Chasing the Dragon- On the Shore of Dragon Run
By this point, I’ve checked off roughly 90% of the inaugural One Hundred Shores. Throughout the journey, I've come up empty plenty of times in my quest to find public access on new rivers and creeks. Hot leads don't always play out, but I can usually find a close enough alternative to explore.
Heading south on Route 17 in Virginia, this was my second trip down the middle peninsula in as many weeks. The first time around was to explore a bit of the southern bank of the Rappahannock River. This time was specifically to explore the remote Dragon Swamp- a name that is as mysteriously enticing as any Chesapeake locale.
Dragon Swamp- or Dragon Run, as it’s sometimes known- was an exploration that started poorly. In truth, I'd never heard of Dragon Run before I started researching the Rappahannock. So when I followed a tip about a kayak access point on the "Upper Dragon" which would put me on some cool weather pickerel fishing, I knew I'd be heading in blind.
The "kayak access" in question here ended up being more of a "if you feel like dropping your kayak off a bridge and jumping in after it" kind of launch. In unfamiliar territory? I checked myself and headed up the middle peninsula towards a gas station to regroup.
After checking a few forums and cross-checking my maps, I found a suitable alternative. This one proved to be a winning ticket. It was a bit further south in the watershed, which meant the water might not have been ideal for freshwater fishing. But being about 90 minutes off schedule, I just wanted to get on the water.
I guess I was a little too eager, which made me a bit too hasty in securing my belongings. Most notably my cell phone, which took a quick spill into the shallow water. This expedition which started poorly was not improving. Fortunately, the phone was easily retrieved and was functional again after drying out. But it would have me relying on memory for the next few hours and the drive home. They say taking pictures interferes with your memories in the moment though, so we'll try to pretend this is just a silver lining as I paddled the stream here.
This winding stream of Dragon Run is in the middle peninsula region and is fed by freshwater springs. It’s the major source of freshwater for the Piankatank. The environment is pristine and remote. Not knowing the river, and heeding the advice of the kayak forums, I was a bit reluctant to head too far up any of the many offshoots. Dragon Run makes you aware of what an undisturbed wilderness might have looked like on any Chesapeake river before development sprung up. It’s the kind of place you can spend a lot of time on- and get lost on. Which is part of it’s history in fact.
According to the Rappahannock Indian Tribe, this swamp was a hiding place during Bacon's rebellion. When early colonists decided that they didn’t have any interest in honoring land agreements and began tracking down and burning native villages, The Dragon was a place the early Virginians had little interest in pushing into. Later when the Algonquins to the north began raiding Virginia settlements on the Virginia peninsula, many of the people on the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula again returned to the Dragon Swamp to wait out attacks. Today it still offers kayakers a chance to experience just why they would have sought out this place in the first place.
This pristine wetland is home to a wide variety of plant and animal species, some of which are hard to find in more developed rivers of the Chesapeake. The swamp is generally divided into upper and lower sections. In the upper section, the freshwater habitat is home to bass, perch, sunfish and the like. The lower brackish section attracts migratory species including stripers and herring.
I paddled/ fished a few miles late in the fall, when most of the vegetation had largely died back, but you could still see remnants of spatterdock, lilys and arum. The cypress vegetation also provides excellent habitat for birds and mammals alike, making it an important refuge for wildlife in the area.
When kayaking on Dragon Run, you feel you're in the wilderness. The winding stream is lined with trees which all feel like they're leaning in on you. There are also plenty of places to stop and explore along the bank, and countless little freshwater springs that feed into the river. All in all, Dragon Run offers a unique chance to explore one of the few truly wild and remote places left in the Chesapeake watershed.