The 3.5-mile "blueway" Smith River Trails section, rated Class 1, is suitable for novice paddlers. Trip coordinator is Wayne Kirkpatrick, DRBA President, aided by other DRBA members who frequent this section of the river.
For the first half mile of the trip, the river flows alongside the Gravely Nature Preserve's high bluffs where paddlers can glimpse the Rhododendron Trail. As the name implies, the path winds through a rhododendron thicket as it hugs the river's edge.
About a mile farther on, Leatherwood Creek enters from river left. Paddlers often enter the wide mouth of the creek and take a leisurely side trip up the shaded stream to observe woodland wildflowers and birds. Early American patriot Patrick Henry, for whom both Patrick and Henry counties are named, lived on a large plantation near the headwaters of Leatherwood Creek from 1779 - 1786.
Just below the mouth of Leatherwood Creek is a broad rounded boulder in the middle of the river. Known as "Lunch Rock," it makes "a perfect spot to stop for a break," according to "An Insider's Guide to the Smith River," available at www.danriver.org .
Henry County, in partnership with DRBA, has made the Smith River accessible to the public over the past three years by building public access points at eight new sites along the river, including the Marrowbone Creek Access, which opened in 2007, and Mitchell Bridge Access, built in 2009.
Participants are invited to linger after the outing to enjoy the Gravely Nature Preserve, part of the county's "greenway" Smith River Trail system, which was dedicated in April, 2008. Developed by DRBA and Henry County, with funding from The Harvest Foundation, the 75-acre preserve features two miles of interpretive trails. Historic features include early twentieth-century tobacco barns and the Burgess Family cemetery, reminders of former owners of the property.
Industrialist, civic leader, and archaeologist Richard P. Gravely, Jr. owned the property in the late twentieth century and left instructions for its preservation as a wildlife and nature conservancy. The preserve now hosts frequent educational and recreational events for all ages, including day camps, fitness walks, historic presentations, workshops, after-school programs, and geo-caching.
Participants in the outing are asked to bring boat and paddles, life jackets, lunch and water, to dress in layers of artificial (quick-drying) fabric and to sign a waiver.
Boats may be rented from Three Rivers Outfitters, 336-627-6215
Smith River Adventure Outfitters, 276-252-0701
Directions: To reach the Gravely Nature Preserve from US 220 south of Martinsville, turn east at a traffic light onto Old Sand Road. Cross the US 58 overpass and immediately turn left onto Eggleston Falls Road. Travel about two miles to the preserve, which is on the left, across from the foot of Old Mill Road.