Since Andrew Jones fell in love with the old Jessup Mill in Westfield and bought it almost three years ago, he has held a variety of events at the historic site. There have been outdoor movies, musical concerts and craft-making workshops. And on Saturday, May 18, Jones plans to host something new to Stokes County — the first-ever Dan River Relay.
The event will begin at Jessup Mill at 1565 Collinstown Road and will consist of a three-stage relay over a 20-mile river course to the final destination — the newly-established Green Heron Club at the Dan River Company at 1110 Flinchum Road in Danbury. There will be music, food and fellowship both before and after the event.
“We are expecting modest participation for this first event and hope to build on it in the years to come,” Jones states.
Jones and fellow organizers of the Dan River Relay have a few goals in mind. “This event is part of a larger effort to raise awareness of the substantial outdoor recreation resources in the Upper Dan River and Hanging Rock State Park corridor just north of the Piedmont Triad,” Jones outlines the main purpose.
Another reason for the relay simply involves the love of the race. Jones explains, “The local community and regional adventure sport lovers have been needing a great river race on the Upper Dan River for many years.”
With these goals at the forefront, Jones and Dave Hoskins — owner of the Dan River Company and Green Heron Club — entered into a partnership to make the Dan River Relay happen. They enlisted the help of Dale Swanson, local guide and river racer, to set up the relay that would build a connection between both of their business establishments.
The May 18th event is a single-boat race — kayak, canoe or paddleboard. The boat may be manned by either one person or two and will serve as the “baton” which must be passed at each relay point. For a solo boat, three teammates will be needed. A tandem boat requires six team members. Although shuttle services are available on a limited basis, each team is encouraged to bring at least one extra person to function as a driver.
Relay categories include solo and tandem relay for canoe and kayak, as well as run of the river (full event course) solo and tandem for canoe or kayak. “Canoe and kayak racing is truly a sport for all ages,” Jones notes. “Make a team out of your scout troop, church group or fitness club!”
Each stage of the relay consists of about seven miles. Stage One begins at Jessup Mill and heads seven miles downstream. This leg of the relay is primarily a steady stream of Class I rapids but also boasts several Class II rapids.
Stage Two starts at George’s Mill at the Highway 704 bridge where the first leg relayers will pass their “batons” (boats) to the second-stage team members. This 7.2-mile second leg of the relay is perhaps a busier section of the river, with a small gorge section that contains many Class I rapids and small islands. But organizers say it is still very accessible to less experienced paddlers.
Relayers will hand off their boats at the Dan River Company access point at the Highway 89 bridge for the final leg of the race. Stage Three consists of a 6.25-mile run to the Dan River Company. Here in what is called the Hanging Rock section, the river widens somewhat, with longer flat stretches between Class I rapids. Organizers believe that this flatter portion is where solo racers will have to prove their stamina.
At the end of the event at the Dan River Company’s Flinchum Road takeout, there will be a short address to the participants, information booths from sponsoring organizations, a $5 Carolina Ziplines experience from 1-5 p.m., followed by a concert at the Green Heron Club.
Though time will be kept, the relay is not a competitive event. Awards will be given to the cause/nonprofit chosen by top finishing participants, in the name of the participant. Amounts will be determined by the level of participation and will not be known until registration closes on May 15 and sponsor contributions are finalized.
Jones is excited about this relay which winds through what he believes are some of the most well-preserved river banks in the state. “It’s … the most delightful and accessible Class I/II river in North Carolina,” he declares, “truly a treasure of nature right in the backyard of the Piedmont Triad.”
Although organizers recommend that participants have some river canoeing or kayaking experience, they also scheduled four workshops to help racers. These classes on racing technique and guiding river preview floats are being conducted by Nature Play Outdoors. The remaining preview float is slated for 1 p.m. on May 12 at Jessup Mill.
Jones invites relay teams to make camp at Jessup Mill where he says there will be “live music and a festival atmosphere.” Other local lodging options include Moore’s Springs Campground, Southwyck Farm Bed and Breakfast and Singletree Gun & Plough.
Volunteers are needed at this event. They will be in charge of parking, working the registration desk, race timing, on-water safety and more. There is a volunteer signup page and more information about the relay online at danriverrelay.com.
Jones points out that severe weather would lead to event cancellation, which will be announced on the relay website and also at jessupmill.com. But he is hoping for good weather so that this inaugural event can help bring more notice to the natural treasures of Stokes County.
Jones is enthusiastic about the future of the region: “Outdoor recreation entrepreneurs, lodging providers, performance venues and public entities such as Stokes Economic Development, Stokes Arts Council and Hanging Rock State Park are working together to present this area as the closest mountains, the finest river and the best neighbor that nearby urban regions could have. However modest, this first Dan River Relay is one of many small steps that, taken together, lead to meaningful new opportunity.”