After doing a bit of research it looked like a great way to experience the Great Dismal Swamp would be to use our kayaks.
We could launch into the Canal, get to the very attractively-named Feeder Ditch, and paddle 3 miles in either no or a small current up to a dam where a small portage would gain us access to Lake Drummond. Lake Drummond is a 3100 acre lake in the middle of the Great Dismal Swamp.
Lake Drummond and the Feeder Ditch have water that has a high tannin content which accounts for its very dark appearance (and ability to make a couple of clean kayaks look trashed).
It’s also said that the tannins keep the water fresher so much longer that ships headed across the Atlantic would stock up on it for use in transit. One account said it was directly drinkable but the author didn’t attempt it nor did we.
Our Longest Paddle
So, the big story here for our family is that while we have had kayaks for 9-10 months we have never attempted a trip this long. I knew it would be a stretch goal but with the lack of any significant current, not much traffic expected, and the payoff being the view of Lake Drummond that not many people see I felt it was worth the attempt.
We left notes on both our RV and Truck, packed a lunch and some extra food and water, threw in some headlamps, a first-aid kit and a rope (just in case), and got into the water somewhere between 9:30 and 10 AM. I would have liked to have been about an hour earlier, but sometimes that’s life.
Very Little Traffic
There was no traffic in the Canal and we soon (after a bit of second-guessing) reached the intersection of the Feeder Ditch. Turning into that we started paddling towards the dam.
One motorboat passed us (respectfully slowing down as he did) and one other kayaker passed as well, gliding by gracefully in his long sea kayak which made our inflatable feel a bit like the ugly duckling.
We didn’t see a ton of wildlife - certainly none of the Black Bears that the Refuge is said to house 400 of. We saw mainly turtles and some ducks. Or maybe they were geese?
Annoying Ditch Ducks
I dubbed them the annoying Ditch Ducks. They glommed on to us early in the Feeder Ditch and at first were interesting, not being a species we have in Michigan.
But then? They. Wouldn’t. Leave. Us. Alone.
Seriously - they were either between the two kayaks or close behind us for the better share of our paddle up the Feeder Ditch. Once in a while they’d approach like they were begging but then one or two of them would flap up and honk and look like they were about to get aggressive. I’m not one to harass wildlife but splashed them a couple of times which caused them to drop back for a while.
The Dam Tour
Eventually we reached the dam, took restroom breaks in the provided bathrooms, and considered our options. We were already tired but the lake proper was only a short distance up from the dam.
It was also pushing lunch time. We decided to keep going to the lake, spend a short time enjoying the reward for our effort, and then come back for lunch.
The lake was quite pretty. And big. Without a handheld GPS I was wary to get too far away from the Feeder Ditch connection as I could tell it would disappear into the shoreline without too much effort. We snapped a bunch of photos and floated a bit with the current, enjoying the calm and the view.
But - in the back of my head was that little voice reminding me that we had lunch and a 3.5 mile paddle back out to get done before darkfall.
We turned around and headed back to the Feeder Ditch, back to the dam where we enjoyed the use of a screenhouse for our lunch.
We invited another kayaking couple in to join us, they accepted and we got to know them a bit. Turns out it was their very first kayaking trip and they were feeling the burn as well.
After eating, doing some stretching and refilling water bottles it was back into the ditch heading out.