09/10/07 — Local paddlers will soon have a better way to hit water trails

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Local paddlers will soon have a better way to hit water trails

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on September 10, 2007 2:11 PM

With currents flowing only one direction -- toward the coast -- and usually within defined banks, it's tough to get lost on any of Wayne County's 74 miles of navigable waterways. But Pikeville resident Tom Potter doesn't just want to see people paddling the river, he wants to help them enjoy it.

Serving as executive director of the N.C. Paddle Trail Association, Potter and others have helped map more than 2,000 of the more than 4,000 miles of navigable waters in North Carolina, from the mountains to the coasts. Now, he is turning his attention toward Wayne County, which features 41 miles on the Neuse River, 24 miles on the Little River, five miles on Falling Creek and four miles on Mill Creek -- all mostly "flat, slow-moving waters" for "beginner and novice paddlers."

Potter's goal is to map, mark and describe each one.

"Mile markers and trail guides provide information about the trails so people can compare their skill levels and levels of the rivers. It helps people make an educated decision on where they want to go paddling," he said. "They also help fishermen keep up with which fishing spots are good.

"They really serve a multitude of uses."

Potter explained that since the mid-1990s, the popularity of paddle trails has been growing in North Carolina, particularly in the eastern part of the state where they are the local version of the many hiking trails in the west.

"It was a natural thing to get started on because of the lack of public land in the east," said Potter, a former trail specialist for the state park system. "And it's been progressing.

"The objective is to market North Carolina as a paddle destination. You can really paddle in North Carolina year- round. There's not really an off-season, especially in eastern North Carolina. And if people know there are trails available, they come out."

And when they do, he continued, it creates an economic opportunity.

According to a 1999 economic impact survey -- the last one the association had done -- Potter explained that they found that at the time, the 1,200 miles of mapped trails had helped generate about $1.4 million for local economies, particularly river outfitters, sporting goods stores, campgrounds, bed-and-breakfasts and local craft stores.

"We find that when they're paddling, people like to get the feel of the local community," he said.

He also explained that having paddle trails as part of an overall cultural and recreation package can help make a community's quality of life more attractive to businesses.

"Paddling is not going to be a silver bullet, but it can certainly be part of the process of revitalizing the economies of eastern North Carolina," he said.

Locally, with the help and financial aid of the Wayne County Travel and Tourism Authority -- he's estimating the cost of the project to be between $20,000 and $25,000 for the mile markers and trail guides -- Potter is hoping to complete the mapping and marking of Wayne County's rivers by the end of December. He is also soliciting information and help from local paddlers, fishermen and river enthusiasts, asking them to call him at 738-6314.

Meeting his goal, though, will take a lot of work -- the physical inspection of all the navigable rivers, creeks and streams and existing public access points, as well as those spots on private property that might be used for camping grounds.

"We usually put mile markers up at every mile of the trail. We find that people like to know where they are around the river. And we try to provide an access point or campground every eight to 10 miles, which is a pretty good day for most leisure paddlers," Potter said. "We're just getting started on this."