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Black River in North Carolina

by  guest-paddler

A self-supported trip created by guest-paddler

Trip Overview

Tortoise Reserve Work and Paddle Weekend 2005

The annual Tortoise Reserve Work and Paddle Weekend, usually held in June, took place this year the first weekend in October. Select guest-workers arrived on Thursday to get an early start on work avoidance via paddling.

Following a tradition established last year I brought down another canoe to leave at the Reserve, an Advantage 16 donated by Mad River, as well as a bulging bag of spare PFDs and a couple more junk paddles.

The Tortoise Reserve canoe rack (which hasnt actually been built yet next trip) now houses four tandem canoes, allowing me to abscond with the bulk of the volunteer workforce every morning.

Make that early every morning the three canoe trips this year commenced at 6:30am, 6:00am and 5:30am. Dawn thrice.

Friday, September 30, 2005
Black River, Bladen County NC
Ivanhoe Rd to Beattys Bridge Rd, 7.6 miles
OC2 - Alex Siess, Cat Siess, Mike McCrea
OC1 Dave Maneval

Alex wins the hardy spirit award, arriving well after midnight and being awake and ready to paddle before dawn. Rousing Dave Maneval (hereafter referred to as WorkerDave, to differentiate him from Tortoise Reserve head honcho Dave Lee, hereafter referred to as NonworkerDave) we were on the road in short order and dropping a shuttle vehicle at Beatty's Bridge Rd. at sunrise.

While staging boats and gear at the Ivanhoe put in (easy ramped access) we heard an insistent catbird calling from the brush. Very insistent, and very cat-like. So cat-like in fact that, when Alex investigated, she found a tiny abandoned calico kitten.

Anyone who knows Alex could have predicted the outcome. Poor little frightened, starving thing, we cant just leave it (although no actual vote was taken). Well have to bring her with us.

And so, my 605th paddling companion (including 34 dogs) was a cat. I guess it had to happen sometime. Besides the feline crewmate the fauna highlight of this trip was the appearance of an otter, which plopped up just before the bow to have a look.

An easy trip down the Black - a couple of limbo logs and a speed bump log or two, but no carry-overs, leisurely leg stretcher on a sandbar bank, and we arrived at the Beattys Bridge take out (short steep haul up a hill to side-of-the-road parking) in time to be back and working at the Tortoise Reserve by noon.

This would set the pattern for the following days: up before dawn, on the river at sunrise, back at the Tortoise Reserve and working by noon, put the tools down at dark, socialize around the fire and drink a beer or five til midnight and do it all over again the next day.

Clarification: Most of us put the tools away at dark. WorkerDave - who would be known as IndefatigableDave if that was easier to pronounce after a few beers simply doesnt know the meaning of the word quit. Sitting around the fire, drinking a beer and listening to tall tales from the turtle world Id wonder where WorkerDave might be. And, following the sound of a hammer or saw or drill, Id find him, still on the job in the greenhouse or library or bunkhouse.

Saturday, October 1, 2005
Black River, Bladen County NC
Wildcat Rd to Ivanhoe Rd, 9 miles
OC2 - Alex Siess, Mike McCrea
OC1 Dave Maneval

Same crew (save the cat), same boats (Adventure 16 and Freedom Solo), same river (just one section upstream), same up and at em early (6:00 am instead of 6:30 to accommodate a longer trip).

The Wildcat Rd put in is not a recommended access point. There is a locked and no-trespassing-signed private road/ramp on upstream river left and the legal put in requires a steep and awkward carry down a hill choked with brambles and fallen logs. As an access point it is better as a put in; sliding the boats down the bramble mess is far easier than carrying them up.

WorkerDave had brought a kevlar kayak, but for easier shuttle and transport I kept sticking him in my Freedom Solo. And he kept saying the same thing everyone says I really, really like this boat. WorkerDave has a dozen or so boats in composite, a wood stripper, even an old workhorse Discovery 174, but not a Royalex boat in the bunch. I think thatll soon change; I see a Freedom Solo in Daves future.

With Dave paddling my solo canoe I was tandeming the Adventure 16 with Alex. Say what you want about inexpensive polyethylene canoes, the Adventure 16 is an awesomely comfortable canoe. Perfect for paddling a slow blackwater river, like floating in a Barcalounger. Comfy, comfy, comfy.

Another easy trip, with one short sandbar carryover around a river-wide strainer. The fauna highlight this time was a Sharp Shinned hawk (or maybe Coopers hawk) who nailed a Kingfisher in mid-flight.

We arrived at the Ivanhoe take out and once again were racked and packed and back at work before noon.

Back at the Tortoise Reserve additional guest workers had arrived, and would continue to arrive throughout the day. Eric and Jeff (aka GirlJeff), Jay and Jeff (AKA BoyJeff), Amy, Roman, Herb, Leo, Mike and a few more whose names escape me. A sizeable enough workforce to make some real progress.

And some real progress was made. Not as much as might have been accomplished; in part because I hauled off a portion of the workforce at dawn each day to float a lazy river, and in part because a lack of tool organization hampered commencement on many projects. Having tools and parts spread out in various corners and crannies of a half dozen building throughout the Tortoise Reserve meant that the search for equipment often took longer than actually completing the task at hand.

Ill make the plea again here and now. We need a real tool shed or shop. Come on NonworkerDave, wall in the pole barn or give over the small bunkhouse for use as a shop and tool shed. Ill provide the peg board and hangers and even bring down some excess of tools and parts to prime the pump.

The evenings festivities concluded with the traditional silent auction, the proceeds this year to benefit Herp Digest. Some wonderful auction items were provided including rare photographs (Dave Lee circa 1974, looking like Austin Powers twin brother, and some very nice 8x10s from Alex of last years work weekend), beautiful handcrafted woodwork (a gorgeous wood flute and hand carved boxes from Eric and GirlJeff), tropical plants, books, jewelry and more. Something for everyone.

Additional paddling companions were recruited for the morrows trip, leaving only BoyJeff, Jay and Herb as workforce; you should have come along gentlemen, we would then have filled every boat, including the ratty old Sportspal (although Im not sure we would have had enough paddles well have to rectify that shortage next time).

Sunday, October 2, 2005
Black River, Bladen County NC
Rte 411 to Rte 41, 6.5 miles
OC2 Roman Fletcher, Amy Fletcher, Mike Lowe, Alex Siess
OC1 Leo Schliecher, Mike McCrea
K1 Dave Maneval

If you have ever tried to rouse 6 people from 5 different tents at 5:30am for a dawn paddling trip, well, you would have been amazed. No one begged off, no one threw anything at me, no one called me names or muttered curses in my direction. Off we go.

Setting shuttle for this trip was a bit more difficult; since it was still new moon pitch black out our backroads navigational abilities were somewhat impaired. Since the Black River at the top end is more of a stream there was no sign on the bridge designating it as such. And since there are numerous tributaries that cross Rte 41 in the same general vicinity we wanted to make doubly sure that we were in fact leaving the downstream shuttle vehicle along the correct waterway.

Finding the upstream access point was a little easier, but not much. Sunrise helped. (Access note both the Rte 411 put in and the Rte 41 take out are steep banked access, with side of the road parking).

Eventually all boats were launched and the last float trip of the Tortoise Reserve Work and Paddling Weekend was underway. A gently unremarkable float trip with no carryovers or limbo logs, a moderate current and a lingering leg stretcher on a sunny, sandy beach.

WorkerDave and Alex swapped boats at the mid-point break, so that Alex could get a feel for solo kayaking. Predictably, Alex is now sold on solo paddling (she did not reprise her capsize performances of 2003 and 2004) and promises to have a boat of her own by next springs work & paddle weekend. Roman and Leo are in the market as well. And it wouldnt surprise me if there was a Freedom Solo in WorkerDaves future.

We have now paddled almost the entire non-tidal Black, from Rte 411 to Hunts Bluff Road. Next year well fill in the top (Great Coharie Creek at 903 to Rte 411) and the bottom (Hunts Bluff to the Borough on Moores Creek). And then we can start filling in the remaining gaps on the South River, where we have done only 18 of 85 miles. There is plenty of paddling yet to be done in Bladen County before we float the same section twice.

I foresee a day in the not too distant future where this event will be called the Tortoise Reserve Paddling (and work) Weekend.

Poor NonworkerDave will either have to pine away the lonely mornings waiting for everyone to return from the river, or come with us on a dawn float trip.






80+ miles of river with multiple road crossings. See recommended paddling guide below for maps and directions.


See access notes in trip report.


Paddling Eastern North Carolina by Paul Ferguson

More info on the Tortoise Reserve:

Trip Details

  • Trip Duration: 2-3 Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)

Trip Location