When tSt asked if I’d like to experience the Dragon Run, I thought she was inviting me to a new nausea-inducing amusement park ride. Usually game for new and different soft adventures, I agreed to find out what this Dragon Run was mostly because my Biking Belles would be accompanying me. Turns out, the experience could not have been further from any roller coaster action, although it was thrilling in a quiet, pristine sort of way.
What is Dragon Run?
Dragon Run is a 35-mile long tributary of the Piankatank River on the Middle Peninsula of Virginia. It runs through the Dragon Swamp. Hence the name, sort of. Theories abound for how Dragon Run got its name, but the confirmed origin remains a mystery.
A Hidden and Forbidden Gem
sJw said it best about Dragon Run: it’s hidden and forbidden. It’s hidden in the backwoods of Virginia and forbidden due to efforts of Friends of Dragon Run (see below) to prevent unfettered access to and development of it. Experiencing Dragon Run is akin to traveling back in time to the unspoiled days when John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) noted it on his exploration map.
(original map from the Library of Congress)
Friends of Dragon Run
Dragon Run remains unspoiled by humans to this day thanks to a group of concerned citizens, the Friends of Dragon Run. Through their swamp-roots efforts, FODR has donated and raised funds to acquire acreage along the run to preserve its primal nature. FODR’s biggest fundraiser is the guided kayak tours it offers during the six-week period in April and May when the waters are passable. A $40 donation to FODR covers guides and equipment. The river sells itself as anyone who spends time on the Dragon will become a life-long friend of Dragon Run.
We put in at one of the access points that FODR maintains.
Our intrepid guide for the day was the Dragon Run paddle-master, Teta Kain.
She outfitted us with waterproof walkie-talkies
that enabled her to enlighten and steer the twelve of us through the Dragon’s twists and turns, pointing out notable flora and fauna along the way.
A large population of beavers inhabit Dragon Run. We saw a few hutches
along the route, with their requisite beaver dams.
Volunteers had to hack a passageway through this one for us. We learned that beavers build dams in order to maintain the appropriate water level for their hutch, which they access from underwater.
Other Flora and Fauna
Bald Cypress Trees,
including this 1000-year-old specimen, dot the swamp.
congregating Tiger Swallowtail butterflies (official state insect of Virginia!)
We had hoped to see one of these, a Prothonotary Warbler. Teta spotted one as it flew into this brush,
but alas we missed it. Now we’ve got a new reason to make a second trip!
As our three-hour tour drew to a close, we approached our port
with bittersweet feelings, sad that it was over but joyful for our Pocahontas moment.
Hats off to Teta Kain and other Friends of Dragon Run for preserving this piece of American backcountry. Thanks also to tSt for introducing the Posse to the Dragon. If you want to paddle Dragon Run in the spring of 2017, stay in touch with FODR’s website for publication of the schedule and book early!
June 14, 2016