New kayak, canoe launch opened

Published 10:17 pm Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A long-awaited downtown access point to the Nansemond River is finally open following Tuesday’s grand opening of the Constant’s Wharf canoe and kayak launch.

City leaders, local volunteer environmental stewards and others praised the partnership that resulted in the project.

The new launch is located at the east end of Constant’s Wharf off East Constance Road. Nearby, an informational kiosk proclaims the location as part of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail and gives information on the history of the Nansemond River.

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“It’s a natural gift that keeps on giving,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said at the event.

The canoe and kayak launch cost about $165,200 in local funding. The kiosk, as well as waterproof maps of the area, were produced through a partnership with the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance, Suffolk River Heritage and the National Park Service, which administers the Captain John Smith Trail.

“It’s a model partnership, one I hope we can mimic in other places,” said Christine Lucero, partnership coordinator with the National Park Service.

The kayak and canoe launch will provide the public the opportunity to access the river from downtown. Before this facility, the only public access to the river was a similar facility at Sleepy Hole Park, in North Suffolk, which opened earlier this year.

“I am so thankful for the city in its wisdom to open up more public access for the everyday people,” said Karla Smith with Suffolk River Heritage. She recalled for the small crowd how she led groups of Girl Scouts through the years to paddle every mile of the Nansemond and its tributaries — Bennett’s, Hoffler and Knotts creeks.

Suffolk Parks and Recreation Director Lakita Watson said the facility not only opens up public access and calls attention to the river’s historical and environmental importance but also allows for outdoor recreation and exercise.

“The process of paddling offers some serious health benefits,” Watson said.

John Wass of the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance also applauded the project. He encouraged people to get out on the river and see Suffolk the way Capt. John Smith first saw it.

“It’s changed a little, but some places it hasn’t,” he said.

Jean Carmean, a water access advocate, attended the event and applauded the new project.

“Suffolk is doing some great things, and we are truly embracing our waterways, and that’s great,” she said.

Carmean added that another launch point about midway between Constant’s Wharf and Sleepy Hole would be ideal.

Bruce and Vicky Clanton, who moved to Suffolk five years ago from California, said they attended because they are trying to get more involved and are also concerned about river access. Access on the west side of the river would be appreciated, he said, so residents on that side don’t have to drive quite so far.

“The city needs to take advantage of the water,” he said, adding that too many stores along North Main Street have their backs to the water. “It would be nice to stroll from store to store and have a view of the river.

“It looks like they’re starting to think about it, so that’s good.”