Many outdoor enthusiasts believe northeastern North Carolina has it all. Anglers and boaters love the area, while persons seeking quiet can scarcely believe their good fortune.
Rising in a corner of the Great Dismal Swamp, the Perquimans River meanders 30 miles before meeting the Albemarle Sound, the largest freshwater inlet in North America. A favorite recreational fishing ground and a popular place for cruising, sailing and many water sports, the Sound is part of the Intracoastal Waterway.
The Yeopim Indians were the first people to inhabit the area and named it “Perquimans,” translated as “Land of Beautiful Women.” The Perquimans River is a tidal estuary just north of the town of Hertford. Because of the extremely flat topography, the Perquimans flows slowly. It has cypress swamps on both banks for most of its upper length. The stream flows past the communities of Nicanor, Whiteson and Belvidere, as well as the towns of Hertford and Winfall.
This quintessential river town of Hertford is steeped in history. Victorian homes line a winding road that follows the banks of the river. Cypress trees draped with Spanish moss stand tall in the brown waters.
The Perquimans’ upper reaches are narrow, winding and deep. So winding, in fact, that Hertford, childhood home of the late baseball great “Catfish” Hunter, sits on a peninsula bounded on the east, north and west by the river. Below Hertford the river straightens, widens and flows 12 miles before draining into Albemarle Sound.
Tea-colored creeks feed the Perquimans. Shaded by red maple, the creeks are home to perch, catfish, flounder, largemouth bass and sunfish. There are no rapids and very little current. The water is quiet enough to support lily-pad communities.
Wind governs the depth of the Perquimans. When north winds blow, the river falls, as water rushes toward the sea. Conversely, when winds blow from the south, Albemarle Sound waters invade the river, increasing its depth.
Colonists found a forbidding terrain here, criss crossed by streams. Because roads on land were difficult to build, the river over time became a busy thoroughfare handling traffic of various kinds.
Cargo bound for New England slipped through Currituck Inlet. Molasses, sugar and liquor came in from the West Indies.
Ferry service linked communities, but after ferry-goers repeatedly complained of delays, a bridge across the Perquimans was built in 1798. Some 20 feet wide and floating on empty barrels, the privately owned drawbridge was eventually purchased by the county. A hundred years later, a new bridge was christened, and in 1928 the current concrete and steel bridge was constructed.
During the Civil War, Union troops sailed up the Perquimans, destroying bridges in an effort to stop the flow of smuggled goods to Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The town of Hertford remained largely unscathed.
In 2007, U.S. Senators Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr introduced legislation calling for designation of the Perquimans as a National Wild and Scenic River. Preserving it would do more than protect wildlife. People from all around come here to fish, camp, canoe, kayak and engage in other outdoor activities. Frequently seen around the Perquimans are bald eagles, otters, swans, geese and various species of ducks.
The Perquimans is a paddler’s dream. A day can offer a wind so slight that you’ll travel silently on what appears to be black glass. But, if you look closely, you’ll see a dark sandy bottom and observe fish swimming over it.
Whether a novice or experienced paddler, you’ll find a variety of trails to suit your ability. The Upper Perquimans River Trail is seven miles long from an access point at Belvidere, N.C., and continues north to the upper reaches of the river. On the Lower Perquimans River Trail a canoeist or kayaker can travel 12 miles down the river to Hertford.
The Mill Creek Paddle Trail begins half a mile east of Hertford and features twin camping platforms along the way. The Goodwin Creek River Trail, three miles long, is a short outing that takes in the upper reaches of Goodwin Creek. Creeks along the trail are only navigable by kayaks and canoes due to water depth.
Every season in Perquimans county offers a different wilderness experience. Huge trees provide a natural canopy and air conditioning for summertime visitors. After the leaves fall, there is an openness not present at other times.
The Perquimans is still largely undiscovered, so don’t be surprised if yours is the only kayak or canoe on the water. Enjoy the uninterrupted views of wildlife, waterfowl and cypress forests. No matter what time of year you visit, you are sure to be inspired by the subtle beauty visible all around. Perquimans is a favorite getaway for persons seeking a respite from modern living. Enjoy, and plan on returning.
Mary Syrett is a freelance writer and photographer. Her articles have appeared in various publications.