Opening Suffolk’s waterways

Published 9:50 pm Monday, April 25, 2016

Let’s be clear about one thing: Capt. John Smith did not “discover” the Nansemond River or its tributaries.

The Nansemond River had been sustaining a vibrant and vital culture of people long before the Europeans came to find a home in the New World. It had been providing oysters and fish for families and was used as a highway for many generations before Smith ever ventured southwest from the mouth of the James River into the waters of what would one day become Suffolk, Va.

But Smith’s wind- and oar-powered exploration of the waterways of Suffolk laid the groundwork for the eventual settlement of the area and its growth into one of the commonwealth’s fastest-growing cities.

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It’s fitting, then, that the Nansemond River and Bennett’s Creek have been included in a 3,000-mile tribute to the explorer, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, and it’s even more fitting that folks in Suffolk finally have a way to access that trail in human-powered water vehicles.

Suffolk’s storm-abbreviated opening of the Sleepy Hole pier and kayak launch on Saturday was a great tribute to both Smith and the Nansemond Indians, who plied the waters of Suffolk long before it was known as Suffolk, or even Nansemond County. And it was a great tribute to the things that can get done when city government works with citizens to accomplish important goals.

Suffolk River Heritage and the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance and the organization’s founders and members have been working with the city for eight years to bring this dream to fruition. The dream was to provide public access by non-motorized watercraft to the beauty of the city’s waterways, a beauty that had been inaccessible to folks for many years.

As city officials joined members of the two organizations and representatives from the National Park Service at Sleepy Hole Park on Saturday, they celebrated the unveiling of a new place to launch kayaks and a 361-foot pier that can be used for fishing or just seeing the incredible views along that part of the Nansemond.

The heritage of Suffolk’s waterways is something that should never be forgotten by the folks who live here. Suffolk’s new pier and kayak launch will help ensure that heritage is remembered for generations to come.