Navigating Nature

Published 5:05 pm Friday, October 13, 2023

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(Editor’s Note: This story is the first in a series about the Roanoke River being named the 12th State Trail in North Carolina and what that means for the river, the counties the river connects, and the people who care about preserving and experiencing wild, untamed places.)


Special to RC Publications

The Roanoke River, with its abundance of natural resources, has played a vital role throughout eastern North Carolina’s history.

A recent, historic authorization by the N.C. General Assembly is bringing additional resources and attention to the river, benefiting each of the counties woven together by its dark waters.

The Roanoke River was named North Carolina’s 12th State Trail in November of 2021, due largely to the efforts of the Roanoke River Partners, Inc. and State House Representative Michael Wray (D-27) (Halifax, Northampton and Warren counties), according to Anne C. Lunsford, financial and trail coordinator for Roanoke River Partners, Inc.

This means the Roanoke River is now an official part of the N.C. State Parks Trails Program.

The Trails program, which originated in 1973 with the N.C. Trails System Act, is dedicated to helping individuals, organizations and agencies plan, develop and manage recreational trails. These trails range from greenways to hiking, biking, and paddle trails.

Other state trails include the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and the East Coast Greenway.

Roanoke River Partners, Inc. (RRP, Inc.), a non-profit, river advocacy group, has been selected as the official partner of the newly named Roanoke River State Trail. As such, RRP, Inc. developed a five-year plan to benefit the region, which has been approved by the State Trail program.

RRP, Inc. is supported by members in the six counties that make up the Roanoke River region, as well as members throughout the United States.

It was formed 27 years ago “to preserve, enhance and promote the natural, cultural and historical identity of the river region.”

The group had the foresight 25 years ago to develop the Roanoke River Paddle Trail – a system of camping platforms on the river, primarily in the northeastern counties of Bertie, Chowan, Halifax, Martin, Northampton and Washington.

For years, outdoor enthusiasts have camped, paddled and explored the river using these platforms – which are distanced strategically throughout 140 miles of the river and its tributaries, some of which are only accessible by boat. This system has allowed locals and visitors to explore this wilderness – home to black bear, river otter, white-tail deer, bobcat, beaver and more than 200 bird species – for a night, or several, under a canopy of cypress and stars.

The newly named Roanoke River State Trail (RRST) encompasses this existing trail system and extends from Weldon to the Albemarle Sound.

In the Fall of 2022, RRP, Inc. filed 22 access applications with the N.C. Trails Program requesting the existing river accesses be designated as part of the Roanoke River State Trail.

According to Lunsford, 15 of those applications have been approved, with the others pending with N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

RRP, Inc. is currently in the process of affixing the new Roanoke River State Trail logo to the approved river accesses and to the 20-plus existing camping platforms.

The official RRST trail blaze, will guide paddlers along the trail.

“The tent in the RRST blaze is symbolic of the camping platforms that are available along the wilder stretches of the Roanoke,” explained Lunsford.

As the official partner organization, RRP, Inc. will receive grant funding of $500,000 from the N.C. General Assembly.

RRP, Inc. is planning to use half ($250,000) the money to continue to renovate the historic Hamilton Rosenwald School – which will be used as the future headquarters of the Roanoke River State Trail; and half ($250,000) to renovate the 25-year-old wooden camping platforms.

Camping platforms are located all along the Roanoke River, south of Weldon. These rustic sites blend in with the natural environment. Photo by Roanoke River Partners

RRP, Inc will continue to seek additional grant funding to complete renovations to the Rosenwald school, which has been estimated at $1.2 million. The school will not only be the headquarters of the newly named Trail but also will serve as a regional educational and event center.

As a non-profit, RRP, Inc. depends on its membership, private donations, grants, and support from regional towns and counties to operate.

Over the years, the original paddle trail has attracted thousands of visitors from all over the United States and at least 11 other countries. In 2022, alone, 850 people made use of the camping platforms, according to RRP, Inc. reservation numbers.

As a state trail, interest in exploring the river will likely grow.

“We hope to reach even more outdoor enthusiasts to visit our region and experience the Roanoke and discover the wildlife and habitats it offers,” Lunsford added. “We want all who are able to experience the breathtaking beauty of this regional treasure.”

For further information, or for camping reservations, go to:

The RRP, Inc. executive committee is comprised of Brent Lubbock, president; Chase Conner, vice president; Charlotte Griffin, immediate past president; US Fish & Wildlife Jean Richter, secretary/treasurer of board; and Anne C. Lunsford, financial and trail coordinator.

The North Carolina Trails Program is managed by the Division of Parks and Recreation, a division of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

Deborah Griffin is a freelance writer and can be reached at