, Middle River back to the Cashie River and down to end of Broad Creek.

Despite the five-mile paddle, Otter One was not far from Plymouth for the average crow, and the evening’s peace was occasionally broken by cannon fire and musket volleys from the rabble-rousing reenactors in town. It’s always good to bring a book along for the evenings on the platform since you can’t build a campfire on the deck and roast marshmallows for entertainment.

Paddle the Same River Basin Twice

Our second annual excursion took us to Royal Fern. We left the boat ramp at the beginning of beautiful Conaby Creek and paddled three miles to the end of a smaller creek. Royal Fern was the most secluded place I have ever camped. There were absolutely no sounds of civilization of any kind and animals bounded through the woods in and out of the creek all night long. The swamp forests along the Roanoke River floodplain provide ideal habitat for bears and this area is no exception.  Although no bear encounters have been reported around the platform in a couple of years, I could not resist shining my flashlight out of my tent during the night to see if any eyes were looking back from the darkness.

Campers on Roanoke River camping platform

Three’s a charm while platform camping in the Roanoke River Basin
photo courtesy of Tom Carmine

For this trip, Steve and I decided to make it a three-day expedition. Leaving Royal Fern on Saturday morning we paddled out to the Roanoke River for a 12-mile paddle that routed us into the Albemarle Sound for our second overnight at Otter One on the Cashie River. Unlike the prior year when a 15 mph wind had kept the fisherman at home for the weekend, this year we passed fishing boats throughout the day.

We had hoped to find a portion of beach about halfway through the trip to allow us to snack and stretch our legs but the shore of the Sound was lined with dense trees and logs pushed ashore by two hurricanes. We were left with no place to get out of the kayaks so we rested while floating in an eddy behind some fallen trees at the mouth of the Cashie. By the time we arrived at Otter One, we were anxious to get out of the boats.

By foregoing a mid-day trip into town, we arrived earlier in the afternoon than we had planned. This gave us more time on the platform than we were accustomed to and a sort of “what do we do now” kind of experience. After a short nap, I opted to fish, and Steve paddled off to a nearby eagles’ nest before we cooked dinner.

Three’s a Charm

On our third trip to the backwaters, we were able to recruit two others to join us. Launching from a private ramp at the River’s Edge Restaurant in Jamesville, we paddled three miles up river to the Barred Owl platform. Barred Owl was the first camping platform, and it has one of the most beautiful settings as it stands over the water at the end of a long creek.

That night we were blessed with a clear night, a full moon and a leafless tree canopy. The sound of fish feeding on the surface and hoots of the neighboring barred owls filled the night and left us thinking, “Camping doesn’t get any better than this!”

Saturday’s treat was to return to Jamesville and lunch at the Cypress Grill. It is widely known for its fried herring that were once abundant in the Roanoke River. The Grill is a quaint riverside shack of a place with friendly folk, homemade pies and numerous other fried fish entrées. The Grill is a seasonal restaurant and it’s only open from January to April.

After an abundant lunch of fish and pie, we paddled nine miles to Three Sisters, which was typical of other platforms with its small dock and walkway leading back to a raised platform in the trees. A few platforms have near water level piers but most require the paddler to climb out the kayak onto a dock about one foot above the water.

We completed this trip by completing a circle back to Jamesville via Cut Cypress Creek. This route completes a short cut across the top of a “V” formed by the Roanoke River as it flows past Jamesville. The creek is a scenic passage through a tree canopy until it reconnects with the Roanoke.

roanoke river trail packing kayak

The art & craft of platform camping
photo courtesy of Tom Carmine

Packing a kayak for camping is like packing a backpack. The stuff has got to fit, and the weight has got to be properly distributed. Since we were not taking canoes, there was no place for coolers and lawn chairs.

For the most part, these paddle trips are without too much technical challenge but our trips have not been without some memorable moments. On our first trip we learned that even a small river like the Roanoke could quickly whip up some waves when driven by 15 mph winds. Cut Cypress Creek runs a small but steady current from west to east, which makes it difficult to maneuver long sea kayaks around fallen and submerged trees. One in our group twice learned that you don’t limbo too far to one side when passing under fallen trees across a creek. And finally, in emergencies, help is generally reachable by cell phone or by other boaters during the day. However, always be well prepared and plan accordingly.

After three trips, I can say that the logistics for camping on these platforms are easy. They are simple to reserve, and there are so many options for short or long paddle trips.  The platforms average around 400 square feet. They provide posts for stringing tarps or hammocks, and they have a private area for your own portable privy. Summer campers report that bug spray is a must, but cooler weather campers can enjoy bug free nights. For more information, to make online reservations, or link to other camping platforms in the region visit Roanoke River Partners website at www.roanokeriverpartners.org.

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Elevated on Holladay Island Paddling & Camping on the Chowan River

 

kayakerapproacheshollodayisland

Kayaker approaching Holladay Island on the Chowan River
Photo courtesy of Beautiful Paddles

“It’s supposed to be really nice tomorrow, highs 70s, sunny, and no winds. You want to check out the platforms on Holladay Island?” I asked Elaine, my paddling partner.  An avid birder and biologist for US Fish and Wildlife, I tempt her with sightings of birds and promise of good weather.

“Sounds neat. But only if we leave early enough to see the sunrise and what birds might be there.”  

The dark drive goes quick, but dawn is slow to arrive. Low gray clouds move in as small raindrops land on the sand beach.

In a flat voice, Elaine looks at me, “you said sunshine.”

I shrug. “We’ve got rain coats. The rain and mist add character.”

The Chowan turns from inky black into a gun-metal gray, the mist silently and slowly moves over the water, sometimes hiding the island. Our red Wilderness System Tsunami kayaks stand out against the gray.

The rain was gentle; dissipating once we reach the platforms. Rays of sun appear before the clouds reform, closing the gap. An occasional song bird jumps from branch to branch for Elaine.

Sign for Holladay Island Camping Platform

Kayaker entering Holladay West Camping Platforms
Photo courtesy of Beautiful Paddles

Elevated Paradise

It’s correct to call Holladay Island an island; the 159 acres is fully surrounded by the Chowan River. But don’t assume “island” means dry land. The inky black of the Chowan, the natural color of rivers in eastern North Carolina, slowly weaves around the cypress, tupelo trees, and vegetation holding the island’s soil in place. Making landfall here means docking your boat on one of the five wooden 16’ x 14’ platforms.

The island is now owned by Chowan County, who also maintains the platforms. European settlers first noticed the island in 1586 when Sir Walter Raleigh led an expedition up the river.  The island’s namesake, Thomas Holladay purchased the land in 1730.

The island remains as it was before eastern North Carolina developed into what it is today. Rain or shine, you sense the primitiveness of the land. The trees were never cut for timber and the lack of dry ground prohibited any permanent building. Not until the construction of the platforms did humans dramatically influence the island.  

Holladay’s tupelo and cypress trees provide ample shade and obstacles to paddle around. The shoreline is difficult to determine – the four to six-foot diameter, 120 foot tall trees grow close in the island’s core to twenty feet away from their neighbors in the open water.

As you paddle around the trees, your view extends out several miles over the Chowan. Each platform provides a view – the west platform is sunsets with an open forest view, while the east platform is known for sunrises and vegetation seeking to take over the platform. The south cluster of three platforms forms a water world village; a winding walkway two foot wide connects each platform. The cluster is tucked back, secretly, amongst the trees.

walkway to Holladay Island Camping platforms

Walkway leading to Holladay Island Camping Platforms
Photo courtesy of Beautiful Paddles

Holladay Island Paddling Logistics

When the wind conditions are perfect (less than than twelve to fifteen miles per hour), Holladay Island is an easy and relaxing paddle. But because you must paddle at least a mile of open water to reach the island, go with calm wind, or have skills to paddle the chop and wind.

Chowan County and the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission provide different launch points off Cannon’s Ferry Road. The Commission boat ramp is a standard motor boat ramp while the County offers a riverwalk park and a small sand launch point. Either location works well.  

Once on the water, Holladay is easy to spot – it is the only island. Reaching the island, look for the large blue signs for each platform once you near their location. The east and west platforms are easy to find but the south island cluster requires a search amongst the tupelo for its secret location.  To get back, retrace your steps.

 

Bring your own portable potty kit – The platforms are pack-in-pack-out. Newspaper, plastic grocery bags, and a 3.3L square rubbermaid resealable container does the job for one to two people up to two nights.

For a free detailed trail description, digital map, and more photos of Holladay Island, visit BeautifulPaddles.com guide to Holladay Island. To learn more about the rules, regulations and registration procedures for platform camping in the region, click here.

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NC Vote 2016 November General Election

Vote Early North Carolina

Selecting responsible leaders is our right and our responsibility – fortunately in our country, it is also a freedom. Voting is our basic democratic right, an American principle and a right that should be protected, advocated and exercised. One-stop voting kicks off Thursday, October 20 in the Tar Heel State. “During the one-stop absentee voting period, registered voters may vote at any one-stop early voting site in their county of residence,” according the the NC State Board of Elections.

Vote Early

One-stop or “early voting” is a convenient way to ensure that citizens have time to vote in our state. North Carolina’s early voting for the November 2016 General Election begins November 20 and runs through November 5. Early voting polling stations will open at 6:30 A.M. and close at 7:30 P.M. (Voters should check the one-stop absentee schedule in their county to determine specific hours for each early voting site). The NC State Board of Election Website states that one-stop voting provides an all-purpose solution for those seeking to:

  • avoid potential voting delays on election day;
  • vote on convenient days and during non-working hours;
  • avoid any registration conflict that could trigger the necessity of a provisional ballot on election day; or
  • update their voter records in their counties of registration if they have moved since last voting.

Election Day is November 8 and polls are open 6:30 AM–7:30 PM. You’re allowed to vote if you’re in line by 7:30 PM. For more info on early voting and voting locations, visit http://www.ncvoter.org. To view a sample ballot for your district, click here.

Plan to Vote by Mail?

Any registered North Carolina voter may request an absentee ballot by mail; however, the request deadline is November, 5 by 5:00 PM.  A civilian absentee voter must return his or her voted ballot in the container-return envelope provided to the board of elections in enough time for the ballot to be received by 5:00 p.m. on Election Day (11/8/2016). Click here for more NC voter information.

Voting is our Voice

Voting matters so cast your vote locally, regionally and nationally. Democracy works best when it is well represented. Voting is the foundation of a democratic society. Not everyone’s voice is heard when only half the country is voting so get out and vote and encourage your friends, family and neighbors to engage in the process.

Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.
– John Quincy Adams

Nearly two hundred years after Adams held the office of President, we should note that the only vote lost is the one that was never cast. Get out and vote and cheers to the world’s oldest democracy!

Go Democrats!

 

 

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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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Paddle + Camp along Hidden Lake on Albemarle Sound

raft of kayaks - Hidden Lakes

Photo courtesy of Beautiful Paddles

Ghost trees, barren and bleached by the seasons, stand forlorn off the shoreline. The glassy Albemarle Sound brightly reflects the early spring sun and the quick shadows of osprey on the hunt. Hidden Lake provides the osprey plenty of prey, and excellent birding and fishing for paddlers, once you find your way to its ten acres.

Is it straight or right? The red 2005 Corolla slows to a stop, tires crunching the last bit of gravel left on the old dirt road. Straight ahead, the dirt is smooth and pothole free, appearing well-travelled. Right…small lakes cover the worn tire tracks, leaving only the sides and middle somewhat dry; the early spring vegetation leans into the road, searching for sunlight.

Fingers tap on the wheel, as I ponder which direction to take. Though I spent six years by this point paddling and living in eastern North Carolina, I sometimes forget how remote the best paddles are, despite 4 bar LTE. Google Maps indicates a right turn, down the rough road.

The Corolla eases down the road, the left tire riding through the first lake puddle without issue. With care, the Corolla easily skirts the remaining puddles for the next .3 miles. The road bends next to Navy Tower primitive (and not maintained) boat ramp, as pines needles carpet the less exciting but easier to drive forest road.

At the small kiosk I pull into the small six car parking space.

kayaker on Hidden Lake

Smiling kayaker on Hidden Lake
Photo courtesy of Beautiful Paddles

Palmetto-Peartree Preserve Snapshot

With 14 miles of shoreline along the Albemarle Sound, the 17-year-old preserve offers numerous private pocket beaches, deep blue glassy water, a camping platform, and excellent birding. The 10,000 acres serves as both vital habitat to the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (as well as to numerous black bears, osprey, and other wildlife) and a protection buffer to highway 64.

While the Conservation Fund formerly owned and managed the preserve, in July 2016 NCDOT took ownership until another agency or organization indicates a desire for the long-term management and ownership of the land.

Soundside Observations

With a fish in its talons, the bald eagle flies low and slow over the sound, disappearing past Palmetto Point. The 16’ sea kayak glides smoothly over the clear shallow water and remaining stumps of trees once marking the shoreline. The empty Albemarle Sound extends to the horizon.

Every pocket beach initially appears as the entrance to the lake, and on the fifth attempt, I find the entrance and paddle up the twelve-foot wide creek. Cypress, pine, and other trees shade the creek until it unexpectedly widens at the ten-acre lake. Paddling towards the camping platform, I count four active osprey nests and lose count of the turtles swimming away.

Hidden Lake offers overnight camping options for the adventurous paddler photo courtesy of Beautiful Paddles

Hidden Lake offers overnight camping options for the adventurous paddler
Photo courtesy of Beautiful Paddles

Hidden Lake Field Notes

Easily reached from Edenton, Columbia, and the Outer Banks the preserve has four soundside access points and one canal access, offering casual half day paddles to longer adventure paddles with platform camping.

The access points are primitive and not maintained. From the small parking lot at the boardwalk (the main launch point), carry your boat 138 yards (a cart with large wheels will work if you do not carry your boat) along the trail to a small sand beach.

Once on the water, head left (west) 1.56 miles past the prominent Palmetto Point. With care, you can find the entrance to Hidden Lake on your first try. If you reach Ship Point and see houses in the distance, you paddled a half mile too far. There is no obvious sign of the creek except for light color water, indicating the less brackish water of the creek.

The creek to Hidden Lake is 1000 feet long; the platform is 400 feet from the confluence of the creek and lake, on your left as you head in.

For more detailed paddle trail description, digital map, and photos of this paddle, visit http://beautifulpaddles.com/palmetto-peartree-paddle-guide/

 

Hidden Lake trip tip – The lake is worth exploring and offers high quality fishing and birding. Bring your pole and binoculars.
Brad Beggs, Beautiful Paddles.

 

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Autumn Arts along the Sound

autumnartsalongthealbemarlesound

A trio of events celebrating the arts kickoff the fall season along the Albemarle Sound. Fans of everything aquatic will appreciate the 5th Annual Surfalorus Film Festival held at various venues along the Outer Banks and Manteo. Get stoked and enjoy the three-day celebration that features the latest, most ripping ocean and surfing documentaries. Pocosin Arts in Columbia invite folks to come out for an evening of art, music, food and fun along the Scuppernong River during their Annual Benefit Auction. And in early October, the Perquimans Arts Council in Hertford hosts their 6th Annual Arts on the Perquimans juried art show that features the works of 40 local artisans. Sounds like fun along the sound and surf so get out this autumn, enjoy the cooler weather and support our region’s arts!

 

2016 Surfalorus Film Festival

5th Annual Surfalorus Film Festival

September 15-17, 2016
Multiple Venues

A three-day celebration of coastal North Carolina marine culture and visual arts returns to the Outer Banks. The official website describes the event as “a fun-and-sun filled cinematic synthesis of all things aquatic, showcasing the year’s hottest surf films and ocean documentaries with a series of outdoor sunset screenings and accompanying festivities.” Surfalorus is a premier collaboration between the Dare County Arts Council and the Wilmington, NC-based Cucalorus Film Festival. Check out the following schedule of events and screenings throughout the fest.

TH (9/15), 7pmWatermen Shorts
Screening begins at 7:30pm at the Outer Banks Brewing Station.

FR (9/16), 7pm – Shaping Shorts
Screening at the Dare County Arts Council. It Ain’t Pretty is the feature at 8:30pm.

SA (9/17), 4pmThe Adventures of NASASA and Forbidden Trim are the featured films screening at the Front Porch Cafe in Nags Head, NC.

SA (9/17, 7:30pm – Screenings begin at 8pm. A series of Breathtaking Shorts, Lopez Loves Shorts and the event’s finale, The Zone at the Outer Banks Brewing Station. For tickets and a complete schedule, click here.

 

Pocosin Arts Annual Art Auction 2016

Pocosin Arts’ Annual Benefit Auction

Saturday, September 24, 2016
5:00pm – 9:00pm

Pocosin Arts welcomes you to an evening under the stars to view and bid on more than 100 handcrafted works of art in their silent and live auctions. Tap your toes to the music of the Alligator String Band and enjoy dinner prepared by Kelly’s Outer Banks Restaurant.

Pocosin Arts’ 2016 Benefit Auction Scholarship donations will help create a fund in honor of renowned metalsmith and Professor Robert Ebendorf. Proceeds from the benefit auction enable Pocosin Arts to sustain a variety of programming opportunities for learning, discovery and creative expression for artists of all ages. Marlene True, Pocosin Arts Executive Director recently acknowledged that over 120 scholarships were awarded last year to students who attended Summer Youth Art Camps and After School Art Programs. True added that these contributions have also supported Pocosin Arts’ community outreach programs that provide art instruction in the local schools. To learn more about the benefit and registration, click here$55 on or before 9/14; $65 on or after 9/15.

 

PAL's 2016 Arts on the Perquimans

Arts on the Perquimans

Saturday, October 1, 2016
10am to 4pm

The Pequimans Arts League (PAL) presents the annual juried arts and crafts show held at the Perquimans County Recreation Center in Hertford, NC.

I recently caught up with Sheryl Corr, President of the Pequimans Arts League. The non-profit organization supports literary, visual and performing arts through educational and cultural arts programs. Corr enthusiastically revealed, “This year’s juried arts and crafts show will include more than 40 vendors with pottery, jewelry, fiber art, wood-turning, photography, painting and much more.” She added, “All of the unique crafts and art are made by artists from, in and around NE North Carolina.”

The popular 6th annual event also features door prizes, a bake sale and a 50/50 raffle. The traveling yarn truck from Knitting Addiction in Kitty Hawk will be caravanning to the event and exhibiting their fine yarns and knitting supplies. Admission: $3. More info.

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