Monday, September 19, 2011

What about Dan?

Do you know the history of the Dan River? Did you know there are well-preserved nineteenth century river structures now on the National Register of Historic Places?
Leaksville Bridge Piling, Dan River
DRBA (Dan River Basin Association) is having a a 5-mile cleanup float on the Dan River from Whetstone Creek to Eden on October 1. The cleanup is part of NC Big Sweep, the statewide component of an international watershed cleanup. Participants record the types of trash they find, contributing to statistics that help design educational programs to prevent littering.

T Butler, who served for many years on the NC Big Sweep Board of Directors, says, "I am extremely proud of DRBA's role in working to keep our rivers clean and safe. Our goal is litter-free waters throughout the Dan River basin in North Carolina and Virginia."

"And," she adds, "DRBA participants always have a good time while we're collecting litter!"

The navigation structures in the Dan, built in the 1820s and expanded as late as the 1880s, include sluices, landings, and wing dams that made the river usable by flat-bottomed batteaux, the long, narrow workhorses of nineteenth century river commerce in the region.

According to Lindley Butler, a senior North Carolina historian, "The structures channel the water through rapids and ledges that would have blocked the batteaux, each of which carried several tons of goods. Present-day recreational users enjoy the effects of these structures, which have been self-maintaining for over 130 years.

 "Because of the navigation system," he continues, "this section is rated as Class 1, suitable for novice paddlers. The improvements made in the 19th century enable us to float the Dan throughout Rockingham County even in times of extreme drought."

In this section, boaters will pass through several of these improvements, including Galloway's Lower Ford Sluice and Sneed Strong's Fish Dam Sluice. Two miles into the trip, on river left, was the Grief Wade Plantation where coal was mined during the Civil War and shipped by batteau to heat military prisons in Danville.

Just after passing the confluence of Buffalo Island Creek on river left, boaters will pass under the Harrington Highway Bridge, the site of former Hamlin's (Menzies) Island.  Students of river hydrology explain that islands appear and disappear as a result of water action during heavy storms and floods.

Nearby on river left one may see a fine stand of the river cane common on the river when William Byrd surveyed the "Dividing Line" in 1728 but now gradually disappearing throughout much of the river's length.

During a lunch break at Leaksville Landing, boaters can view the crib structures in the river to which the nineteenth century batteaux were moored.  Leaksville Landing is the only known batteau port in the United States.

After lunch participants will drift past Johnston's Landing and then the site of the former Leaksville Covered Bridge, where a massive stone pier from the 1852 span survives, along with a 150-foot-long sluice wall on river right. 

One of the last points of interest on the trip will be the confluence of the Smith River, which enters the Dan from river left.  More information may be found on Maps 47-50 of An Insider's Guide to the Dan River, available at

Bring boat, life jacket, gloves, lunch and water; dress in layers of artificial (quick-drying) fabric; and be prepared to sign a waiver. Trash bags and reporting forms will be provided.

Boats may be rented from Three Rivers Outfitters, 336-627-6215,

DIRECTIONS: To reach Eden Wildlife Access from the north, travel south on NC 14 through the city of Eden.  After crossing the Dan River, turn right at the traffic signal onto Harrington Highway.  Take the first right, Bethlehem Church Road, turning right again at the Wildlife Access.
From the south, turn left off NC 14 onto Harrington Highway at the traffic signal just south of the Dan River. Turn right onto Bethlehem Church Road, then right to the Wildlife Access.
From the west, take NC 770 or NC 135 toward Eden. Turn right onto Harrington Highway and continue to Bethlehem Church Road.  Turn left, and then right to the Wildlife Access.
From the northeast take US 58 to Danville's western city limit, turning left on Road 863 to Berryhill Community, where 863 becomes NC 770 West.  Follow NC 770 West into Eden to NC 14. Turn left onto NC 14 and travel south through Eden, cross the Dan River and turn right at the traffic signal onto Harrington Highway. Take the first right, Bethlehem Church Road, turning right again at the Wildlife Access.
Contact DRBA on their website here if you are interested in getting involved! Many hands make light work!

I just love to hear these stories, to learn about these grassroots organizations (like NC Big Sweep) who step up and do whatever they can to make their corner of the world a better place! Spread the word, get involved! More about DRBA or to learn about membership in DRBA click here.

BRFAL Chapter of Virginia Master Naturalist wants you to get outside, explore and learn something new today. Get involved in something cool, learn more about the Virginia Master Naturalist program here!

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