JOHN CHAPPELL: Student to Canoe Down Haw
Long before Robbins Astronaut Charles E. Brady, Jr., looked down at the whole of Earth from space he had a concern about the environment of his native North Carolina.
About 25 years ago, he filled a pottery jug at the headwaters of the Haw River, canoed down the Haw to empty that clear, fresh water 100 miles downstream.
Along the way, Brady stopped to talk with people living along, working beside, and enjoying the river. When he poured that jug of water into Jordan Lake at the end of his paddle, it was easy to see the river had seen better days.
It was Brady's way of calling attention to the damage pollution was causing the river. Bringing a jug of water all the way from its source was the only way anybody could get fresh water out of the Haw downstream.
This month, a student from Elon will duplicate Brady's trip. He'll use the same jug, fill it from springs at the headwaters, and canoe down the 110 miles of the Haw to where it joins the Deep River to form the Cape Fear.
Matt Steible is a student Elon University. He'll undertake Brady's trip this time to bring attention to the river as a recreational source and its newly completed paddle trail.
"The Haw is a very personable river," he says. "In the west of North Carolina, there may be other rivers with more whitewater. To the east, there might be rivers with wider banks. But smack dab in the center of Carolina, there's a gem that cuts through our daily lives."
Steible is from New Jersey and discovered the Haw through a canoeing course he took at Elon.
"For Matt it was a way of getting to things he loves doing," said his teacher, Joe Jacobs. "Sometimes it is fun to step outside the ordinary business of school. Matt comes down here and sees this wonderful river and says, 'Boy -- if we had something like this in New Jersey, wouldn't we love it.' Sometimes things that are the closest to you, you just don't see."
Jacobs is in the canoe business. His firm, The Haw River Canoe and Kayak Co. in nearby Saxapahaw rents canoes and offers guided trips down sections of the river.
"We don't sell any gear," Jacobs says. "We rent boats to folks, we do guided trips and a certain amount of instruction for beginners. We don't do white water kayaking, but we do recreational kayaking."
He thinks Robbins -- Brady's hometown -- is on to something if they follow up on Commissioner Mark Garner's idea of developing the town's Bear Creek canoe port and the nearby Deep River for recreation.
Environmental tourism -- like canoe trips or the annual Mid-Atlantic Star Party -- is growing.
"Times have changed enough," Jacobs says. "People can see conservation can be an economic developer for everybody."
Steible will launch his "Celebrate the Haw" River Paddle March 16.
"It's spring break," Steible said in a telephone interview. "There are folks following me down, and there will be chances to take a free paddle or a walk with other interested people. The following weekend, March 25, we will have a party at Jordan Lake."
Jordan is close to the terminus of the river, just above its juncture with the Deep. There is talk of a parallel trip from Robbins down Bear Creek and Deep River to meet up with Steible .
"That would be amazing," he says. "I heard about Chuck Brady and his first awareness. Chuck and Lyn Featherstone were friends and thought the Haw really needed some help. They started a conservation group. Chuck actually had the idea of going down the river and sort of holding a media event every so often along the river. There are stretches where he could just swing by and let people know if there was trash in certain areas, or if there were pollution problems. He really had the idea of creating this awareness paddle. When it was all done, they had a giant flotilla paddling into Jordan Lake. Chuck was certainly not the first to paddle the entire river, but he was the first to do this sort of awareness paddle."
It worked. There have been a number of projects since then that have made the river cleaner and safer today than it was at that time.
"The Haw is growing (in popularity) and the number of people who care about it are growing as well," Steible has said. "They're ensuring that buffer zones allow the river to recover and endure by itself. They're elevating the water quality to a standard that hasn't been dreamt in decades. They're providing access points for recreational paddlers and a hiking trail for those who like to walk both upstream and downstream."
The Haw begins with springs northwest of Greensboro, meandering mostly east until the area near Burlington, when it swings south and passes through Jordan Lake and down past Pittsboro to merge there with the Deep River, becoming the Cape Fear.
"I haven't seen the jug yet," Steible says. "It was made by a Chatham County potter, a Mark Stewart -- homemade and fired in a large, wood-fired kiln. This jug has been used by the Haw River Festival to carry clean water from the headwaters down to Jordan Lake."
He'll bring his Brady jug of fresh water all the way down to pour it into the Cape Fear sometime around four in the afternoon, March 25. It is a long trip, but there will be company along the way and overnight stops.
"He is going to take his time and enjoy himself," Jacobs says. "It will take longer than a week; about 10 days. He will stop by arrangement at places for overnighting."
Part of a Journey
There are places he will have to land, shoulder his craft, and portage around innavigable sections and places where textile mill dams are still in place. It is all part of a journey he's looking forward to starting.
"The Haw is definitively blue-collar," Steible says. "It's a working river and always has been, from the ancient trade routes and fishing of past Indian tribes to the textile mills of the 19th and 20th centuries. I-85/40 rumbles overhead, but turn a bend and the tire noise fades, the developments disappear, and one is surrounded by nature and transported to a simpler time."
Steible says much is owed to the farsighted contribution made by a doctor's son, an Eagle Scout, and a future Astronaut from Robbins.
"The reason Chuck Brady took that jug all the way down from the headwaters to Jordan was to show it was the only way to get clean water," Steible said. "That river is in better shape now, because of him."
John Chappell can be reached at 783-5841 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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