Paddlers from all over the state converged on Elkin Friday and Saturday for the fourth annual Tour de Yadkin, a kayaking and canoeing trip that spans 165 miles of the Yadkin River and runs from W. Kerr Scott Reservoir in Wilkes County down to Lake Tillery.
The paddle began with a kickoff ceremony June 9 at Warrior Creek Campground Amphitheater. Stops were made each day for kayakers and canoers to experience different attractions along the way. Ghost walks and haunted history at Smoot Park, a women’s only paddle from Roaring River to Ronda and bluegrass music were some of the pit stops along the way as paddlers rode the high water the recent rains have brought.
Paddlers reached Elkin Friday and set up their campsite in Crater Park prior to traveling up to Ronda to start the 6.8 mile float back downstream. The Tribune met up with first-day paddlers here and was transported to Ronda by Roaring River Canoe and Kayak Rentals.
Along the way the new river-goers met each other and swapped stories of previous kayaking trips. A 30-plus year kayaking veteran from Winston-Salem told a first-time river kayaker from Albermarle how to ride the river safely and easily. They also swapped stories of life, joint problems and tennis.
When they arrived at Ronda Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks met everyone and gave a preliminary safety lesson. The water was high for the time of the year due to the previous rain storms and Thursday’s freak, major storm. Naujoks explained this was both good and bad as numerous rocky spots along the river would be underwater but speed would be increased.
After the brief introduction paddlers took the water, with a total of 27 participating Friday.
For many it was their first experience on the stretch between Ronda and Elkin, for some on the Yadkin, and for at least one the first time on a river at all. The water sped everyone along whether they paddled or not.
Some even paddled backward while talking to their friends and new acquaintances.
Naujoks was an immediate hit with everyone on the water. He told stories and explained the mission of the Yadkin Riverkeeper organization and some of its recent court battles and efforts to protect the river from pollution and degradation.
Other members of the Riverkeeper staff also joined on the paddle.
Terri Pratt, Kent Lupton, and Nancy Kissane make up the Riverkeeper staff. Tara Worden, Community Outreach Coordinator for the group, led the pack of paddlers downstream as she acted as the lead kayaker and safety guru.
The whole staff comprise the Yadkin Riverkeeper contrary to popular belief that Naujoks is a one-man crew. Everyone with the exception of Lupton works in Winston-Salem at the Riverkeeper office.
Lupton is the program manager of the Riverkeeper’s Operation Medicine Cabinet and lives in Gastonia. He is in charge of the organization’s efforts to remove prescription medication from the Yadkin and prevent its contamination of numerous fish species, most notably the local bass.
He also told the Tribune he is very upset about recent NFL restrictions on bags that are not see-through at football games. He joked that as a Detroit Lions fan he may still be allowed to bring his gear in “a brown paper bag” if officials allow.
Paddlers made their way downstream in quick fashion but stopped at Little Elkin Creek for a lengthy break in the paddling. Here many of the paddlers sat and rested in the peaceful cove formed where the river sweeps by the creek opening.
Others took to the famous rope swing hanging out over the water. A few brave souls paddled upstream against the current and “surfed” their kayaks across the breaking water.
While taking a break Pedro, one of the paddler’s dog, got a chance to try out his special dog life jacket. Luckily his owner was able to call him back before he reached the open river and his little legs could not bring him in against the current.
Pedro whimpered and barked when his owner dropped off the swing into the water. He must have thought something was wrong or his owner was hurt, but the paddlers all tried to calm his spirits.
Even with the break in paddling the group reached Elkin in two hours. Estimates on the groups speed put the likely number at 13 mph.
The group reached Elkin about 6 p.m. and were greeted by the Elkin Valley Trails Association’s Joe Hicks who manned a booth offering gift bags from Elkin for each visitor.
Everyone helped each other take their vessels out of the water then went their separate ways. Some changed and prepared for the evening in Elkin dubbed “A Night in the Village of Yadkin.” Others loaded up their kayaks and went home.
The trip brought positive and negative reactions of Elkin. Many commented on the beauty of the river and town. Others asked why there were no port-o-potties at the park.
The ball field bathrooms were open nearby, but few knew to take advantage of its services.
Some were unsure of how to reach Crater Park in the first place. Several talked along the river about their difficulties finding directions to the park or its entrance.
The trouble for many came when they walked into town for the first part of the evening’s meal and entertainment.
Part of the evening was set aside for 21 & Main. From 7 p.m. till 9 p.m. paddlers were encouraged to go to the restaurant for a special paddlers menu and live entertainment. When they arrived at roughly 7:30 p.m. they found no tables set aside for them.
When the Tribune spoke to an employee at the restaurant she said the paddlers were already seated outside and there was no more space.
One paddler told The Tribune later that she had spoken to the hostess and found out what had happened.
According to the paddler, the hostess said some self-described “paddlers” had come into the restaurant and claimed to be with the Tour de Yadkin for the special menu. In reality the paddlers had not shown up yet, but that was not immediately clear.
Four paddlers were seated outside with the music, but the rest opted to be seated inside at a long table.
Other restaurants participated in the evening as part of the event. Chill on Main opened its doors after normal business hours and Fiddler’s Pub had live music at 11 p.m.
Heaven Scent was open Saturday and Sunday morning for breakfast to accommodate paddlers who stayed overnight in Elkin for Friday and Saturday night.
Saturday morning the group paddled down to the Mitchell River from Crater Park. A bluegrass music event was held at Carolina Heritage Vineyard & Winery.
To contact Taylor Pardue call 336-835-1513 ext. 15, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.