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Paddling the Black River

Flowing through 66 miles of scenic lowlands in southeastern North Carolina, the Black River is named for the tea-like color of its water. This color is the result of tannins being released from the abundant bald cypress trees. One particular group of these cypress trees, those located in Three Sisters Swamp, are believed to be the oldest trees east of the Mississippi River. The oldest tree that has been measured in this swamp is about 1700 years old and more unmeasured are believed to be older.

The Black River is relatively untouched and it maintains its natural meandering flow. It is one of the cleanest rivers in the state and has been named an Outstanding Water Resource by the NC Nature Conservancy. This combined with the beautiful scenery and biodiversity make this a great place to paddle. While paddling down the river, many species of water birds and songbirds can be observed, and on rare occasions even river otters or black bears. 

The black water, the old, gnarled trees covered in Spanish moss, and the swampy surroundings create an image characteristic to the area. The old trees of Three Sisters Swamp might look unimpressive upon first glancing at them. They are so weatherworn that they are much shorter than the younger, healthier trees. But they are this way because of the wear and tear of nearly two millennia of rain and wind. They are hollowing out and withering away, clearly showing their ancient age. 

There are a few access points along the Black river in Pender and Bladen Counties. Three Sisters Swamp can be reached in a day paddle, albeit a long one. This can be done unguided, but it can be difficult to find Three Sisters Swamp through the cypress maze without a guide. Multiple outfitters provide guided tours.

 


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