DISMAL SWAMP CANAL, N.C. — As the first light of day tried to peek through gray clouds, hundreds of cars and trucks arrived and began to unload kayaks and canoes onto the banks of the historical Dismal Swamp Canal for the 11th Annual Paddle for the Border May 3.
The annual event 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.
"This has been the eight year I have paddled, and it has been a fantastic experience every time," said Helene Haluska, who retired from the Army Corps of Engineers in 2011.
Under dew-covered trees and leafy vegetation, volunteers welcomed 350 participants at the Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center in North Carolina with muffins and juice as the paddlers mingled and talked about their kayaks, custom-made canoes and put on this year’s lime-green Paddle for the Border T-shirt.
"This is my first year, “said Grayden, a 6-year-old from Chesapeake who attended the event with his mom. “It will be fun if I can see some turtles and whatever else lives in the water or along the shoreline.”
Gladys Jones, the event coordinator for the city of Chesapeake, Va. – the city in which the paddle ended – said the maximum amount of paddlers this year was 350, an increase of 25 from last year’s event.
"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.
As kayaks, canoes and water boards launched in North Carolina at 8:30 a.m., temperatures had crept to the mid-70s for the 11-mile paddle to Virginia. Massive trees arching over the water and small coves provided shady retreats for people to stop, sip water and snap photos of their friends paddling by.
With more paddlers each year, 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 is 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.
Paddle for the Border ties into President Barack Obama's America Great Outdoors initiative, which 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 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Norfolk District has held the responsibility for maintaining and operating the Dismal Swamp Canal, which has the distinction of the oldest continually operating man-made canal in the U.S.