DAY 8: MID-DAY UPDATE
The crew is paddling into Kinston today and they have a friend joining them today: Kelsey Curtis, owner of Knee Deep Adventures, an outfitter located in Greenville.
Day number eight on the water was the shortest day in miles that we had to travel on the river, but on that morning we woke to a slower moving river. The water levels finally began to drop after hurricane Ian, evidenced by the wet rings now visible on the sides of trees, and the slower current. We got a late start getting onto the water after having delightful coffee and conversation with our gracious host, Bob Griffin, who allowed us to stay on his property the night before. We talked about the flooding from hurricanes Fran, Matthew, and Francis, and about how our host’s home fared during those major storms (hint: the house was underwater!). We also talked about the magic of the swamp and all of the amazing creatures living just underneath the surface of the river that you often see, like giant 60 pound catfish, tiny catfish like the endangered Madtom, and lots and lots of beavers. Pulling into the river from the dock that morning, we had a heightened awareness of the magic of the swamp.
That morning we were also joined by a friend and awesome paddler, Kelsey, who runs the Knee Deep Adventures on the Tar river, and has been a big supporter of our conservation work there. Kelsey was a great addition to our gang of lady riverkeepers and has a fantastic eye for spotting unique things on the river— she picked out a few animal dens, saved some big trash from the waterway and regaled us with stories of the times she has rescued injured animals on the water.
As we paddled we noticed the character of the swamp edging into our periphery, and the river itself taking on a slower, more indecisive nature. Throughout the paddle day we passed many oxbows in the river, that marked what used to be the main channel of the Neuse before the steady flow carved a more direct path. Peering past the stream banks, we could see that the water permeated deep into the forest, carving myriad paths and small hidden blackwater lagoons like mazes off of the main channels. As we passed these wetland areas, we couldn’t help but remark on how much handiwork the beavers have been up to on the Neuse River. Evidence of their chews was obvious on many of the willow trees and cypress knees that we paddled by, and the meandering channels are the product of the beavers architectural prowess. Aside from humans, beavers change their habitat more than any species that we know of. They are little ecosystem architects, and also keystone species, critical to the health and vitality of our waterways. Paddling along the river, it was encouraging to see so much evidence of the beavers thriving here. Each one of these little swampy wetlands looked like a magical place and tempted us to venture from our path, but we were on a mission, so we paddled ahead.
On our 8th day of the paddle we also saw our very first kayaker. We told this friendly human that he wins the award for best and only recreational adventurer on the Neuse in a whole week. We all laughed about it, but also acknowledge that we would much prefer to see many, many, many people paddling on the Neuse and enjoying the beautiful scenery that we have been soaking up for this long. We reflected on the fact that the Neuse River used to be an economic and cultural hub, but now you can travel for 100 miles without seeing hardly anyone. A major goal of our work caring for the Neuse River is to not only protect it from pollution, but to encourage all of the folks who are lucky enough to live near it to enjoy all that it has to offer.
We pulled our boats into the Neuseway Nature Park in Kinston at around 5 PM. The center is handily located right off the river, with an awesome set up for easily pulling kayaks from the water onto shore. The nature center itself offers a unique educational opportunity to learn about the reptiles, birds, flora, and natural history, of this area along the Neuse River. After spending eight full days on the river, mostly in the middle of nowhere, it felt good to be at an established campsite among the kind folks who run this place and obviously care a lot about the river too.
Being in Kinston, we couldn’t finish out the night without a trip to Mother Earth Brewing. We love Mother Earth for their environmentally conscious approach to making delicious brews, and also because they have been staunch supporters of our work at Sound Rivers. They graciously offered us a free round of beers, which we happily enjoyed on their beautiful patio as we debriefed the day and soaked up the simple pleasures of beer and friends.
Day number nine is going to be a long one, with about 23 miles worth of paddling ahead. Stay tuned for what we see along that stretch of our swampy adventure.