Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Nearly 300 Cruise the Dismal Swamp Canal from North Carolina to Virginia

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Nearly 300 Cruise the Dismal Swamp Canal from North Carolina to Virginia
-- Paddle for the Border growing in popularity with nature-based travelers --

(Elizabeth City, N.C., May 13, 2008) – Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts from throughout the Mid-Atlantic cruised the historic Dismal Swamp Canal from North Carolina to Virginia earlier this month when the two states hosted the fifth annual “Paddle for the Border.”

“It may sound like a race, but it’s a paddling event – and a very scenic, leisurely one at that,” said Penny Leary-Smith, who first suggested the idea as a way to promote the region’s nature-based travel offerings.

For the 289 paddlers who participated May 3, there was much to see along the historic waterway. One of North America’s great wetland forests, the Dismal Swamp is comprised of 125,000 acres, linking northeastern North Carolina to southeastern Virginia. The Dismal Swamp Canal cuts through the swamp and was once a major transportation route linking northeastern North Carolina and Virginia. Flat-bottomed vessels first plied the 22-mile canal beginning in 1805.

Following a pre-launch breakfast, paddlers disembarked from the Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center in Camden County, N.C., for the two- to three-hour excursion north. The journey ended at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Suffolk, Va.

The event is becoming increasingly popular with organized paddling clubs. Roberto Cianflone put together a trip for members of the Potomoc River Paddlers club. Twelve club members and their families traveled down from Brunswick, Md., staying two nights for the paddling event and some sightseeing.

“We were really impressed. It was a beautiful day, the people were very friendly and helpful and it was a nice, flat course,” said Cianflone. He was drawn to the event because of the history of the canal, the oldest manmade waterway in the United States. “If it was just a canal anywhere else, it wouldn’t have been as interesting,” Cianflone said.

History buffs, like Cianflone, know that George Washington visited the swamp in 1763 before organizing the Dismal Swamp Land Company, and that slaves traveling the Underground Railroad sought refuge in the dense wetlands before continuing on their journey.

Cianflone’s group included several elementary school teachers, who welcomed the opportunity to snap photographs as they paddled. Native stands of Atlantic white cedar thrive in the swamp, as well as deer, river otters and rare plants. Migratory, neo-tropical birds and a significant number of butterfly species also make the swamp home.

The paddling club plans a return trip in 2009 and will book a longer stay, said Cianflone. That’s good news for event organizers. The Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center and Dismal Swamp State Park in Camden County, N.C., partnered with the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and the City of Chesapeake, in Virginia, to host “Paddle for the Border.”

Leary-Smith says the partnership is similar to the way North Carolina and Virginia work together to promote the Blue Ridge Parkway. “We’re doing the same thing, but instead of promoting the mountains, we’re promoting a beautiful, natural historic waterway,” she said.

About Elizabeth City
A visit to the Dismal Swamp is an ideal departure point for touring nearby offerings in Elizabeth City. Located in northeastern North Carolina on the Pasquotank River, Elizabeth City has six National Register Historic Districts and is home to the Museum of the Albemarle, Arts of the Albemarle, Elizabeth City State University Planetarium and Port Discover Hands-on Science Center. For travel information and suggested itineraries, call the Elizabeth City Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-866-ECity-4U (1-866-324-8948) or (252) 335-5330 or go to

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