PLACES TO VISIT Columbia—Gateway to Nature

by Claude Milot

Called “The South’s prettiest small town,” Edenton is just down the road from Albemarle Plantation and a “must see” on our list of places to visit.

History
Like me, most AP residents heading for Nags Head or Coquina Beach have probably driven over the Scuppernong River and past Columbia without stopping. And we all missed a place that is really worth visiting.

In the July issue of Soundings, Photo Corner brought us terrific pictures of and from the Scuppernong River, thanks to Jock Muir. His shots from the deck of Southern Belle should have convinced us all that Columbia is a beautiful little town with a handsome marina and yes, gorgeous sunsets. But Columbia is much more than that.

As you cross the bridge over the river, make a quick right turn and park at the first Visitor’s Center (there are actually two—see below). The friendly folks there will tell you all about Columbia and invite you to take a walking tour of the town. It wouldn’t be too taxing, as Columbia is small, only half a square mile in area. But a bustling Main Street tells us that the town is alive and well. There’s the Southern Dreams Gallery and Pocosin Arts, an art education center and craft gallery; and Maggie Dukes Antiques and Plum Pony Boutique. Hungry? There’s Sandy’s Place, as well as a Mexican and a Chinese restaurant. And don’t miss the Columbia Theater Museum and Resource Center with its unique exhibits highlighting local ecology and history. And when you first crossed the bridge, you probably saw the Winery on your left. You can stop there for a sample of Scuppernong wine or refreshments at Elements, a coffee shop inside the Winery.

There’s much more to see in the town, but let’s take a look at the Pocosin Lakes Natural Wildlife Refuge Visitor’s Center located behind the Tyrrell County Visitors’ Center. This is where it really gets interesting because Columbia is the gateway to the many natural habitats surrounding the area. You get a hint of this in the Visitor’s Center filled with exhibits of stuffed animals like the black bear, the red wolf, and the only fox known for climbing trees. For an introduction to the habitats, ask to see a 15-minute film that shows thousands of migrating birds like snow geese and swans taking up residence in the wetlands for the winter.

Your next step should be walking the 3/4 mile Scuppernong River Interpretive Trail that starts just outside the Visitor’s Center and guides you on a boardwalk loop through a bottomland swamp along the river. If this whets your appetite for more bird-watching and wildlife photography, look into exploring the 12,000-acre Pungo Unit of Pocosin Lakes. You can get all the information you need from the Visitors Center.

Even if exploring is not your thing, you can enjoy River Roaming on the Scuppernong, a free hour-long guided boat tour of the river that starts out every Friday at 10:30 a.m. But you must call (252) 796-0723 to reserve a seat. Finally, mark your calendar for the 25th Annual Scuppernong River Festival on October 14. It will have a Main Street parade, arts & craft and food vendors, all-day music entertainment, a culinary arts contest, water activities, fireworks, and a concert by the Original Rondells. For more information, call (252) 796-2781. On your next visit to the Outer Banks, just remember that Columbia, too, is a great place to visit.