05/08/09 — Annual month-long journey planned

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Annual month-long journey planned

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on May 8, 2009 1:46 PM

Kayaking and canoeing enthusiasts can get a different perception of a familiar body of water during May.

The annual Tour de Neuse is a month-long journey down the length of the Neuse River that attracts paddlers of all experience levels.

"We really try to get people connected with the river," said lower-Neuse Riverkeeper Larry Baldwin. "The region has been in a drought since 2003. We need to realize that the river is not an unlimited resource and that the water quality is just as important as the water level."

The tour rolls into Wayne County on May 15 when the paddlers make their way from Ferry Bridge Road to U.S. 117 in Goldsboro. Over the next two days, the group will make their way to Seven Springs and past the Cliffs of the Neuse into Lenoir County and eventually Oriental -- the tour's point of destination.

"We did the first tour in 2006 and it was a great way for the riverkeepers to familiarize themselves with every section of the Neuse," said Baldwin. "As we were paddling, we thought that maybe others would want to join in the fun."

In order to take part in the event, each paddler must raise $200 in sponsorships for each leg of the tour they wish to participate. Any boater who raises $500 is eligible to complete as many sections of the river as they wish.

All proceeds go to the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation.

"The opportunity to teach people about the river in a relaxed environment is the best part of the tour," said Baldwin. "We are a private non-profit organization, so the fund raising is important too, but as a riverkeeper my biggest goal is to promote understanding of the Neuse's positive and negative aspects."

The Riverkeeper Foundation serves as eastern North Carolina's primary force behind issues surrounding water quality, wildlife management and recreational usage of the river which spans 11 counties (approximately 250 miles).

Recently, the foundation sponsored its seventh annual spring cleanup which began in Wake County and ended at the Smithfield Town Commons in Johnston County. Nearly 400 bags of trash were collected by volunteers and 121 used tires were pulled from the water.

The garbage weighed an astounding 13,920 pounds.

"It's actually kind of disheartening," said Baldwin. "We do the river cleanup every year, and every year we find almost the same amount of trash along the banks and around the bridges."

Baldwin hopes that with increased participation in this year's tour, the litter problem will be projected in a larger spotlight.

"The citizens of North Carolina need to be aware that the river is theirs to enjoy," he said. "The Neuse belongs to every resident of this state and it's all of our responsibility to take care of it."