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WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – Southeastern North Carolina is home to two major rivers. While the Cape Fear River is better known, it's counterpart the Northeast Cape Fear River was an important stretch of water in regards to development of this part of the state.
When you look at the Northeast Cape Fear River, it's hard to believe it actually starts as a black water stream just south of Goldsboro, before joining the Cape Fear River in downtown Wilmington.
"The Northeast, to me, is like the best unkept secret that we've got," said Captain Doug Springer of Wilmington Water Tours.
Five mornings a week, he takes visitors up the Northeast Cape Fear River and says it has become one of his most popular tours. After passing under the Isabel Holmes Bridge and the railroad crossing at the cement company, you enter a whole different world.
"It surprises people," explained Springer. "They leave Wilmington and within 20 minutes. They could be a million miles away. It is just so important."
But unless you have a boat, most people have never had the chance to see the Northeast in its most remote areas.
"It is one of our two black rivers, so it is very special to our eco system," said Springer. "It is also the way William Hilton explored in 1662, so the river is full of history.".
When Hurricane Floyd hit in 1999, it dumped over two feet of rain in the area, causing massive flooding. Upriver, the land is largely agricultural that include dense poultry and swine farms. It was not uncommon in the days after Floyd to see drowned livestock floating down river. That brought great concern about the environmental damage done to the Northeast. But fortunately, it is a tidal river, and it eventually cleaned itself. Today, it is back in its pristine condition.
"Black rivers, especially, they are just fragile in nature," said Springer. "But give it a chance, they can be very resilient. We are very fortunate that this is a tidal river basin and it eventually cleaned itself up so now it is one of the cleanest river in North Carolina."
The recent completion of the Cameron Bridge on Interstate 140 now gives motorists a bird's eye view of the Northeast. But access to the river is limited to the several boat ramps operated by the Wildlife Resources Commission.
Captain Springer says obtaining the scenic river designation is something that has been discussed in the past.
"If we can get it designated as a scenic river, we can get more trails cut down to it, more people could use their smaller boats and canoes in it, more people really could use the Northeast Cape Fear River because it is so special," said Springer.
But right now, there is no movement to make that happen. However more meetings on that issue are scheduled for this fall. Currently, the National Park Service has 163 rivers in the country that have the scenic designation and it includes the Lumber River that flows thru Robeson County.
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