The Haw River Paddler
“I need a place of grace, where life is more than just the race. Where my spirit is at peace and my heart is at home. Where Nature abounds and wild things roam.” Jay D. Hair
What is the Haw River Paddle Trail? When did it begin? What is its status? What does the future hold?
Ten years ago, the North Carolina Trails Program, the North Carolina Paddle Trails Association and North Carolina State University put on a series of six, state-wide teleconferences entitled “How to Build a Paddle Trail in Your Community”. Attending the videoconference series were people representing local and county governments, chambers of commerce, private businesses, paddling groups, conservation organizations and interested landowners. If there was one main idea that surfaced at the conclusion of the series, it was that paddle trails have economic, community, personal and conservation benefits.
Shortly after the conclusion of the videoconferences, interested community leaders from Alamance and Chatham Counties got together to discuss what to do next, now that they were armed with all this new information about creating paddle trails, and what a Haw River Paddle Trail could mean to their communities. The discussions went on for a year and concluded with the creation of the Haw River Trail Partnership, a formal coalition of municipal and county governments in Guilford, Alamance, Orange and Chatham Counties, the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Elon University, The Haw River Canoe & Kayak Co., the Carolina Canoe Club and the Haw River Assembly.
The Partnership quickly got off the ground when Elon University wrote and was awarded a grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation to cover the cost of identifing and inventoring the more significant features along the Haw River. Next, the Cities of Burlington and Grahm, NC along with Alamance County Parks & Recreation Department came up with the funds and in-kind support for what became known as the Upper Haw River Trail Coordinator. With matching state and federal funds, the Coordinator went about meeting with willing landowners, acquiring property and easements and constructing access points along approximately 60 miles of the Haw River from Guilford County to Chatham County. Thanks to many individuals, organizations and public agencies there are now eleven access sites in Alamance County, four access sites in Chatham County, one access site in Guilford County and one access site in Orange County.
In North Carolina, all waterways are legally considered public trust waters, which means they can be used by anyone. Until the Partnership began its work, the problem was that although everyone could use the Haw River, except for a few locations, they would be trustpassing to gain access. Not only have these access sites given the public legal rights to access the Haw River, but in some instances in Alamance County, small river-side parks have been purchased from willing owners and provide additional recreational opportunities. In Orange and Chatham Counties, access sites are merely a place to park and a path to the river.
So, what is the future of the Haw River Trail. In Alamance County, the Upper Haw River Trail Coordinator position became part of the the County’s Parks & Recreation Department and the focus of the position has changed to developing a land-based trail along the Haw River in Alamance County to be part of North Carolina’s Mountains to Sea Trail.
Since ninety percentage of all paddling related injuries are ankle related, getting in and out of a canoe or kayak, safe access sites which could be provided by either metal or wooden steps are needed in Chatham County. Conservation easements along both sides of the Haw River from Chicken Bridge to Bynum would help to insure the integrity of the riverine ecosystem. Fortunately land on both sides of the river from Bynum to Jordan Lake are already in public ownership.