The Gallants Channel Nature Trail runs ¾ of a mile around the perimeter of the Museum’s Gallants Channel property. The entire tract was the Harvey Smith Fishmeal Plant in the 1950s and 1960s and all the forest seen today has grown since the plant closed in the 1980s.
As of May 2020, only Leg #1 is open to the public. Legs 2, 3 and 4 are under construction. We will make announcements as each Leg is completed and opens.
The trail passes through woods, wetlands, coastal habitat and the improved waterfront area of the Gallants Channel site. Animals in the area include raccoons, foxes, opossums, deer and coyotes. Animal tracks can often be seen. Resident songbirds include cardinal, brown thrasher, catbird, mockingbird, chickadee, Carolina wren and woodpeckers. Spring and Summer brings the beautiful painted bunting to nest. While many insects along the trail are harmless pollinators, food for birds or beautiful butterflies, be prepared for ticks and mosquitoes.
Native trees such as Black Gum, Red Maple, Wild Blueberry and Red Bay inhabit the woodland. Common in the shrub layer are Blueberry, Fetter Bush/Male-Berry, Yaupon, Wax Myrtle, Privet and Ligustrum. Carpeting the forest are various ferns and grasses such as cane. Invasive non-native shrubs include Privet and Ligustrum that are often seen around former homesites. Birds spread the berries.
Beware! Enjoy the trail but be prepared for biting flies, ticks, chiggers, fire ants and mosquitoes at various times of the year. Insect repellent is highly recommended on coastal trails. Learn to identify the three leaflets of Poison Ivy to avoid skin contact. While snakes are not usually seen and most are non-venomous like black rat snakes, it’s always a good idea to be observant on trails and keep a distance.
Starting on the waterfront the Outdoor Classroom sits on the lawn providing shaded benches, beautiful views of the water and cool breezes. This area is used for special events and is a favorite spot for our Junior Sailing Program graduations.
Look up in the rafters to see one of the original Optimist Prams built for the Program in 1993.
The trail, Leg #1, along the Northwest Waterfront, overlooks the Gallants Channel shoreline – a shrub zone of Sea Myrtle/Groundsel Tree and Wax Myrtle above the tide line rings the salt marsh cord grass marsh. The salt marsh is a primary nursery area and habitat for shellfish and fin fish. A rock sill, part of a successful shoreline protection experiment installed in 2000, encourages growth of grass to protect the shoreline from erosion.
Along Gallants Channel watch for various shore and wading birds – gulls, herons and egrets, terns, pelicans, black skimmers and oystercatchers.
Leg #1 continues along a wooded ridge on the Northwest property line with a great view of the Newport River. Here, on the higher ground, many of the trees are second growth after there was spoil sand from dredging the nearby waterways deposited in the 1960s and 1970s. Shell bits are visible in the sand.
Live Oak – These stately oaks with strong horizontal branches were used in boatbuilding (bent branches to frame boats). Wildlife and birds benefit from the acorns, insects and protective cover.
Red Cedar – Beautiful reddish wood is used for cedar chests and closets due to insect repellent qualities.
Wax Myrtle – Bayberry candles are made from the waxy berries. The leaves are a natural insect repellent. Birds eat the berries of Wax Myrtle, Wild Cherry, Mulberry and others.
The trail drops down from the spoil back to lower ground and proceeds to West Beaufort Road. Many vines form tangles and climb trees in the section. Among them are Muscadine Grape, Honeysuckle, Trumpet Vine, Pepper Vine, Virginia Creeper, Wisteria and Poison Ivy.
Leg #2 passes through a beautiful Loblolly Pine forest on level ground and crosses an old drainage ditch that was once maintained so well small boats could navigate the ½ mile up from the Newport River.
There is an elevated platform in a clearing along and just northeast of this leg of the trail. This area is known for bird sightings and is home to the beautiful and elusive Painted Bunting.
Trees species include:
Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) whichis typically found in coastal habitats of the Southeastern United States and can survive salt spray from the ocean as well as periodic saturation of the roots by salt water during storm surges. The sprawling low branches make the tree resistant to strong winds, as well. It is considered an evergreen since it does not drop its thick leathery leaves until after winter and when new leaves have already formed, always giving the appearance that it is “live” year-round. The tree is utilized as a host plant for several types of butterflies. Its acorns are a food source for many animals including various birds, turkey and ducks, deer, squirrel, fox and even black bear.
Natives of the coastal regions utilized the oils from the acorns for cooking and used the leaves and bark for making medicine. European settlers and inhabitants of the region highly regarded the live oak for ship building, its extremely strong, dense timbers were used for framing large sailing vessels during the 18th and 19th centuries with limbs being cut off and shipped to the north or overseas to England.
The Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), a very salt tolerant evergreen, can reach 30 to 40 feet in height but when small resembles a Christmas tree. Its soft, lightweight and naturally rot resistant wood was used commonly for fence posts, roof shingles and shakes, furniture and chests but also had many other uses. Native Americans made cedar posts to mark territorial boundaries and used the wood for bows, flutes, mats, incense and spices. Long strips of cedar may have been used for planking in boats but its tendency to split easily when dried out restricts its use to mostly trim work or using thicker planks for cabin structures. A variant of the species known as Southern or Coastal Red Cedar is more common to the region. The tiny fruit-like cones of both cedars ripen in the fall and are an excellent food source for songbirds and mammals such as mice, rabbits, raccoons, fox, opossum, deer and bear. Some people have used them to make tea or flavored meat dishes. Many native cultures have used the cedar twigs and fruit for various medicinal purposes.
Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria) olly is a small evergreen tree native to the southeastern coast of the country. It is relatively easy to identify from its small shiny dark green elliptical leaves and whitish gray smooth bark. Small white flowers bloom in the spring attracting butterflies. The flowers are followed by the appearance of small spherical berries that eventually turn bright red in the Fall. These fruits are only on the female plants and are toxic to humans but enjoyed by many songbirds. Native people who resided in the natural range of the yaupon have partaken in the consumption of tea made from the young leaves of the plant. Known as ‘black drink’, the tea does contain caffeine and was reportedly carried from the coast to various parts of eastern North America by Native Americans for use in special ceremonies. Yaupon tea was a staple for early Outer Banks residents and for a short period, early settlers even sent the leaves to Europe for brewing the tea as well.
Wax Myrtle (Morella cerifera) is amulti-trunked evergreen shrub in the Bayberry family. The light olive-green foliage is visible year-round and is salt spray tolerant. When the leaves are crushed, they create a very aromatic piquant fragrance. Fishermen used to cover their catch with leafy branches to keep flies away and the sun off while on the way to local markets. The Wax Myrtle, sometimes called Southern Bayberry or Candleberry, produces small spherical berries that are covered in a blue gray wax. Though the berries are not as big as those on the similar bayberry Morella (pensylvanic), found farther north along the coast, they can still be harvested to boil the wax off for making candles. Though requiring a larger number of berries for the process, the candles are just as fragrant.
At Gate 3 on West Beaufort Road, Leg #3 of the trail begins. Bonehenge, the whaling research center run by Keith Rittmaster, Education Curator at the Museum, is the building adjacent to Gate 3.
There is an area of wetlands, full of Weeping Willows to the south, as the trail winds across a field of pine trees toward Gate 1.
As this leg of the trail proceeds toward the waterfront from Gate 1 there is a large area of wetlands adjacent to the trail leading down the edge of the parking lot. This area is a Night Heron rookery and has been home to these magnificent birds for over 30 years. Look for them up in the trees. Snapping turtles are often sighted in the pond right along the path.
As you approach the Highway 70 Bridge (overhead) there is a Pavilion where you can enjoy a waterfront view and watch (during the summer) the Junior Sailing Program kids sailing on Town Creek.
The trail then leads to a path westward to the Great Lawn. On the left is more land in the conservation easement that is in place to permanently protect the waterfront and intertidal zone along this section of the property. Just before entering the Great Lawn, to the left, there are remains of an old ships railway, used to build and maintain fishing vessels engaged in Menhaden fishing.
Leg #4 of the Trail consists of the elevated boardwalk that runs 1,200 feet along the waterfront. This entire area was the heart of the Fishmeal operation and the remnants of another railway is just inside the boardwalk. All the space inside the boardwalk and bulkhead has been left as intertidal to maintain coastal wetland habitat. Holes in the bulkhead allow the tide to come and go creating shallow protected areas for fish and crabs.
The development of the Nature Trail will continue and expand the Friends’ and the Museum’s mission to preserve and interpret the maritime history, culture and environment of coastal North Carolina. Upon completion of all legs, we hope the Gallants Channel Nature Trail becomes:
- a go-to destination for locals and visitors of the Crystal Coast, it only takes a few minutes to walk round-trip and is a great way to get some fresh air and enjoy the views of the Newport River
- a great way to educate and expose locals and visitors to the coastal, natural habitat
- a shining example of what the Friends do in support of our passion for the rich tradition of the area’s maritime heritage