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For some time I've been thinking about doing a long day trip on Crabtree Creek. It's about 22 water miles from the Crabtree Lake to take-out in east Raleigh. The creek leaves the lake and runs through Umstead State park, then passes directly through the city of Raleigh before joining the Neuse River. The first five miles appear as remote wilderness--except for the sight of joggers and mountain bikes passing on nearby trails and crossing footbridges. After passing under Ebenezer Church Road, the scenery changes to industrial, commercial, or residential depending on which section of the city you're in. You pass behind rock quarries, shopping malls, greenways, multi-million dollar homes, industrial parks, waste treatment plants--pretty much what you'd expect to find in a creek with the luch to run through a good-sized city. It's "interesting," even when it isn't very pretty. Crabtree Creek ends at the Neuse River about a mile upstream of the takeout at Poole Road.
First, we dropped a vehicle at the Poole Road take-out, and then drove up 40 to the put-in point. We got an early start, entering the water on a cold-but-sunny morning about 0800 hours.
Drew (my son-in-law) and I put a pair of 15' touring kayaks in just below the Crabtree Lake Dam. We parked beside the dirt road across from the Cary Wastewater Treatment plant and carried the boats down the path to the creek. It wasn't an easy put-in--but turned out to be the first of MANY carries.
We paddled about 300 yards before meeting the first downed trees across the creek. We rope/dragged the boats up the steep bank and carried about a half mile to the next "clear" section. Back in the water, we discovered the first of many not-deep-enough sections. Thus began the dozens of times it was required to scoot/carry the boats over sandbars, gravel, and rocks. For the first five miles we were lucky to actually float clear for more than a few hundred yards at a time.
There were perhaps five or six sections where a little more water would have given us Class I or II fun, but in every case we simply got stuck in the ripples and had to pry our way down to the "deeper" water. The USGS gauge for this date was about 3.7 feet at Ebenezer Church Road. I'd say you need at least six more inches of depth to make Crabtree worth floating in a kayak. A bigger boat or canoe would need even more.
However! In my opinion, any significant increase in water flow would make this trip DANGEROUS. The stream is simply choked in MANY places with downed trees and sweeper/strainers galore. (You want to see my black eye?) Drew and I were forced into many awkward portages, carries, and boat-dragging exercises, especially in the first and last thirds of the trip. The sections between Crabtree Valley Mall and Lassiter Mill (the remains of an old mill dam) were actually pretty nice water--but only because the mill dam kept it deep enough for boats for about five miles. Downstream of Lassiter Mill Road, Crabtree once again took up its nasty shallow and tree-choked habits, only now time it was full of garbage, trash, junk, debris, and goo of all types. (NOTE: The creek was either the graveyard--or spawning waters--of HUNDREDS of sports balls. Every bend and pool was lined with inflatable basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, tennis balls--yours for the choosing! If you've ever lost a ball, I know where it is...)
But as I was saying, Crabtree Creek would be a DANGEROUS place to paddle at any significant water level. Sure, you'd float better--but you'd be in constant risk getting caught in the blockages. Even at low water flow we sometimes struggled to get the boats over some of the obstructions, needing ropes to drag them up steep banks with no safe places to re-enter on the other side.
Approaching Lassiter Mill Dam for portage was a bit scary. There is NO easy way to pass this dangerous obstruction. On the left bank there is a wall and private property. On the right side is a town park, but with a VERY steep, paved bank that isn't cleared till a foot or so from the brink of the dam. You could NOT safely approach that spot if the water was really moving, but would have to climb through brush further upstream. As it was, I made shore safely with the help of a friendly pedestrian who saw me struggling to stabilize the boat and climb out. Putting in again below the dam, however, was easy.
As darkness approached, Drew and I decided to use our "emergency backup plan," and cell-phoned the wives for an early take-out. Nine hours after starting we dragged our muddy selves up yet ANOTHER 20-foot bank to a restaurant parking lot just above New Bern Avenue. We had made 18.03 miles at about 6:00 pm. The planned take-out was only 2.8 miles away, with the last mile or so sure to be clear as it was in the Neuse. However, we saw no value in risking our lives in the dark for another two hours. (In June, we'd have pushed on. Not in February...)
Quite Simple Really--don't go there! While there is some decent water a few miles above Lassiter Mill, the rest of the trip is more difficult and/or dangerous than its worth. It's too bad, because Crabtree Creek COULD be a very nice trip. Clear out the logs, get six more inches of water, pick up some trash, and the 22-mile journey would be a pleasant day indeed. I'd like to be "part of the solution" and have recently joined the Neuse River Foundation as part of my commitment to improve this endangered river basin. Maybe I'll be able to revise my recommendation about Crabtree one day. I hope so!
TAKE OUT: (proposed--we never made it...)
Poole Road Canoe Ramp, Raleigh NC
FOR GPS/TOPO MAP USERS
35 50' 18" N, 78 46' 50" W
UTM Zone 17, 700457 mE, 3968291 mN
35 45' 19" N, 78 31' 57" W
UTM Zone 17, 718037 mE, 3963500 mN
Also, I got the idea for this trip (and MANY others as well) in Paul Ferguson's "Paddling Eastern North Carolina" This book is a "MUST HAVE" if you want detailed information about paddling in NC (http://www.pocosinpress.com/).