Hitchcock Creek Blue Trail named tops for wildlife

First Posted: 4/2/2015

ROCKINGHAM — With warm weather hopefully here to stay, it’s time for outdoor adventurers to pull their canoes and kayaks out, head back down Hitchcock Creek and perhaps see some wildlife along the way.

The North Carolina Wildlife Federation recently picked the state’s top nine river trips for wildlife and wildlife-associated activities, and the Hitchcock Creek Blue Trail made the list.

Erin McCombs, associate conservation director with American Rivers and a board member of the N.C. Wildlife Federation, said the waterways are not ranked first through ninth. All nine selections receive the same distinction.

McCombs attended the ribbon-cutting at the Hitchcock Creek’s Steele Mill entrance on April 30, 2014, and was amazed at the transformation of the creek and the areas surrounding it.

“It was amazing to see the community connecting back with the river,” she said. “I thought, ‘We have something really amazing here.’ We really felt it was such a beautiful story for the community to recognize that and create a new economic driver, which is the stream. It’s just a beautiful stretch of river.”

McCombs said there were dozens of other rivers that could have been listed, but for those searching for a scenic trip, Hitchcock was one of the best to spot wildlife.

“Right now you’ll see migrating birds are coming back. You could see a number of fish species, although you might have to use a reel and a line or a snorkel to see those,” said McCombs. “When we went down it, we saw a lot of different birds. You could see some wild turkeys, and of course deer would be in the area. Just generally you would see normal stuff.”

Until 2009, the Steele Mill dam degraded Hitchcock Creek, blocking migrating fish and preventing the community from safely enjoying the river through recreation. American Rivers and its partners removed the dam and created the 14-mile Blue Trail.

As part of this effort, McCombs said, the city of Rockingham protected 100 acres of bottomland forest along the Blue Trail, purchased two river access areas and acquired a boat launch.

“Starting in Rockingham, the Hitchcock Creek Blue Trail offers paddlers an opportunity to explore the area’s diverse floodplain forests, historic mills’ remnants and rare plants and animals,” said McCombs. It’s a really unique river. It’s transitional river between the Piedmont and the Coastal Plains. I think it gives you an interesting glimpse into some interesting geology.”

As for the list itself, the other eight include the French Broad River, Lake Waccamaw, Little Tennessee River, Lumber River, Neuse River, New River and Merchant’s Millpond. It was compiled by N.C. Wildlife Federation members, board directors and staff for the top paddling sites in the state.

“It’s no small feat to whittle down the best canoe and kayak trips in North Carolina for experiencing wildlife,” said McCombs. “Our final list hardly exhausts the many waterways in North Carolina that are ideal for a kayak or canoe outing. In fact, we compiled the list more as a way to spark interest in exploring and enjoying the outdoors through paddling.”

Reach reporter Matt Harrelson at 910-817-2674, listen to him at 12:10 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on WAYN 900 AM and follow him on Twitter @mattyharrelson.