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Weekend Trip to Drummond Lake in Geat Dismal Swamp

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Lake Drummond, Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge
Date: November 5-6th, 2022
Put-in/Takeout: Ballahack Boat Ramp
Paddlers: 1 adult, 2 Elementary School Kids
Craft: Mad River Explorer 16

We took advantage of the mild November weather to make an overnight trip to Lake Drummond. This would be the kids first overnight canoe trip.

We launched from the Ballahack Boat Ramp on the Dismal Swamp Canal. The canal is straight as a runway. The banks are high, steep, and supported by trees, wood, metal and occasional tires. The water was like dark tea. The canal wasn’t pretty, but it certainly wasn’t dismal. It wasn’t swampy either. The ¾ mile paddle south to Feeder Ditch was uneventful.

Feeder Ditch stretches 3 miles, perfectly straight, to a low dam. It is only about 50 feet wide. The banks are about 10 feet high and lined by trees and vegetation. The way was clear, with few down trees or obstructions. We encountered a 40 yard patch of windblown pine needles and leaves, but it was not difficult to paddle through.
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The name Feeder Ditch does not do justice to this unique paddling experience. The dam is beyond the vanishing point as you enter the ditch. It felt like we were paddling through a tunnel or walking between giant hedge rows. It was the oddest thing I’ve paddled in many years.

We reached the dam a little later than hoped. The boat trolley was not in service. We portaged the 50 ft to reach Feeder Ditch above the dam and began our ¼ mile sprint to Lake Drummond. We had missed the sunset, but we watched the sky darken before heading back.

The Army Corp of Engineer campground sits around the dam on Feeder Ditch. It is a pleasant place to camp. Most of the campground is like a lawn, so it is comfortable for sleeping. There are flush toilets and sinks with running water. The stars were pretty good too.

The campground had about 12 tents in several groups. Everyone was polite and well behaved.

Sunday morning we had breakfast and paddled out to Lake Drummond. The lake is roughly a circle 2.2 miles across. The south end of the lake was mirror calm. Cypress trees lined the shore, with a few sparse trees farther out. We could see a cloud sleeping in the fields to the southwest.
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We paddled along the southern shore, watching the sun rise over the trees.
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Far off in the distance a line of white triangle splashes appeared as a waterfowl took flight. The bird was too far to see, but the white line of its skiing feet was visible as it landed.

I heard a small motor boat, but it was lost in the distance. After about a mile we turned around and started back.
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The entrance to Feeder Ditch is marked with a sign and is easy to find.

There was a tree down across Feeder Ditch between the lake and the dam. We were able to slide under without difficulty. The kids nicknamed it Limbo Log. Many other trees had been cleared from the ditch, so I doubt Limbo Log will stay in the water long.

We broke camp and started our return trip down Feeder Ditch.

Two gentlemen in an Appalachian were about 20 minutes ahead. Chasing them motivated the kids. As we overtook them a bald eagle swooped from a pine tree and flew down the river.

The eagle was odd because we had seen so little wildlife. There were a few kingfishers, a pair of ducks, and the distant waterfowl. No herons, osprey, or hawks. We saw many small ripples but only one fish jump. My son caught a green frog and a toad at the campground. We spied a turtle near the boat ramp. I’m not surprised Feeder Ditch was quiet, given the number of paddlers going in, but I expected Lake Drummond to have more birds. Thankfully there were no mosquitos either.

The last mile was uneventful, other than seeing the Swamp Commander’s bridge retract straight back onto the shore.

It was a great trip. The kids handled it well and had fun. It was remarkably easy, with no logjams, no muddy slogs, and no scary critters. We’d like to go back sometime and take another day to explore the lake.
 

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Glenn MacGrady

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I'm late to this thread. Thanks so much for report, which was beautifully written and nicely photographed. Sounds like it was a great experience for your kids.
 
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Good TR. thanks.

I paddled there on an August weekday in 2018, and didn’t see anybody. So, I’m surprised there were other groups at the dam / campground.

I’ve always wanted to go there for a full moon paddling trip, thinking it will be neat to be out on the lake at night. Probably good stargazing on moonless nights, too, since it’s a few miles from population centers.

I somehow missed or forgot the fact there are bathrooms and water there, so thanks for pointing out that.

best of all, the kids had fun. Maybe there will be a next generation of canoeists after all.
 
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