For many years one of m y favorite outdoor activities has been to explore relatively remote areas of our state by boat. Indeed some of the finest hunting and fishing or just plain outdoorsing is located where it is difficult or even impossible to gain access to unless you’re using a boat of some sort to get there.
These areas of North Carolina may be a little hard to find as you travel from east to west across North Carolina and begin to travel through areas that seem to become more populated every day. On the other hand the further east you go in our state the population density decreases dramatically. Truly remote outdoor recreation areas seem to be best to me in the eastern part of our state.
One of my favorite hunting/camping outings has been to gain access to some of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s Game Lands along the Roanoke River and hunt-fish-camp for a few days. There are some higher grounds available on some of these tracts of land and the only way to get there is by boat. Wild turkey, deer, waterfowl and small game hunting is excellent on a lot of these areas and if the outdoorsman is after a turkey in the spring hunt, the fishing for the rivers famed striped bass can make for a multi-sport camp out.
The relatively high grounds that can be found on some of these game lands aren’t easy to find so proper scouting is necessary to determine just where a good place to set up camp can be had.
The Roanoke River is also notorious for its periodic floods so its wise to check with the upstream flow rates coming down from the dams at Kerr Lake or Roanoke Rapids Lake. Of all the years that I’ve been camping and hunting along the lower Roanoke River I’ve only been flooded out once. We’d set up camp and settled in for the duration but as the rain increased we watched the water levels gradually begin to creep up toward our tents. I awoke in the middle of the night to see water literally lapping on the tent and we hurriedly broke camp and returned to Scotland Neck.
On another winter camping/deer hunting trip along the Roanoke River we were caught in one of those rare snowstorms that occasionally happen in that part of the country. We were prepared with all the camp comforts we’d brought along and had one of the most memorable (and productive) Roanoke camping trips we’ve ever had. I like to compare our boat-in camping trips/hunts to the way westerners ride horses into elk country, set up a base camp and spend a few days in pursuit of elk, bear or mule deer.
Even some of our State Parks offer “remote camping” areas where an outdoorsman can find some solitude and have some fine fishing. (There’s still no hunting allowed on the North Carolina State Park lands but that may change one-day soon.).
One notable area of our state that I “discovered” some years ago was at Merchant’s Mill Pond State Park near Sunbury and Gatesville. Strat Donnell and myself had packed our canoe with fishing and camping gear and driven to the park with the intent of exploring what they called a “remote campsite” that was located well off the beaten path of the park. It was one of the more enjoyable fishing and camping trips that I’d experienced in years.
The campsite was just that. It was a site with no water, no nothing except a small island located in the far reaches of this large millpond. Everything that we needed for our camp had to be brought in by canoe
Merchants Millpond is a very old and large millpond that once supplied waterpower to a grist mill. When the area was originally flooded years ago they didn’t bother to clear the timber from the pond. The result was that this millpond is still heavily grown up in trees that tolerate water. No motorboats are allowed on the millpond and canoes (and hopefully, kayaks) are available there.
That was many years ago and today the Merchants Millpond State Park is a bit different. There are multiple canoe-in campsites available with some of these built high above the water or mud of the swamps surrounding the pond proper. Without these camping platforms, camping would have been nearly impossible.
Apparently this idea of having camping platforms built in inundated or swampy areas caught on in other areas of the state also. Eastern counties began to realize the potential of raised camping platforms to attract the eco-tourist crowd as
Well as hunters and fishermen. The most notable of these groups that have taken advantage of these natural resources is the Roanoke River Partners (RRP) who are using the relatively recent National Wildlife Refuges along the Roanoke River Delta as a tourist attraction. They’ve built these platforms in strategic locations all along the Roanoke River and its tributaries and the platforms are being used. The RRP has sponsored numerous paddling activities that have brought in this relatively new breed of outdoor enthusiasts to out area and they are coming back and using the platforms regularly.
These platforms were not cheap to build so the RRP does charge a nominal fee to camp on their platforms. Also, to be sure that you are guaranteed a place to sleep when you arrive there, reservations are required.
With the Pamlico/Tar River groups now planning to have camping platforms built along their waterways the trend for camping by boat (and specifically by canoe and kayak) on the increase, I feel sure that these platforms will be well used too.
Many of us Down Easterners have said for years that the true potential of our state lay in the outdoors activities that abound in our state and not in heavy industry.
People that visit us on the Pamlico are so amazed at the relatively few boats they see as they travel on our waterways. One visitor from the Annapolis, Maryland area recently compared the Chesapeake Bay in that area as being like “Grand Central Station on the Bay” when he compared it to our much less crowded waterways. A good example of the lack of boating traffic here occurred a week ago when we left the Hickory Point area on the Pamlico for a fishing trip out past Pamlico Point on Pamlico Sound. It was a beautiful, calm summer’s morning and we fished for about four hours and then returned to the homeport. We saw only two other boats during that entire morning. No wonder the Florida fishing guides are moving into our state and setting up their businesses.