DISMAL SWAMP CANAL, N.C. — By 6 a.m. on May 5, light rain showers combined with early morning dew covered the trees and leafy vegetation lining the banks of the historical Dismal Swamp Canal.
The temperatures at 6:30 a.m. were in the low 70s and the sun was just beginning to peek through the clouds as the day welcomed 325 people who gathered at the welcome center in North Carolina to participate in the 9th annual Paddle for the Border.
"This has been the third year I have paddled, and it has been a fantastic experience every time," said John Monroe, who drove more than three hours from a small North Carolina town to participate in the Chesapeake, Va.-sponsored event.
Monroe, 76, said the event "keeps me in shape and gives me an opportunity to travel the historical canal at my pace."
As kayaks, canoes and waterboards launched in North Carolina at 8:30 a.m., temperatures had crept to 80 degrees for the 7.5-mile paddle to Virginia. Word along the banks of the Great Dismal Swamp Canal was that the massive trees that arched over the water and small coves would provide shady retreats for people to stop, sip water and snap photos of their friends paddling by.
"It was a perfect day to slip a paddle into the dark waters of the historic Dismal Swamp Canal," Gladys Jones said.
Jones, the event coordinator for the city of Chesapeake, Va. – the city in which the paddle ended – said the maximum amount of paddlers – 300 – participated in 2011. As a result, that number was increased to 325 participants this year.
"Each year, registration becomes more competitive," Jones said. "Many participants are regulars, calling us early in January to find out when registration will begin."
Paddlers traveled from several states, as well as localities throughout North Carolina and Virginia, to participate this year.
With more paddle participants that in 2011, Joy Greenwood, park superintendant for the Dismal Swamp State Park, said it was important to that everyone be "mindful of the increased water traffic so it is an enjoyable, safe and hazard- free experience."
Accordingly, park rangers from three different jurisdictions provided on-water boat operations in support of the event while the Chesapeake fire department's community emergency response team provided on-bank observations and emergency medical services.
The annual event, sponsored by the Dismal Swamp State Park, Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center, Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and City of Chesapeake Parks and Recreation Department, gives participants an opportunity to paddle from the Dismal Swamp State Park in North Carolina to the Great Dismal Swamp Boat Ramp in Chesapeake, Va.
President Obama's America Great Outdoors initiative, or AGO, seeks to reinvigorate the nation's approach to reconnect Americans with the lands and waters that are used for farming, hunting, fishing and other recreational activities. It spreads the messages of conservation, protection, reconnection and stewardship of the outdoors.
Did you know?
The Dismal Swamp Canal was inspired by George Washington, who as a surveyor of rural lands, made his first visit to the Great Dismal Swamp in May 1763. Washington, along with other prominent Virginians and North Carolinians, suggested draining the swamp and digging a north-south canal through it to connect the waters of Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. In 1805, after 12 years of back-breaking construction, the 22 mile long Dismal Swamp Canal was finally completed. Since 1929, the Corps' Norfolk District has held the responsibility for maintaining and operating the Dismal Swamp Canal, which has the distinction as the oldest continually operating man-made canal in the United States.