Every since my family and I moved to Wilmington, I have always wanted to kayak through Eagle Island. Eagle Island, where is Eagle Island? You know, it is that island that hundreds of us drive over at least once or twice a week, coming to or leaving Wilmington. This island has always intrigued me and I could not help but wonder what one would find as you paddle through this island. What I found out is that it seems that everyone I talked with about Eagle Island had the same desire, to go and explore it. I also found that most people had little knowledge about who owned the property and how get access to the island without having to leave busy Dram Tree Park kayak launch at the foot of the Cape Fear Bridge.
So why the intrigue of kayak through this island that seems to be nothing more than tidal marsh land that has very few trees? Maybe because it is there mentality; perhaps it may be the thought of kayaking under Hwy 17/74/76 bridge to watch all the cars and truck pass over as you lazily paddle by; or it may because you hope to see one of the large alligators rumored to be one the rivers in the island. I can say that for me it was some of all three of these reasons, plus the thought of kayaking in some place that I have never been before that I liked.
Several weeks ago James Maclaren, a kayaking buddy, and I decided to head out and explore Eagle Island. It is sad to say that we had kayaked for many years in this area, but never taken the time to really explore Eagle Island. So we headed out for our day of discovery, it some ways we both felt like Lewis & Clark’s Corp of Discovery. What we found was simply amazing.
We began by putting our kayaks in at Sturgeon Creek and making our way down to the Brunswick River. Once at the river, we turned south to make our way across the channel to northern entrance to Alligator River. The Alligator River is one of the few navigable entrance points into the island. It was not long before we were lost in the natural beauty of the island. Soon we began to see this island for what it was, a natural wonder and a gem. It was hard to believe that such beauty could be a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of Wilmington. We saw firsthand what Eagle Island had to offer; great opportunities to view wildlife in their natural habitat, too explore marsh land that for the most part remained untouched for the last 100 years or so; and a cool location.
James and I spent the next 3 hours paddling the island and exploring every channel and ditch that we found. The thing that amazed the two of us was that it was so quiet and the amount of wildlife we saw. For being so close to Wilmington, it was amazing how quite it was. I found myself lost in my thoughts of what it was like when the first settlers came to this reason and explored this island. How had the island changed or better yet, what would I find around the next bend? Already this morning we had paddled up on several smaller alligators. The only thing we saw was a quick glimpse of them scurrying away as we paddled around the bend.
I was also amazed at the large size of the tree stumps found in and along the river and channels that we paddled. These stumps were enormous in size. Several of them those stumps were nearly as wide as my kayak was long. Another amazing sight we drifted along was the all the fiddler and marsh crabs we saw. There is nothing special about these kinds of crabs in this area, but these crabs were huge!
As for other wildlife, on different adventures since that day though the Eagle Island; I encountered great blue herons, osprey, egrets, groups of wild ducks on the northern end of the island, and much more. However on this day, we did not see any birds, maybe that was because the wind was up that morning.
The highlight of the trip was kayaking under the two bridges of US 17/74/76 on Alligator River. It was so cool to slowly drift under the bridges and listen to the traffic above. I could not help but wonder what the people who caught a glimpse of us were thinking. “That should be me out there kayaking” or maybe “Do they know there are alligators in there?” To answer that last questions, yes we knew there were gators in there. Just south of the bridges is where we had our encounter with three rather large gators.
Over the past year leading kayaking trips in and around this area, I have come to understand that most people have some weird beliefs about alligators. The first belief is that if you fall in the water, every alligator within a mile will jump in the water and swim to your spot and eat you! I guess they get this idea from watching Tarzan movies when they were kids. Anyway, while knowing alligators have been known to attach humans, I have never seen this before. I grew up canoeing in Central Florida Rivers and lakes and I can say that most of these rivers were infested with lots of alligators. It has been my experiences that in about 95% of the time, the gators would rather leave you alone and simply disappear below the water. And that is what happened this day. As soon as these gators saw us, they slipped in to the water and were gone. Shucks, I was hoping to get some photos of one of those big alligators.
We made our way thought our last section of Eagle Island without seeing another gator. We found our way back into the Brunswick River. Just across the way from where we exited the island was our landing spot at the at the Brunswick River Park on State Road 133 in Bellville. As we came up on our take out spot James and I were reflecting on our adventure that day. Both of us felt really blessed to have been out that day on such a great place.
Check out this YouTube Video of a recent kayaking adventure through Eagle Island.
If you are interested in exploring Eagle Island for yourself, contact us at Mahanaim Adventures and book your adventure for your family, friends or group. You can also find more information about the history and current conservation efforts to preserve Eagle Island at the https://www.eaglesisland.org