Paddling: Jordan Lake keeps a secret (for now)

Beaver Creek — somwhere up ahead.

I was pretty sure one of two things would happen when I got to this point, and both were good. Now, as I neared my objective the preferred scenario appeared to be unfolding. Preferred, even if it meant my overall objective would be foiled. For now.

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A couple years back, on an early December afternoon, I decided my kayak and I were going to get to know Jordan Lake a little better. Think boats and Jordan Lake, a sprawling, 13,900-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control project built 30 years ago, and thoughts typically turn to burly power boats propelled by 300 horsepower outboards, not sleek, self-propelled kayaks. The lake’s open expanses beg to be crossed in short order, its larger fingers diligently and perpetually patrolled for prime fishing. There’s a lot of water to cover, and for most folks that demands a lot of boat.

But in scouting the GMCO boating map for Jordan, it was obvious that even the lake’s larger fingers diminish to a point where they must become unattractive, then inaccessible, to the powerboat crowd. One finger in particular intrigued me and I had a free afternoon, so I loaded the Old Town Loon 100 on the Civic and drove the half hour to the Farrington Point boat ramp. As motorboat after motorboat headed into the lake’s main channel, I hung a right and paddled up Bush Creek. Alone save for a handful of fellow paddlers, I soon was convinced there was something to this notion of finger paddling.

Late Wednesday afternoon, after 10 hours at the desk, I needed a break. The plan was to grab a map and take a virtual escape, perhaps to a past adventure, perhaps to one on the horizon. Ten minutes, tops; 15 if I recalled taking pictures. Then, somehow, the Loon, the Civic and I were headed west on U.S. 64.

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This turn of events didn’t come by complete surprise. On Monday, my daughter and I headed out with our tandem Loon to Jordan Lake with the intention of exploring its Beaver Creek finger off the lake’s popular Ebenezer Church recreation area. I’d paddled this stretch several times, but never with the intention of outlasting the lake and paddling up its namesake tributary. Beaver Creek, I knew from my land-based travels, passed under the American Tobacco Trail; at times, there appeared to be enough water to paddle. Would it be possible to make it all the way up Beaver Creek, about two miles, to the ATT? Our plan was to find out.

Boat access on Jordan Lake
Click on map for information on locations.

View Jordan Lake Boat Access in a larger map

Unfortunately, our plan did not include waiting in a half-hour line to get to the Ebenezer Church boat ramp. We continued down the road a half mile and put in at the Weaver Creek ramp for two hours of paddling on the powerboat-free impoundment.

Still, the Beaver Creek question nagged. So late Wednesday afternoon I was again swept away by forces beyond my control and by 6:30 found myself paddling in the fading afternoon light up Jordan’s Beaver Creek appendage.

Being on the water, being cradled by gentle swells, has a soothing effect that tends to blot out non in-the-moment thoughts. Yet one slipped through: According to the map, it appeared to be a little over three miles to where the lake handed off to Beaver Creek. At a vigorous clip, it would take me an hour. An hour back, that’s two hours: 8:30, or roughly sunset. If I proposed to head up the creek, that meant returning after dark. While I’d brought a headlamp, I foolishly hadn’t checked beforehand to see what navigation lights are required on a small, self-powered craft after dark. More to the point, I didn’t care to become windshield splatter on one of those 300 HP outboards. Better play it safe and set a turnaround time, I figured. (As it turns out, I would have been legally fine, according to the N.C Wildlife Commission.) I set the alarm on my watch and paddled on.

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Sunset on the slow paddle back.

Despite a moderately detailed map, after a while I lost track of how many inlets I’d passed, their size, whether they were deep and wide or short and shallow. After half an hour I had no sense of how far I’d paddled. I also realized it had been a while since I’d seen or heard a motor. The shadows cast from shore grew longer. On the south bank, a deer stood, intermittently watching me and drinking. Great blue herons began filling the sky like sparrows: I’d seen perhaps two in flight simultaneously before; now, five or six cut graceful arcs through the sky. The ospreys joined in, encouraged by a lake surface that began boiling with striking fish.

I paddled on, navigating from point-to-point along the spiky southern shoreline. Then, about 50 minutes in I saw what I had — and hadn’t — been hoping to see. When a creek feeds a lake like Jordan, it generally does so in one of two ways. It either makes an obvious entrance with trees magically parting and a narrow waterway flowing in (as is the case with the Haw entering Jordan), or, if it enters through an area with little relief, its appearance can be subtle, masked by a mix of loblollies, dead tree trunks and bushy black willows. Up ahead I saw the latter. I cut my engine and began to coast.

Slowly, I entered an expanse of dinner-plate size lilies, giant drops of water rolling about their surface like balls of mercury. About 30 yards up, two beavers went about their work, undeterred by my arrival. Cricket frogs erupted somewhere off to the right, a heron tried to camouflage itself in plain site, bunnylike, about 15 yards off my bow. The lilies dragged my boat to a dead stop.

Beaver Creek lay ahead — somewhere. The willows created a maze that, based on previous experience, would take a while to unravel. With sunset now less than an hour away, the Beaver Creek question would have to remain for another day.
As would my return. I didn’t care to be flailing about after dark in the willows, but a liesurely, cautious return on an open, dark, lake I could handle. And gladly would, because this light, this wetland, this moment were too good to let go.

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Your own Beaver Creek?

Looking for a Beaver Creek to paddle near where you live? Find a list of 35 paddles near seven North Carolina urban centers here.

Need a boat before you can paddle?

Intrigued by the experience but need a boat, first? Here’s a rundown of 44 places in North Carolina that rent canoes and kayaks.

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