On Saturday, September 4, the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA) invites you to paddle a particularly interesting section of the Smith River in celebration of Labor Day weekend. The organization’s First Saturday Outing will float 6 miles from the Smith River Sports Complex Access to the Mitchell Bridge Access in Henry County, Virginia.
Participants will meet at 9 a.m. at the Smith River Sports Complex.
Coordinator for the outing is Wayne Kirkpatrick, avid paddler and chairman of DRBA’s Outings Task Force.
“Within the first two miles of the float, we will reach the Class III rapid known as Eggleston Falls. Because the rocks at Eggleston Falls are known to flip boats, when we reach the falls those who are not wearing helmets will be directed to the less challenging, but still fun, batteau sluice on river left, which makes this outing appropriate for novice paddlers,” Kirkpatrick said.
In the nineteenth century, the Smith River was improved to allow long, narrow batteaux, the commercial craft that carried cargo up and down the river, to pass through rocky ledges.
According to DRBA’s Insider’s Guide to the Smith River, available at www.danriver.org, the river’s navigation improvements included “a batteau sluice blasted out of bedrock adjacent to the falls river left.” Boaters still use that channel to bypass the falls. Just downstream of Eggleston Falls, Marrowbone Creek enters the Smith River from the right. The Marrowbone Creek Access is one of the most popular launching sites on the river.
On a hillside just below Marrowbone Creek, covered by a rhododendron thicket, is the 75-acre Gravely Nature Preserve, developed by DRBA as part of the Smith River Trail System. The preserve, part of the Henry County park system, boasts two miles of trails with interpretive signs, a wealth of wildflowers and ferns, and the family cemetery of the historic Burgess Plantation. Hikers may be glimpsed on the riverside trail.
A mile below the Gravely Nature Preserve, Leatherwood Creek enters the river from the left. Near the headwaters of the creek, Patrick Henry lived on a large plantation from 1779 – 1786. Both Patrick and Henry counties are named in honor of this Revolutionary War patriot.
Boaters may wish to take a side excursion up Leatherwood Creek to enjoy the shade and explore for wildflowers and birds. A short distance downriver a broad rounded boulder in the middle of the Smith, fondly dubbed “Lunch Rock,” beckons paddlers to stop and break out a snack.
Within half a mile is a long bedrock layer that spans the river, with a channel on the far right, possibly cut for batteau navigation. Another half mile brings boaters to Long Island, flanked by Long Island Rapids that provide one last maneuvering opportunity in sight of the takeout at Mitchell Bridge Access.
Henry County, in partnership with DRBA, has made the Smith River accessible to the public over the past 15 years by building public access points at eight new sites along the river, including those at Marrowbone Creek, which opened in 2007, and the Smith River Sports Complex and Mitchell Bridge, both built in 2009.
Participants in the outing are asked to bring boat and paddles, a life jacket for each boater, lunch, and water. Dress in layers of synthetic (quick drying) fabric and be prepared to get wet. Because its waters come from the bottom of Philpott Lake, the Smith River is always refreshingly cold. All participants are asked to sign a waiver.
The put-in is at the Smith River Sports Complex, 1000 Irisburg Road, Axton, Virginia. From US 220, turn east on US 58 toward Danville. Drive 2.5 miles and turn right onto County Road 650/Irisburg Road. The Sports Complex is ¼ mile on the right. Immediately after passing through the gates, turn left onto a gravel road beside the maintenance sheds. Follow the road downhill to the parking lot at the top of the ramp.
Outings and meetings of the Dan River Basin Association are open to the public without charge. For trip information, contact trip coordinator Wayne Kirkpatrick, email@example.com.
The Dan River Basin Association (DRBA) will hold its First Saturday Outing on Saturday, Sept. 4. Participants will float 6 miles from the Smith River Sports Complex Access to the Mitchell Bridge Access in Henry County, Virginia. (By Betty Kirkpatrick)