Eco Trips & Trails
Adventures On The Charles Kuralt Trail
Inlets, marshes and lands with the ancient name of pocosin along North Carolina’s Coast are home to a variety of plants and wildlife. Protected under the National Wildlife Refuge system, these are some of the last wild places in the eastern United States.
Together, they are linked to form the Charles Kuralt Nature Trail. North Carolina born, the award-winning broadcast journalist, who had breakfast each week with millions of Americans on CBS’ “Sunday Morning,” had a deep and abiding love for these out-of-the-way locations.
There is no set route for the trail. You can visit as many or as few of the refuges as you want, any time you want. Each has its own special feel, and red-roofed kiosks share each one’s unique story. Eastern North Carolina is the only place in the country where you can visit seven refuges within just two hours of driving time. Stops can be grouped into Northern or Southern refuges.
The bottomland hardwood forests of the Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge are crucial to birds that migrate between North and South America. Fish who live part of their lives in saltwater and part in freshwater, including stripers, shad and herring, make their way through the refuge’s waterways. It’s also the largest inland heron rookery in North Carolina. A trail through the river floodplain is a good way to experience the refuge during spring or fall migrations. Visitors can fish and hunt on refuge lands, as well as observe wildlife.
Established in 1899, the Edenton National Fish Hatchery restores native and endangered fish populations. The hatchery ponds, which are open to visitors, produce primarily American shad, striped bass and Cape Fear shiners. There is an aquarium, exhibits and a raised boardwalk nature trail through the nearby wetlands.
Currituck National Wildlife Refuge is one of the less developed spots on the trail. There are no public-use roads, restrooms or visitor center, but it does support a rich diversity of wildlife, including wild horses. Only a four-wheel drive can penetrate the refuge along the beachfront and then you must walk from the beach into the grassy dunes, maritime forests, and freshwater and brackish marshes.
Look for snow and Canada geese, ducks, osprey and other raptors, wading birds and shorebirds at Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge. Part of the fun of the refuge is getting there on the Currituck Sound ferry, a ride that takes about 45 minutes. Times and ferry information can be found at visitcurrituck.com/Currituck%20Ferry.cfm. You might even catch a glimpse of endangered species like the American bald eagle and peregrine falcon.
At the Virginia-North Carolina line lies Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. Use your feet or canoe to explore this vast wilderness and its variety of animals that have drawn interest for more than 13,000 years.
This region is home to Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, which derives its name from the Native American word that describes the unique mounds of poorly drained organic soil that support a wide variety of plants and wildlife.
Some visitors characterize the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge as a jungle with its dense pocosin wetlands, carnivorous sun dew and pitcher plants, and an abundance of American alligators. This 152,000-acre habitat is home to red wolves, waterfowl and birds, and black bear. In fact, you’ll have almost twice the chance to see a black bear here than anywhere else in North Carolina. In 2005, the NC Wildlife Resources Commission estimated about 7,000 black bears lived in this region, compared to 4,000 in the mountains.
One of the smaller refuges at 5,834 acres, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is not short on wildlife. The small enclave at the north end of Hatteras Island is aflutter with more than 365 species of birds so a new sighting is possible every day of the year. The almost 13 miles of pristine beach alone makes it worth the visit.
Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge’s most impressive feature is 40,000-acre Lake Mattamuskeet, North Carolina’s largest natural lake. Bring your rod and reel and fish from shore or a small boat for largemouth bass, sunfish, white perch or crappie and your camera to snap the scenery and the tundra swans. Nearby is Mattamuskeet Lodge, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. It once served as a pump house and then a hunting lodge, complete with observation tower.
Swanquarter National Wildlife Refuge protects areas that are important to migratory waterfowl and other marsh birds. You’ll find ducks of all descriptions here, including redheads, buffleheads, canvasbacks, surf scoters, sea ducks and American black ducks.
Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge, about 40 miles northeast of Beaufort, NC, protects an undisturbed coastal marsh. A fall and winter haven for ducks, wading birds and shorebirds, it also hosts ospreys, endangered brown pelicans and American alligators year-round.
For more information about the Charles Kuralt Trail, visit www.northeast-nc.com/kuralt/. For more information on the refugees and to view a map, visit, www.fws.gov/refuges/refugeLocatorMaps/NorthCarolina.html and www.fws.gov/southeast/maps/nc.html
by Peter Anderson
by Peter Anderson
added: July 27, 2009
updated: July 31, 2009