Map opens waterway potential

Published 10:16 pm Wednesday, October 17, 2012

At the C.E.H. Ruritan Hall in Eclipse Tuesday evening, Karla Smith, of the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance and Suffolk River Heritage (formerly the Crittenden, Eclipse and Hobson Heritage Foundation) presents a new map promoting public access to Suffolk’s waterways, shown in the background by alliance member John Wass and John Davy, who is working to develop the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Water Trail, billed as America’s first national water trail.

An atmosphere of keen anticipation inside the C.E.H. Ruritan Hall in Eclipse Tuesday evening surrounded the unveiling of a map designed to promote public access to Suffolk’s historic waterways.

The genesis of the Suffolk Water Trail Map goes back more than 22 years to Girl Scout canoe trips on the Nansemond, said project “mastermind” Karla Smith, of the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance and Suffolk River Heritage.

Scout leaders then decided “we need to come up with a map to tell other people where they can canoe in Suffolk, so we have,” she said.

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One side of the professionally designed color map provides practical information on access points, such as the shallow tide that occurs at Cedar Creek, which can be accessed from Lone Star Lakes Park.

The other side brings history to life for kayakers, canoeists and other recreational waterway users, with descriptions of significant events and locations, for instance, Dumpling Island, the Nansemond Indians’ “secure seat of tribal government” and where they stored precious grain.

The map also serves as a guide to flora and fauna along Suffolk’s waterways, including birds and waterfowl, crustaceans and mollusks, and mammals and forests.

With an initial print run of 2,500, Smith said the goal is to “get (them) out … print more then get them out.”

“It’s a big, giant step, and we couldn’t do it without the support of lots of people in the community,” she said.

Alliance members have been critical of public policy in Suffolk regarding access to public waterways, saying not enough has been done to open new entry points.

“In its infinite wisdom, Suffolk City Council did away with some of the boat launches,” Smith said. “We have fewer public access sites now than in the 1990s.”

For its part, the city said last month said it is progressing with plans for new river access at two sites in addition to at Sleepy Hole Park, where plans are further advanced.

City Economic Development Director Kevin Hughes spoke at the alliance’s public meeting Tuesday, hailing the new map. “It’s really exciting to see us getting more out of this asset of the Nansemond River,” he said, adding that the map will be available at visitor centers “throughout the state of Virginia.”

The Suffolk map fits into a wider project currently being developed, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Water Trail, America’s first National Park Service-designated water trail map, John Davy told the meeting.

Davy, who is retired from the service, is spearheading the trail named after the Chesapeake Bay explorer and leader of the Jamestown colony, working with “dozens” of groups like the alliance.

The trail’s length, tracking Smith’s various voyages, one of which came up the Nansemond, is pushing close to 4,000 miles, Davy said, and includes buoys that link with smartphones to tell the history as well as opportunities for geocaching.

“We want people to embrace the bay and its rivers … because what people love, they take care of,” he said.