The Dan River Basin Association’s (DRBA’s) May 5 outing will be a 5.5-mile float on the Dan River from Whetstone Creek to Eden Wildlife Access.
Meeting at 10 a.m. at the NC Wildlife Access in Eden, N.C., locally called the Boat Landing. Participants will paddle through several navigation sites, well-preserved nineteenth century river structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The navigation structures provide easy passage through shallow areas, making this a Class I section, suitable for novice paddlers. Coordinator for the outing will be DRBA board member Mark Bishopric, avid paddler and outfitter.
“After accessing the river using Whetstone creek, paddlers will have the opportunity to navigate several bateau sluices as we journey towards Leaksville Landing, on a stretch of river that was used for bateau traffic starting around 1800. Hopefully we can watch nesting blue herons at Matrimony Creek,” Bishopric said.
The navigation structures in the Dan, built in the 1820s and expanded as late as the 1880s, include sluices, landings, and wing dams that made the river usable by flat-bottomed bateaux, the long, narrow workhorses of nineteenth century river commerce in the region.
According to North Carolina historian Lindley Butler, “The structures channel the water through rapids and ledges that would have blocked the bateaux, each of which carried several tons of goods. Present-day recreational users enjoy the effects of these structures, which have been self-maintaining for over 130 years. The improvements enable us to float the Dan throughout Rockingham County even in times of extreme drought.”
In this section, boaters will pass through Galloway’s Lower Ford Sluice and Sneed Strong’s Fish Dam Sluice. Two miles into the trip, on river left, was the Grief Wade Plantation where coal was mined during the Civil War and shipped by bateau to heat military prisons in Danville.
For four miles of the trip from nearly the beginning, participants will float past a large parcel on river right being developed by Piedmont Land Conservancy and the North Carolina Wildlife Commission for public use, including a riverside trail. The project will add significantly to Rockingham County’s recreational amenities.
Just past the confluence of Buffalo Island Creek on river left, boaters will pass under the Harrington Highway Bridge. Nearby on river left, one may see a fine stand of river cane, the only bamboo native to the United States. It was common on the banks when William Byrd surveyed the “Dividing Line” in 1728, but now is gradually disappearing throughout much of the river’s length.
Also entering from river left is Matrimony Creek, so named by Byrd because, like his marriage, it was “exceedingly noisy and impetuous.” After a lunch break, boaters will reach Leaksville Landing, the only known bateau port remaining in the nation. Leaksville Landing Access is just downstream.
After drifting past Johnston’s Landing, boaters will pass the site of the former Leaksville Covered Bridge, where a massive stone pier from the 1852 span survives, along with a 150-foot-long sluice wall on river right.
One of the last points of interest on the trip will be the confluence of the Smith River, which enters the Dan from river left. According to “The Dan River Book,” by Forrest Altman, the North Fork of the Smith and the East Fork of the Dan rise on opposite sides of Mountain View Road on Belcher Mountain in Patrick County, within sight of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Participants in the outing are asked to bring boat and paddles, a life jacket for each boater, lunch and water, to dress in layers of artificial (quick-drying) fabric and to sign a waiver.
Outings and meetings of the Dan River Basin Association are free and open to the public.
For more information, visit www.danriver.org.