Outdoors: Boats against the current

Blackbeard, Daniel Boone, Wilma Dykeman, even George Washington. Each of these famous names, all of which appear in William Auman's new book, Pioneer Paddling Colonial Carolina, has a Tar Heel connection.

Auman grew up in Benson, N.C., south of Raleigh and moved to Asheville in 1986 to become a public defender after finishing law school. Now a criminal lawyer, he's handled 53 murder cases while still finding time to teach political science at UNCA. His goal is "to make sure that justice is served."

The author has also been involved in appellate cases that entail a lot of research and writing. "I love to write, and I love to paddle," Auman reports. His twin interests have merged in this, his first paddling book.

Pioneer Paddling focuses on family outings all over North Carolina, starting with Ocracoke on the coast. The pirate Blackbeard frequented the area and in 1718, was beheaded by the British Royal Navy. Auman then tells the reader where and how you can paddle to Teach's Hole, where Blackbeard fell. That story ought to wet most children's appetites for paddling.

The book grew out of a paddling database Auman created in the early 1980s. Canoeing and camping with his wife, Liz, and later their two children, Auman began recording details such as where they’d put in and taken out, plus any historical information he’d picked up, each time they came back from a trip.

Paddling was a family activity. At first, all four of them could fit in one canoe. When the kids grew bigger, Auman’s daughter would go in his canoe and his wife would take their son in hers. Today, they collectively own eight boats.

"When I moved to Western North Carolina, I got bitten by the white-water bug, though I am not into extreme paddling," Auman explains. Accordingly, the family bought a home on the French Broad in Madison County: "I can fish from my deck," he boasts. For a while, they rented out the house; among the more unusual renters were Native American actors appearing in The Last of the Mohicans, which was filmed in the area in the early 1990s.

When pressed, Auman admits that his favorite place to paddle is Wolf Creek Lake in Jackson County’s Little Canada section. "It's off the beaten track," the author notes. There are four artificial lakes along the course of the Tuckasegee River, each impoundment offering a unique paddling experience. The three-mile-long Wolf Creek Lake is a paddler's dream, with many tranquil spots to beach a boat. It offers great cool-water swimming in summer and quiet fall vistas when the cars are bumper-to-bumper on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Auman describes the historic French Broad as a river "where the mythical world of the mountains still comes alive." He lists all the good places to put in, depending on how far you want to paddle. White-water thrill seekers are pointed toward Nantahala Outdoor Center, a training ground for Olympic paddlers.

The book includes Auman's list of sources, photos of his paddling family, and a chapter on taking your children canoeing.

"I hope that readers will come away with an appreciation of what is left of our Colonial wilderness that can be explored in a canoe,” he concludes, adding, “I also hope they have lots of fun with their kids."

— Hike leader and outdoors writer Danny Bernstein blogs at hikertohiker.com/thishikinglife.

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