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Rivah Visitor's Guide

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Taken away with the Dragon Run

by Tom Chillemi

I push off from shore, breaking gravity’s grip. A thin layer of water floats me away from reality and into a magical world that humans can only visit.

The instant my kayak floats, I know I am “there.” It‘s a feeling of freedom from the land and the problems that stay on shore.

The lazy river takes over. I fall under the spell of the Dragon Run.

I slide effortlessly on the water’s slippery surface, dipping a paddle only to maneuver.

Waving underwater plants hypnotize me. They sway, moving softly in unison to the water’s invisible, hidden force. When my paddle interrupts the water’s flow, the long green leaves gyrate in swirling eddies. When I remove my paddle, they revert to their slow, rhythmic pulses.

Paddling forms funnel-shaped eddies that spin briefly pulling leaves into the circle.

Songs of birds brighten the clear air. Geese honk echoes. Ducks scurry overhead. Woodpeckers hammer old trees. Water ripples over beaver dams. A soothing sound.


A bug buzzes by. The hum of its wings trails off like a speeding race car.

Nary a noise from the industrial man-made world invades this delicate world.

So close, yet so far away

Not too far from the four lanes of Route 17 is this enchanted place called Dragon Run. It’s a 100-year time capsule.

Somewhere up north springs release groundwater that combines with rain water to form the twisting Dragon Run. It forms the border of King and Queen County to the west, and Essex and Middlesex on the east.


During the Civil War when the Confederate government called for all court records to be sent to Richmond for safekeeping, Middlesex officials instead hid theirs in the Dragon. Protected by a water and wetland maze, the county records escaped the destruction of Richmond.

In the pristine Dragon Run, nature reigns and time is measured by the flow of fresh water that slowly winds 40 miles East until it meets the Piankatank River.

Largely undisturbed by humans, its balanced ecosystem remains as it has been for hundreds of years. The sounds of the industrialized world are barred, replaced by song birds and the trickle of water over beaver dams.

Peepers peer at people as they pass. Hidden by camouflage, they blend into water and leaves.

Mighty bald cypress trees scrape the sky. Their wood is prized for its rot resistance. Eagles nest in their towering tops.

Bald Cypress “knees” jut from the water. Their cone shapes resemble hooded hobbits in long coats. They appear to be staring back at paddlers. Some believe the cypress knees can move, but they freeze when they hear humans approaching their domain. Then come back to life after people pass.

The water holds mystical elements. Underwater formations that appear to be solid, sunken wood turn out to be “mermaid hair” that dissolve before your eyes, as in a dream.


It’s a wilderness frozen in time where man is an outsider.

It’s hard to leave Dragon Run. And time spent in it’s captivating world goes by quickly, making the experience all the more precious.

  • There are only two Dragon Run public access points. Both are at the Middlesex-King and Queen county border. One is at Route 602, Church View; and the other is at Route 603 near Mascot, where there is a short nature trail. Paddle only with a guide, it’s easy to get lost.
  • Visit Friends of Dragon Run at http://www.dragon
  • Dragon Run Day is October 10 at Thousand Trails Campground, Gloucester. Call Candie Newman at (804) 758-2311.
posted 07.01.2009

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