Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA) is about to make the adventure even more fun.
DRBA and the North Carolina State Parks System are partnering up to add new access points to the Dan River as the new Dan River State Trail is incorporated into the State Parks System.
First authorized in June 2021, the Dan River State Trail encompasses the 90-mile section of the Dan River that rolls through North Carolina. The 214-mile-long river crosses the Virginia/North Carolina border eight times as it snakes through the area, and the new paddle trail was created to be an entryway for dedicated paddlers to explore not only the Dan River region, but the state parks as well.
“The Dan River attracts a large amount of people,” said Anna Wheeler, North Carolina Programs Coordinator for DRBA. “We have tubers who come out, white-water kayakers, and, of course, fishermen. Water access helps them as well.”
The trail will cover the length of the river in North Carolina, from Rockingham to Surry counties. Many portions of the river along this route already have access points, but some need to be repaired and others will be created. According to the text of North Carolina House Bill 360, access points can be added on state or public lands or on private property, although the owner “shall govern the use of the property.” Also, the state may receive donations or purchase parcels of land to add the access points, the bill text states.
Wheeler said the plan is for each access point to be at least a day’s journey apart.
“We’re creating an access plan to ensure there is plenty of space between” each point, she said. “We’re hoping each added paddle access will create a day trip.”
Though the trail is under the State Parks umbrella, DRBA will be the agency that puts the plan into action and will create the access to the river. “The main goal,” Wheeler said, “is to increase the usability of the river and to draw more people to it.” Of course, there will be economic advantages as well.
“The fact that it’s a state park means tourism, because everyone loves a state park,” she said.
There are currently about eight people in DRBA’s working group, Wheeler said.
“We’re in the planning process, so we’re looking at potential gaps in what we have and seeing there are spaces that could be eligible for river access,” she said.
From the trail, paddlers could have access to the Mayo River and Hanging Rock state parks. The trail will also pass by towns such as Montreat, Wentworth, Stoneville, Mayodan, and Madison in Rockingham County, meaning that trips along the river to each of those localities are possible on a relatively easy trip upriver.
From each “paddle point,” users will be able to map out their own route around the river based on factors such as river conditions and skill level. The Dan River State Trail joins 10 other paddle trails in the North Carolina Park System.
For any trail to be designated part of the State Parks System, it first must be authorized by the North Carolina General Assembly, according to documents on NCtrails.gov’s website. The secretary of the Department of Natural and Cultural and Cultural Resources must designate trails.
A feasibility study was conducted by DRBA and the state to help determine the exact corridor for the trail and identify potential partners. That includes data collection, outreach to possible partners, public input, and mapping of the corridor itself.
“Not every existing access point has yet earned designation,” Wheeler said. “Right now, we have a few damaged accesses, and to get them designated, they have to meet a certain standard.”
Funding will come from the state, as well as independent funding collected by DRBA. Wheeler said completion of the access points will take time.
“It’s going to take a couple of years to get them planned and locations determined,” she said, adding that the working group has allotted approximately 3-5 years for the total project window.
A map of the trail is available at NCtrails.gov. Wheeler and those at DRBA are excited by the adventure that awaits the trail’s users, who will be able to explore “all the beautiful things the Dan River has in it,” she added.