“To provide guiding and outfitting service to paddlers on the Lower Roanoke River and adjacent waters.”
Brochure – Roanoke Outdoor Adventures
In the late 1990s, a small group of people began discussing the idea of paddling the lower Roanoke River by kayak or canoe.
Some locals thought the idea was novel, but there were also some who thought it was nonsense.
As interest in exploring the Roanoke River grew, a creative and energetic group (Roanoke River Partners, Inc.) was formed, and in time they would oversee the construction of 14 platforms campgrounds located on the shores and backwaters of Roanoke and Cashie. rivers.
Soon after construction of the platform began, paddlers from across the country began showing up with their canoes, kayaks and camping gear. eager to discover this mystical place, sometimes called “the Amazon of North Carolina”.
Yet the more a local outdoorsman heard about the camping and boating activities that took place on the river, the more interested he became.
Heber Coltrain, a “Williamstonian” (as he refers to himself) since childhood, is interested in everything that happens outside. At age 13, he made his first trip up the Roanoke River with his father. However, his serious exploration of the river began in his late teens.
“Well, my first impression was fear,” says Coltrain. “In the Roanoke River Wetlands, you have thousands of acres that are nothing but woods and a secluded area, so I’m sure it had some appeal, or at least it sparked a certain curiosity.
Most local residents feared the Roanoke River. A few hunters roamed the current-swept waters during the winter, looking for deer and wild turkeys.
A few determined anglers, brave enough to tolerate snakes, deer flies and mosquitoes, fished the river during the summer.
Otherwise, the Lower Roanoke River was a place feared and avoided by many locals. After all, the Native Americans called it Moratock, which means “place of death.” It was a name the river had been given the old fashioned way – by earning it.
When Coltrain started passing paddlers, he quickly realized that many of them needed help. Some were paddling for the first time and had to rent a canoe, kayak, tent or perhaps a camp stove. Many needed help planning their paddling route safely.
In the fall of 2011, Coltrain decided to begin providing guiding and outfitting services to paddlers. He spent over 40 years working in insurance, real estate and as a general securities representative and began to feel that for health and mental health reasons it was time to start spending more time. hours outside.
After buying a few canoes, kayaks, life jackets and paddles, he built a website outlining the services he offered. Roanoke River Partners Inc. also helped let paddlers know that their services were available.
Over the past 10 years, he has helped over 1,000 paddlers on their adventure. Some groups consisted of a single paddler, others had as many as 40. They came from as far away as Canada, Alaska, Washington State, California, Nova Scotia and the ‘Europe.
“I tell them to bring a tent, sleeping gear and insect repellent because they will be sleeping on the platforms at night and will have to keep bugs away,” he noted. “They also appreciate that I’m just a phone call away and they realize how safe it is to have someone somewhere who knows where they are at all times because, after all, anything can happen. “
Although the paddling activities provided income, Coltrain is quick to say that the greatest reward was the opportunity to meet some of the paddlers.
“Some came to paddle for the first time, and there are those who paddle frequently throughout the year,” he said. “There are those who have only paddled in eastern North Carolina, and there are those who have paddled all over the United States, Canada and other parts of the world.
“I’ve met environmental scientists, water quality experts, brain surgeons, public school science teachers, Ivy League students who specialize in all types of studies,” he admitted. “Plus, there are parents with adult children, groups of middle-aged siblings, and young parents primarily interested in enjoying the peace and quiet.”
Coltrain says his biggest concern is the safety of paddlers. It requires all paddlers to wear a personal flotation device. Sometimes this may require “strong encouragement”, but the more experience a paddler has, the less there is to discuss the need to wear a PFD (personal flotation device). Many of them have their own story of how a situation they found themselves in could have ended much worse had they not worn this device.
“My most memorable situation was of two gentlemen who arrived at the end of April and their boat capsized and one of them suffered a severe hypothermia crisis,” he said. “If I hadn’t got there when I did, it could have been a really bad result.
“They had strayed off the trail and instead of calling out they tried to get back to where they started and battling that river current became completely exhausted,” he continued. “If I hadn’t been familiar with the area, I would have had to look up where they were. Instead, I arrived in 40 minutes. We put (the man) in a dry sleeping bag and luckily he recovered and didn’t need to be hospitalized.
The many species of birds, reptiles and other wildlife make the Lower Roanoke River a fascinating place to visit. however, Coltrain will quickly admit that he is also fascinated by the area’s folklore and rich maritime, Native American and Civil War history.
One will quickly notice the excitement in his voice as he describes life by the river. Jokingly, he warns his audience that there’s a good chance he’ll tell them a lot more about the river than they really want to know.
Coltrain has no intention of ending its guiding and outfitting services any time soon.
“If loving the work you do increases longevity, then hopefully I’ll stay a long time,” he smiles.
Most likely he will continue to help people explore the Lower Roanoke and Cashie Rivers for quite a while; a true Huckleberry Finn.