Turtles on the Naticoke River


Scouting in Sussex County, Delaware, April 2011

Last updated May 6, 2011



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Day One | Day Two

Back on June 25-27, 2010, Suzanne and I led a car camper kayak trip for the Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA). The turnout was good and everyone seemed to have a good time, despite the heat. We thought it would be good to lead a similar trip in 2011.

The plan was to base this trip off my May 16-17, 2009 trip. Thus, the plan was to stay at Trap Pond State Park and paddle down the James Branch Canoe Trail one day then Broad Creek the next. But first we had to do some scouting, or "recon" as I like to call it.

Day One, Saturday, April 16, 2011

My first visit to Trap Pond was on September 20-21, 2008. The numerous cypress trees reminded me of the Pocomoke River. It didn't take long to fall in love with this area. I returned the next year with Norma, who also loved the place. I thought it would be good to share the experience with others; the CPA might be a good outlet for this.

The CPA is primarily comprised of sea kayakers. They like their 17 foot long fiberglass boats with their sprayskirts and open water. Most do not have a great deal of experience on narrow creeks where tree downfalls and portages are common. But in my opinion, this is where you get knee-deep in nature. So perhaps I could help broaden some horizons.

Suzanne is a veteran kayaker and trip leader for the CPA. If this trip were not well suited for the club, she would let me know. Hence, I think of her as my "voice of reason."

The Saturday forecast was ominous. Heavy rains, high winds, thunderstorms, etc. But we reserved the campsite long ago and knew that we would not have any other free weekends before our event. So scouting some other time was not an option.

I left home pretty early so I could do some scouting on my own. On the drive down, I stopped in Seaford, Delaware where I found a couple of launch sites:
  • Seaford Boat Ramp: See first photo.
  • Nanticoke River Marine Park: See second photo.

  • Upon checking in at the campsite, I upgraded our tent site to a cabin. All the yurts were taken (third photo) and this was the last cabin (fourth photo). There were very few tent sites taken so it seems quite a few people wanted to get under a solid roof with 4 walls to escape the pending torrential downpour.

    We had cabin 6, which has a waterfront view. It was pretty nice, except for the screen door which wouldn't stay shut. It had a bunk bed and a double bed. There was a loft, table, and small refrigerator. I believe it had heat and air conditioning. There was a fire pit outside and a screened porch. One could launch a kayak from the site but since driving up to the cabin wasn't an option, there were better places to launch. But there were large wheelbarrows to carry your gear to and from the cabin.

    Suzanne and I prepared to launch on the James Branch Canoe Trail. We put her car at Records Pond (the take out). After dropping off the boats at the put-in (in an area where cars aren't supposed to stop), I parked in a big lot near the Baldcypress Nature Center. By noon, we were on the water.

    The creek was narrow and scenic as I remembered. It wasn't easy to maneuver a sea kayak but I knew that eventually, the stream would open up a bit.

    We saw what we thought was a snapping turtle. Its shell looked to be about 16 inches long! See fifth photo.

    Suzanne saw a red fox but I missed it. We both saw about 6 deer.

    There was a good bit of cutting of limbs to be done. I brought my small loppers and two saws. She brought some big loppers which I found most useful.

    I spent much of the time in the water, working the saw. The air temperature was in the high 50s but I was comfortable with my wetsuit, neoprene top, splash pants, neoprene shoes, and neoprene gloves.

    It was very slow-moving getting downstream but I was confident all my cutting would pay off. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Even after 1.5 hours, I was still doing quite a bit of cutting. We decided that if we hadn't gone 2 miles in 2 hours, then we would abort the mission. I so desperately wanted to see this trip through but after 2 hours, we had only made it 1.5 miles and our speed was not increasing.

    Why were we so slow?
  • When Norma and I did this trip 2 years ago, we only had to get my Ocean Kayak Cabo down the creek. We didn't have to worry about making the canoe trail wide enough for others to follow. So rather than move logs, we often just went over them.
  • Over the last few months, we had an unusual amount of wind. Back home, the trees really took a beating. So the weather might have created an unusually large number of downfalls.
  • Beaver activity was rampant! I don't remember so much beaverchew the last time but clearly, these big rodents had been active recently. Dam them!

  • But to be honest, even if there weren't so many downfalls, I don't know if this trip would be appropriate for the CPA. Long fiberglass boats on a narrow creek just aren't a good match.

    Despite the difficulty in moving, the canoe trail was indeed quite scenic. See sixth and seventh photos.

    It took us one hour to get back to the start.

    We checked out a couple of launch sites on Broad Creek: Laurel River Park and Phillips Landing. The creek looked pretty good...not terribly fantastic but not terribly terrible either. Moderately good scenery...I give it a solid grade of 'B'.

    Suzanne and I headed back to the campsite, washed up, then visited her friends in Seaford. We ate a fantastic salmon dinner. I sh*t you not, this was some of the finest salmon I ever ate! Jerry, the host, prepared the meal. I picked the brains of his friend Greg, who lives in Seaford and has done a good bit of paddling in the area. I also spoke to Lynn (Jerry's girlfriend) and Karen (Greg's wife). It was a most enjoyable evening.

    By the time we returned, the storm had passed. I looked forward to paddling in better weather tomorrow.

    Day Two, Sunday, April 17, 2011

    Yesterday's storm bought sunny weather today. Unfortunately, it was also quite windy (20+ mph).

    We checked out things around or in the park:
  • The island campsite: This is a slightly more remote site separated by a strip of water small enough that even I can jump over. But it does offer a waterfront view on three sides with easy boat launch. There was a nice patch of cypress knees just off the path that led to this double campsite. See first photo.
  • Trap Pond Boat Launch: Easy access to the pond but if you're staying at a campsite, you can just as easily launch from there.
  • Racoon Pond: Scenic and calm but unfortunately also separated from the creek that flows into Trap Pond by a dam. See second photo.
  • Loblolly Trail: A very well maintained 4.5 mile hiking trail that circumnavigates the pond. Just northwest of Bethesda Church is a very scenic bridge that passes over some paddleable swampland. See third photo.
  • Trussum Pond: Absolutely gorgeous scenery. Don't forget your camera. See fourth, fifth, and sixth photos. According to a park sign,
    Trussum Pond's unique panorama of old cypress trees, large bottom tree trunks, and stumps reminds visitors of areas of the deep south.

  • Having finished up our scouting at the park, we headed to Seaford. I felt that scouting the upper Nanticoke River would be good. Last night, Greg said some pretty good things about it so I figured it was worth checking out and might make a reasonable substitute for our now canceled feature act.

    On the way there, I found the Seaford Canoe Launch.

    Suzanne and I launched at Nanticoke River Marine Park at 1100. After leaving the marina, we turned right (east), kayaking upstream. The area around the launch site was pretty urban. There was a big factory and a hospital in view (seventh photo). The river was wide and the wind was making it hard to stay in control. Rudderless kayakers would have had an awful time. But after about a mile, we paddled under Sussex Highway/road 2/route 20 and things started to change.

    The shoreline was mostly trees with houses scattered in between. These weren't cookie cutter mcMansions. These were modest, well maintained homes with individuality. These private properties blended into the natural surroundings well and weren't an eyesore. See eighth photo.

    Numerous turtles dotted every major fallen tree. See ninth and tenth photos. And speaking of fallen trees, our trip required no cutting or portage, which was a relief.

    Just a tenth of a mile east of the route 20 bridge, the river split. We could have gone 2.7 miles up Deep Creek until we hit the dam at Concord Pond. But instead, we veered left (north) to remain on the mighty Nanticoke.

    We passed by an area with numerous duck decoys out in the water. See eleventh photo.

    This took us to the Furnace Road bridge (twelfth photo). After another half mile, we came to Hurley Drain. As far as I can tell on the map, this is the start of the Old Furnace Wildlife Area. Just on the other side of Hurley Drain, we found a dirt road on the right (east) that led to the river. We pulled ashore and ate lunch (6 miles from the start). I walked an eigth of a mile up the road and saw no signs indicating we were on private property so I figured this would make a nice rest stop for the group.

    We ventured about another 0.7 miles upstream into the wildlife area. Now we were in God's country as there were no houses or signs of human civilization...except some wood duck boxes. It was a short bit of wilderness but as far as scenery goes, I would give this section an A+ rating. Eventually, there were some downed trees and the water got narrow. We could have gone further but this distance seemed appropriate and Suzanne was wanting to get home.

    By 1600, we were done, having paddled 13.3 miles.

    We both wanted to get stuff done so we said a quick farewell then went our separate ways.

    The weekend didn't go quite as planned but I figure we had enough paddling options to keep the group entertained from Friday, May 20 to Sunday, May 22, 2011. Here is some of what I wrote that was sent out to the group:

    The good news is that we came up with several alternatives. You are free to back out of our trip since the feature act is no more but that would be like selling your Whitesnake concert ticket when Motley Crue is taking their place. Our other choices won't take you quite so deep into nature as the James Branch but we think you will enjoy them. Exactly which of these routes we do over the weekend depend on the weather and group preferences.

  • Broad Creek. This starts as a moderately narrow creek just downstream of Records Pond in Laurel, Delaware. It then winds westward through marshy land and opens up as it passes through the Nanticoke Wildlife Area. We can call it quits after just 7.7 miles near the mouth of the creek. Or, one can continue downstream on the Nanticoke River almost to the town of Sharptown, Maryland for a total of about 10.6 miles. A 14.6 mile out and back is an option too. I did some of the shorter trip in 2009 with a shuttle.
  • Upper Nanticoke River. On Sunday, Suzanne and I paddled 13.3 miles on this yo-yo trip that starts in Seaford, Delaware. I often like to see change when I paddle and this is a good trip for that. You'll start out near a big industrial/urban area. As you paddle upstream, you'll see marshlands and countless turtles...many of which will be more than happy to pose for you as you take a photo. The river will narrow and take you by numerous houses that fit in well with the natural landscape (these aren't mega-mansions or cookie cutter homes). Near the end, signs of civilization will disappear and you'll be in God's country. We'll paddle under low bridges then take a break at the Old Furnace Wildlife Area before heading back.
  • Nanticoke River, Sharptown to Seaford. The river is generally not less than an eighth of a mile across for this 16 mile yo-yo route that passes by much of the Nanticoke Wildlife Area and other undeveloped marshlands. Wind is a serious factor as much of it is unprotected. Thus, this trip is highly weather dependent.
  • Nanticoke River and Broad Creek. As a car shuttle, this 13 mile trip will combine trips 1 and 3. Unfortunately, the tide would only be in our favor for one of them.
  • Marshyhope Creek: This is a really nice trip but it is further from the campground than the others and a good bit longer. Even though the tide will help somewhat, paddling 18 miles from Federalsburg to Sharptown might be a bit much, unless we've got a good north wind to give us a push.

  • There are also lots of really short, scenic trips that are great if you're really into nature photography or seeing wildlife. It is likely I'll be doing some of these on Friday or way early at the crack of dawn if the weather is good.

  • Trap Pond: You can set up your tent then walk the distance of a stone's throw to launch your boat. You'll see more cypress trees than I can count (more than 21). I don't expect you'll get in more than 4.5 miles of paddling for this perimeter route. But in addition to checking out the park, you'll have a chance to explore the narrow, tree-covered tributaries that flow into the pond including Terrapin Branch and the overflow stream from Raccoon Pond.
  • Trussum Pond: Have you ever had filet mignon? I have and while I didn't have much, I wanted to savor every bite so I ate slowly and really enjoyed it. This is what Trussum Pond is like. The launch site is 1.75 miles from the campground. You might get in 2.5 miles of paddling here but you'll take in 7 miles worth of natural beauty (if that makes sense).
  • Loblolly Trail: Leave the kayak back at the camp, bring your walking shoes, and explore this 4.6 mile trail which circumnavigates the pond. According to the website: "Nature enthusiasts will find abundant warblers, kingfishers, Great Blue Heron and baldcypress trees in their wetland habitats. The trail follows a crushed stone surface and traverses a fresh water wetland over an elevated bridge. This area is popular among birding enthusiasts."
  • Cypress Point Trail: This is a one mile circuit trail that I walked in 2009. It is about a mile from our campsite.
  • Baldcypress Nature Center: Learn about the history and ecosystem of the Cypress Swamp and its connection to the Chesapeake Bay. Hours of Operation: Wednesday - Friday: 1000-1600; Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays: 0900-1700.