Neuse River Rising an epic Riverkeepers’ paddle

One-hundred, fifty miles of the Neuse River in 11 days.

That’s the journey Neuse Riverkeeper Samantha Krop and Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Jill Howell will embark on Sept. 28. From Smithfield to New Bern, through cities and endless, swampy lowlands, the two will experience more than half the Neuse River by kayak.

“Neuse River Rising is about getting to know the river, inside and out — all of it — by being on the river and seeing it from a different perspective than most people are able to experience,” Sam said. “We’re also doing it to raise awareness about all the ways people can enjoy the river, all the unique and beautiful parts of it and, of course, the threats to water quality, and all the species and people who rely on the river.”

The two Riverkeepers have mapped out the long paddle over the past month, planning where to camp, how much food and water to bring, organizing drop-offs of supplies and selecting which issues to highlight as they kayak more than half the entire length of the Neuse River.

“There’s a lot of planning that goes into this, but there’s also a lot of unknowns. There are stretches that are really remote and really beautiful, and we don’t really know where we’re going to camp, so there’s going to be a lot of problem solving as we go,” Sam said.

Neuse Riverkeeper Samantha Krop (left) and Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Jill Howell (right) kayaked on the Catawba River earlier this year.

One of the unknowns is the area known as the “Let’lones,” a colloquialism referring to the stretch of the Neuse between Smithfield and Goldsboro that points to a certain illustrious past. “People used to have whiskey distilleries out there, and everyone said that area was best ‘left alone.’ Over time, they just started referring to the area as the ‘Let’lones,’” Sam laughed.

Accompanying them on the trip will be Emily Bowes, Oregon’s Rogue Riverkeeper and a past coworker and friend of Sam’s, along with Sam’s dog, Charlie, and Jill’s pup, Miller, who accompanied Jill and Sound Rivers’ Program Director Clay Barber on last year’s Pamlico Paddle.

Neuse River Rising is Jill’s third, multi-day paddle on Sound Rivers’ watersheds. In 2019, Jill and Clay did a 10-day paddle from Oxford to Washington for the Tour de Tar, and in 2021, they completed the Tar-Pamlico with the five-day Pamlico Paddle from Washington to Swan Quarter.

“I have done a good amount of backpacking, but never more than five nights in a row. I’ve done a good amount of kayaking, but not multi-day trips like this. So, we’re really going to be relying on Jill’s experience,” Sam said.

They opted to name the kayaking adventure Neuse River Rising not only because of the successful efforts to clean up the Neuse since the Clean Water Act was passed 50 years ago, but the work that has yet to be done to combat pollution and sea-level rise brought about by climate change.

Packing and planning will hopefully be the hardest part of the trip, Sam said.

“It’s very exciting,” she said. We’re all excited about the Let’lones stretch. Who knows what we’re going to find?”

Kayakers are invited to join Jill, Sam, Emily, Miller and Charlie on the very last leg of their journey, from the Glenburnie to Union Point Park in downtown New Bern. The meet-up will be at the Glenburnie boat access at noon on Oct. 8, and it will take approximately four hours to reach Union Point Park. Those interested can email info@soundrivers.org for more information.