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Outside magazine, April 1998
The night music ensemble on northeastern North Carolina's Roanoke River is a rowdy mix of hooting owls, waltzing herons, chirruping frogs, and dive-bombing bats, all carousing in the largest bottomland hardwood swamp in the Midatlantic region. This Wind-in-the-Willows spectacle has gone largely unnoticed by canoeists, however, because most have been reluctant to pitch tents illegally on land owned by shotgun-toting farmers. They've opted instead for camping out on a king-size bed at the Comfort Inn in nearby Williamston.
But soon the joys of free cable won't figure quite so prominently in the wilderness experience of Roanoke paddlers. By next month, Roanoke River Partners, a local nonprofit grassroots group, will open the first of ten floating campsites. Wooden platforms that rise and fall with the currents, the ten sites will bob peacefully along a 70-mile stretch of the Roanoke from Hamilton to Albemarle Sound. Think of them as wilderness waterbeds.
Modeled after similar structures in Florida's Everglades and Georgia's Okefenokee Swamp, each platform, at 400 square feet, has room for several three-person tents. Posts around the perimeter allow for tarps, mosquito netting, and hanging lanterns. For privacy, one corner is tastefully screened — reserved for the portable flushing toilet that campers are required to rent from Roanoke River Partners and transport from site to site. Fires, for obvious reasons, aren't allowed, so a camp stove is a must.
At the moment, the Roanoke River Partners and local guinea pigs are testing the platforms. Floating campsites have hazards besides flammability: Motorboat wakes can dampen tents, and sleepwalkers can suddenly find themselves in the drink. The boat-wake problem at least has been dealt with by situating most of the platforms in quiet side tributaries — which also have the advantage of being more scenic than the main channel. Spanish moss dangles from dense thickets of bald cypress here, while scarlet tanagers, cerulean warblers, and 190 other bird species chirp amidst the foliage.
All ten platforms should be ready for limited public usage by mid-summer. The price per person is $10 per night, and reservations are required. To get more information, write to Roanoke River Partners, Box 488, Windsor, NC 27983. Although the trail will be marked, the tributaries can become confusing; Roanoke Outfitters in Williamston offers guided trips for $35-$255. It also rents canoes for $35 per day. Call 919-792-5915.