Words and photos by Burt Kornegay
I once told river-guidebook author Paul Ferguson that if I spit on the ground in North Carolina, he'd try to paddle it. Ferguson didn't take offense, just smiled. He knew what I was getting at. If there's so much as a damp spot in his home state, he's tempted to launch his canoe.
That's the impression I get, at any rate, from Ferguson's paddling guides to the Carolinas: Paddling Eastern North Carolina (2nd edition, 2007, Pocosin Press) and Canoe Kayak South Carolina (1st edition, 2014). To describe these two books as being comprehensive would not be hype. The North Carolina guide includes "over 3,200 miles of rivers" in the eastern two-thirds of the state. And the guide to all of South Carolina, a smaller state by comparison, covers "over 1,700 miles." That's 5,000 Carolina river miles total. And, starting in 1973 with his becoming a member of the Carolina Canoe Club in Raleigh, Ferguson has personally paddled every one of them. As for rivers in the two states that are his "old favorites," he's been down them so many times he's lost count.
Losing count is not something Ferguson does easily. An engineer by training and temperament, he's a stickler when it comes to numbers and measurements and coordinates. One of his chief aims as a guidebook writer is to give paddlers accurate river locations, distances, gradients, water levels, driving directions, types of accesses, clear maps, and all the other "beta" that river runners appreciate when planning a trip, whether it's an afternoon outing or a two-week expedition. Having used his guides to plan multi-day canoe trips in both states, I've come to appreciate their facts and figures.
In addition to accuracy, here's another thing I appreciate about Ferguson’s guides--their helpful internal cross references. For instance, while describing his way down 75 miles of North Carolina's Fishing Creek, Ferguson not only notes where a major tributary, Little Fishing Creek, comes in, but he provides a ready cross-reference for those who might want to paddle it: "See Little Fishing Creek, Section 3 (page 434)." Similarly, in the South Carolina guide, having traced the North and South Forks of the Edisto to where they meet, Ferguson conveniently adds: "To continue downstream, see Edisto River, Section 1 (page 56)."
Both guides also point out useful services that are available along individual rivers. For instance, while describing section 10 of the 111-mile long State Scenic part of the Lynches River, in South Carolina, Ferguson notes a canoe livery and shuttle service there, River Rats, along with its web address.
The cross references and extra information are small additions, but they are a big help to boaters. So why is it that some other guidebooks don't take the extra stroke? (I own one guide to whitewater paddling in Western North Carolina that doesn't even offer an alphabetical index of river names!--forcing me to spend more than a little time flipping through its pages and running my finger down its list of "drainage areas" in search of a particular stream. You won't have to do that with Ferguson.)
I'll close by noting that the two Carolinas are separate states, but in terms of the way waters flow, they’re joined at the hip. Although South Carolina's rivers stay within the state's boundaries and flow into the Atlantic, several of North Carolina's principal streams cross the state line to merge with its neighbor's homebody flows. With the recent publication of his South Carolina guide, Ferguson now has two books working together to show this riverine connectedness–an aid to the river-tripper.
To give an example: you can now use the guides, combined, to launch on Drowning Creek, in the bosom of North Carolina, paddle it 15 miles to where it joins Buffalo Creek to form the Wild and Scenic Lumber River, boat the Lumber 110 miles through the state to where it crosses into South Carolina, then, switching to the other guide, continue on down the Lumber its final 21 miles to the Little Pee Dee, where, following that river 58 miles to its junction with the Great Pee Dee (we're on a big river now, tidally influenced), you paddle towards the Atlantic. In the process, you'll have followed a natural waterway from beginning to end and will have completed some 210 miles of United Carolina canoeing.
(By the way, for expediency I rounded off the mileages on that example. Paul Ferguson, rest assured, won't do that!)
Whether sticking with local streams or setting your sights on far horizons, when paddling in the Carolinas, Ferguson's guidebooks are the way to go.
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