Monday, April 16, 2012

DRBA May 5 First Saturday Outing to Paddle Smith from Sports Complex to Mitchell Bridge

On Saturday, May 5, the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA) invites you to paddle a particularly interesting section of the Smith River, including a portion new to DRBA's outings.  The organization's First Saturday Outing will float 6 miles from the Smith River Sports Complex Access to the Mitchell Bridge Access in Henry County, Virginia.

Participants will meet a 10:00am at the Smith River Sports Complex (GPS36.63383,-79.82511).  Boat rentals and shuttle may be arranged through Smith River Adventure Outfitters of Martinsville, (276) 252-0701,, or Three Rivers Outfitters of Eden (336)627-6215,

Coordinators for the outing are two avid paddlers and board officers of DRBA, Wayne Kirkpatrick and Mark Bishopric.  Kirkpatrick says, "This will be the first time DRBA has scheduled a First Saturday Outing on the first two miles of this section.  The Class III rapid know as Eggleston Falls is bypassed by a batteau sluice, making it appropriate for novice paddlers."

In the nineteenth century, the Smith River was improved to allow long, narrow batteaux, the commericial craft that carried cargo up and down the river, to pass through rocky ledges.  The river's navigation improvements include the channel beside Eggleston Falls, described in DRBA's Insider's Guide to the Smith River as "the largest set of falls on the Smith River."

According to the guide, available at, "a batteau sluice blaseted out of bedrock is adjacent to the falls river left."  DRBA coordinators will point out the sluice for those who prefer to use the gentler passage.

Just downstream of Eggleston Falls, Marrowbone Creek enters the Smith River from the right.  The Marrowbone Creek Access is one of the most popular launching sites on the river.

On a hillside just below Marrowbone Creek, covered by a rhododendron thicket, is the 75-acre Gravely Nature Preserve, developed by DRBA as part of the Smith River Trail System.  The preserve, a Henry County park, boasts two miles of trials with interpretive signs, a wealth of wildflowers and ferns, and the family cemetery of the historic Burgess Plantation.  Hikers may be glimpsed on the riverside trail.

A mile below the Gravely Nature Preserve, Leatherwood Creek enters the river from the left.  Near the headwaters of the creek, Patrick Henry lived on a large plantation from 1779-1786.  Both Patrick and Henry counties ar named in honor of this Revolutionary War patriot.

Boaters may wish to take a side excursion up Leatherwood Creek to enjoy the shade and explore for wildflowers and birds.  A short distance downriver a broad rounded boulder in the middle of the Smith, fondly dubbed "Lunch Rock," beckons paddlers to stop and break out a snack.

Within half a mile is a long bedrock layer that spans the river, with a channel on the far right, possibly cut for batteau navigation. Another half mile brings boater to Long Island, flanked by Long Island Rapids that provide one last maneuvering opportunity in sight of the takeout at Mitchell Bridge Access.

Paticipants in the outing are asked to bring boat, a life jacket for each boater, lunch and water.  Dress in layers of synthetic (quick-drying) fabric or wool, and be prepared for wind or rain.  Because its water come from the bottom of Philpott Lake, the Smith River is always cold.

  All participants are asked to sign a waiver.

The put-in is at the Smith River Sports Complex, 1000 Irisburg Road, Axton, Virginia.

From US 220, turn east on US 58 toward Danville.  Drive 2.5 miles, and turn right onto County Road 650/Irisburg Road.  The Sports Complex is 1/4 mile on the right.  Immediately after passing through the gates, turn left onto a gravel road beside the maintenance sheds.  Follow the road downhill to the parking lot at the top of the ramp.

From Danville, take US 58 west towards Martinsville for about 15 miles.  Take US 58 West ramp to US 220 toward Stuart/Roanoke/Ridgeway/Greensboro.  Drive about 3.5 miles, and exit onto County Road 650/Irisburg Road.  Turn left onto Irisburg Road.  The Sports Complex is 1/4 mile on the right.  Immediately after passing through the gates, turn left onto a gravel road beside the maintenance sheds.  Follow the road downhill to the parking lot at the top of the ramp.

Outings and meetings of the Dan River Basin Association are open to the public without charge.

For trip information, contact trip coordinator Wayne Kirkpatrick,, (540) 570-3511 or (276) 694-4449, or Mark Bishopric,, (336) 627-6215.

For information about the Dan River Basin Association, visit