The Kayak Chronicles

by Darren Caffery

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Paddling the Outer Banks of North Carolina:

Kitty Hawk Woods - Maritime Forest

Sunday May 18, 2008

On Sunday, our first day of paddling in the OBX, winds were predicted to be about 15 to 20 miles per hour from the southwest, so to ease gradually into  our week of paddling, we chose to paddle the protected waters of High Bridge Creek in the Kitty Hawk Woods Maritime Forest.  At the end of the creek there would be an opportunity to play around in the open waters of the Currituck Sound before heading back down the creek to the takeout.
 
At about 8:30 am, as we left our rental home in Salvo, the air temperature was already in the 70's and the sun was shining bright.  The winds were as strong as predicted and we could see the raging waters of the Pamlico Sound at the Oregon Inlet as we drove over the large bridge, just north of Pea Island, on the Hatteras National Seashore.

The Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve and Maritime Forest is a 600 acre preserve which is co-managed by the town of Kitty Hawk and the North Carolina Coastal Reserve. The High Bridge Creek (also known as Jean Guite Creek) in the forest meanders through maritime shrub swamp, forest, sedge and salt marsh habitats and provides an excellent paddling trail. In addition, there are also a number of hiking trail available to explore, however, you must enter them from land.  Hopefully, at some point, the hiking trails will be accessible from the creek so that paddlers can get out and explore more of this beautiful nature sanctuary.

Our group of nine OBX paddlers launched into the protected waters of the High Bridge Creek on Bob Perry Road at about 10 am and were immediately greeted by a small water moccasin and a black watersnake shortly after that. We began paddling northward up the protected waters of the creek. Since we were on no time schedule, a few of us paddled off the main channel of the creek and into some of the smaller tributaries. The forest was very lush and the water was high on the banks. The first tributary we explored went on for about one half mile and other than the sound of some red-wing blackbirds and a few woodpeckers, it was very quiet back there. There were a few homes backed up against the creek and mostly hidden by trees, but they were few and far between.


 

As I was paddling down the small tributary and back towards the main channel, the quiet of the creek was interrupted when a rather large snake dropped about 4 feet and 'kerplunked' into the waters of the creek, about 2 yards in front of my kayak. Once in the water, it zig-zagged on the water and out of sight, into the marshy shoreline. Although I couldn't see the snake anymore, I thought it might be a good time to put my spray skirt on!  As I slowly made my way back to the main channel, I observed a Green Heron in a tree and as I got my camera ready, it quickly took to flight!

          

After making it back to the main channel of the creek, I began paddling northward. While poking around into another small tributary, I observed a Great Egret wading in a small pond. After paddling a little closer, I took my paddle out of the water and just sat there. It didn't seem to mind me observing, as it looked like it was more focused on scouting it's lunch. The Egret was intensely watching the water as I quietly sat and watched it, just as intensely. After a few minutes it's head darted forwarded, sending it's bill quickly into the water to catch a fish. This process went on a few times over the next 15 minutes and there was something very relaxing about watching this. After snapping a few pictures, I continued back to the main channel of the creek and picked up my paddling pace to try to catch up with the rest of the group.  On the way I disturbed a Little Blue Heron which quickly took to flight, and landed in more well protected area of the creek, just about 25 yards ahead of me.

As I paddled a bit faster, I could see some of the other paddlers ahead.  After paddling about 1.5 miles we approached the covered bridge and snapped a few more pictures before continuing on up the creek. After paddling another mile, we approached the Kitty Hawk Sports building where we sometimes land to have lunch or take a break. The building looked like it had actually been moved a bit more towards the highway and lifted higher on pilings.  The small inlet of creek on the side of their building which they used as their launch site for their kayak tours was now filled in.  The launch site for this outfitter is now a brand new wooden deck on the main channel of the High Bridge Creek, and a big improvement over the old, muddy and snake infested launch.  I talked to a worker from the outfitter who was taking a break as I passed and he told me how the building was moved and about some of the improvements being made to the building and the store in general.  After chatting a bit, I continued under highway 158 and into the Jean Guite Bay.  The channel widened significantly as I paddled farther northward towards the Currituck Sound.  Beautiful homes lined the waterfront on both shores as we paddled towards Martin's Point. As the channel widened, we were less protected from the wind and although we couldn't feel it behind us, we kind of dreaded the resistance it was going to pose after we turned around to go back.

Since the winds were going to be strong in our faces on the paddle back, we only paddled another 1.5 miles and then decided to stop and land at a small area of eroded hill for lunch.  The landing area had just enough beach for myself, Tom, Patrick, Val and Jean to get out and have lunch.  It was also sheltered from the wind.  As we ate lunch we could see Kathy, Joe, Bill and Mary, heading back down the creek.  They had paddled a bit farther towards the Currituck Sound, and were now paddling hard into the wind to maintain their pace, on the other side of the bay.  When I looked over at them with my binoculars, I could see they were so focused on paddling through the wind that they did not even see us having lunch and continued down the creek.  After lunch we fought the wind for about 1.5 miles and were happy when we finally got into the protection of the creek, right below the Highway 158 bridge.

For the last leg of the trip, we took a very relaxed paddling pace back down the creek.  We landed at about 2:30 pm after about 10.2 miles of paddling.

After loading up our boats and gear, some paddlers in the group drove over to the Nature Conservancy at Nags Head Woods and took a 2.5 mile hike on the hilly Sweet Gum Swamp Trail. On the trail we heard lots of birds and saw lots of butterflies and turtles. Mary almost stepped on a black snake as it slithered past her foot.  Four trails explore The Nature Conservancy's pristine, 1400-acre maritime forest preserve in the northern Outer Banks. A short nature trail flanks the visitor center, but a circuit of the Sweet Gum Swamp Trail and the Blueberry Ridge Trail is the premier nature walk on North Carolina's barrier islands. There's also a 2.2-mile out-and-back hike to the edge of Albemarle Sound on the Town Trail.
 

After a great day of paddling and hiking we arrived back to our house at Salvo and began our happy hour spread of cheese, crackers & pepperoni and of course, lots of wine.  Some of us capped off the day with a soak of some tired muscles in the hot tub, watching the sunset over the vast Pamlico Sound. After dinner, the laughter continued into the night until the paddlers retired, one by one to their rooms for a good night sleep.

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