July 29, 2013

Dan River Basin Association Smith River Paddle & Cleanup

August 3 on Lower River

You're invited to the Dan River Basin Association's (DRBA's) August 3 First Saturday Outing on the Smith River. Launching on private property with the owner's permission, the paddle will begin at Morgan Ford Bridge near Sandy Level, Virginia. Also with the owner's permission, the outing will end 4.7 miles downstream on private property in Eden, North Carolina. This section of the river is rated as Class I, suitable for novice paddlers.

Along the way, participants will collect litter from the river as part of the great Smith River Cleanup. Other portions of the Smith will be cleaned up in the summer and fall for a total of over fifty river miles.

Participants will meet at 10:00 a.m. at Morgan Ford Bridge (GPS 36.558877, -79.746087) to unload boats and gear, sign waivers, and set the shuttle. Three Rivers Outfitters of Eden, 336-627-6215 or, will offer boat rentals and shuttle for the outing. Paddlers are urged to choose canoes instead of kayaks, since more trash can be loaded into canoes.

Coordinator for the outing is long-time DRBA member and avid paddler Lynda Purcell, renowned for her ability to inspire others to take to the river. Lynda comments, "This is a fine opportunity to ‘try paddling' and see the beauty of the river, meet new people and enjoy the day out of doors on the water. Once you have paddled, I feel that you will be hooked!!"
Morgan Ford Bridge, the last remaining steel truss bridge spanning the Smith River, was assembled from other structures in 1953-a perfect example of resource reuse. According to

DRBA's "An Insider's Guide to the Smith River," available at, "The through-truss part was built in 1887, moved here from Pittsylvania County." From Mecklenburg County came the low truss; the steel girders are from Salem; and the plate girders are from the Norfolk & Western railroad overpass in Vinton.

Wildlife and wildflowers are abundant on this section of the river, which crosses the state line about two miles below Morgan Ford Bridge. At the boundary is a large cliff face on river right. The "Insider's Guide" notes that "a rock shelter located here is known locally as ‘The Devil's Den.'"

About half a mile further downstream is a good example of a Native American fish weir. This vee-shaped rock structure in the river was used to funnel migrating fish into a basket or net as they returned toward the sea after their spawning runs. Both Indians and early settlers used these fish weirs to capture large quantities of fish, providing food and an economic resource.

At one-mile intervals further on are two bridges honoring prominent twentieth-century residents of Eden: the physician Dr. John B. Ray and Episcopal priest The Rev. William J. Gordon.
The private take-out is half a mile below the William J. Gordon Bridge, just upstream of the Spray Dam. This dam diverts water into the mile-long 1813 Barnett Canal, which generated power for over 150 years in what was one of the largest textile complexes in the piedmont region. The turbine at the foot of the canal provides hydroelectric power to this day.

Participants in the outing are asked to dress in layers of quick-drying fabric, to wear close-toed shoes, and be prepared to get wet. All are asked to provide boat, paddles, life jacket and gloves for each boater, lunch and water, and to sign a waiver.

To reach Morgan Ford Bridge from US 58 in Virginia: At Axton, turn south onto County Road 610 (Axton Road). Drive 8 miles. Turn right onto County Road 622 (Morgan Ford Road). Drive 1.3 miles to the bridge.

From Eden, NC: Take NC 14/87(Van Buren Road) north toward Virginia. At a traffic light, turn right onto East Aiken Road. Immediately turn left onto Virginia Street. Drive 3 miles, entering Virginia (Virginia Street becomes Axton Road). Turn left onto County Road 622 (Morgan Ford Road). Drive 1.3 miles to the bridge.

Outings and meetings of the Dan River Basin Association are open to the public without charge.
For more information about the outing, contact Lynda Purcell,, 336-951-2751.
For information about the Dan River Basin Association, visit