We get excited over the opening of a new trail, so imagine our excitement over the opening of a new park. Then multiply that by two because two new parks are actually opening. It’s all happening this Saturday as part of the Year of the Trail Weekend Festival in Edenton.
There’s never been a better time to sample the breadth of great paddling to be had in the Albemarle Sound region.
Yes, we’re usually about hiking. But we’re always about exploring, and this three-day Year of the Trail celebration of paddling by the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ Hometown Strong initiative and local entities, you will get a good introduction to the joys of exploring this region. Among other things, you’ll paddle a mill pond (Bennett’s), take evening paddles on Pembroke and Queen Anne’s creeks, and explore the Roanoke River State Trail and the new Salmon Creek State Natural Area, the latter in Big Canoes, no less. We’ll also expose you to the newest park in Bertie County, where you can paddle, hike, and swim. And then there’s Saturday’s Sounds of Summer celebration at Colonial Park on Edenton’s waterfront, which features vendors, food and live music, featuring the Band of Oz.
Too early to start planning for 2023?
Not when you love the outdoors and 2023 happens to be Year of the Trail in North Carolina.
As I’ve mentioned over the last couple of months, next year has been deemed Year of the Trail in North Carolina and there’s going to be a lot going on. For starters, the State Legislature in 2022 allocated $29.15 million in funding for the Complete the Trails Fund. That money will fund State Trail projects as well as projects deemed :shovel-ready” — that is, the land has been purchased and the trail designed; all that’s needed now is the money to build it. Expect a lot of “Excuse our Mess” signs out in the woods next year.
The sun was unimpeded in chasing off the morning chill, a gentle breeze played in the marsh grass and my swamp kayak rocked ever-so-slightly in the near-still water. Fifteen feet off my starboard bow, an alligator dozed. I watched for several minutes, expecting him to blink. He never did. Apparently, he, too, was savoring the delayed start to spring.
My opening day on the water with the help of SimbaSeaTrips for the 2014 paddling season, and it was hard to picture a better start.
I started paddling Milltail Creek in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in the mid-1990s, drawn both by the refuge’s well-deserved reputation for being some of the wildest 152,000 acres around, and also by the promise — guarantee, practically — of seeing an alligator. The wild was hard to miss: the impenetrable tanglescape beyond the creek’s banks, the cacophony of bird song and assorted other swamp noises, the realization that alligators, bears, red wolves, three types of venomous snakes (cottonmouth, copperhead and timber rattler) and who knows what else roamed the reserve. Yet I’d never seen an alligator. At least that I was aware of.
In 2006 I took one of the guided paddles led by the NWR between June and August. Twenty minutes into the trip, someone asked, “How come there aren’t any alligators?”
The ranger got us to raft up about 20 yards from the south bank. “Watch those ‘logs,’” he advised. After a minute or so, one blinked. Then another. Before long, about a half dozen logs had revealed themselves. I’ve since seen a number of alligators along Milltail Creek.
As I was loading my boat, a guide with two clients arrived at the put-in. He’d been on Milltail
Tuesday, I had one of the more exhausting times I’ve had in 20 years of covering outdoor adventure — and I was in an air-conditioned building. At a catered affair.
The affair was a media event sponsored by the North Carolina Division of Tourism, a gathering of tourism promotion types from around the state and the people they hoped would write about them. People such as myself.
Immediately upon walking in the door of the Contemporary Art Museum — CAM for short — in downtown Raleigh I was met by my old buddy, Suzanne Brown. Suzanne and I worked together for years in the Features Department of The News & Observer, Suz overseeing everything entertainment, me doing my outdoors thing. In 2008, we were both part of a massive newsroom exodus. I landed here, Suz at Tourism, a job that suits her as she wasted little time getting my attention.
“Do you know about the Southeast Coast Saltwater Paddle Trail?” she asked.
I didn’t, but I didn’t feel too bad upon learning that the trail is a work in progress, a proposed — though some of it exists — paddle trail running from Virginia south through the Carolinas and Georgia, where it will meet with the existing 1,515-mile Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail. A kind of Appalachian Trail for paddlers.
“Cool!” I said.
“What about Jetpacks?” she wanted to know.
“And what about telephones with TV screens and flying cars?” I said.
No, she said, you can now rent a JetPak on the Outer Banks.
Then, in a Graduatesque nod to the Next Big Thing, she leaned in and whispered “Zip Lines.”