Black River Preserve


Coastal Plain
Black River
Bladen and Pender Counties

Size in Acres:

3,016 acres

Topographical Map: 

Acme, Atkinson, White Lake

Topographical maps are available by contacting:
NC Geographical Survey.
1612 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1612.

Ownership & Access:

All of the land along the river is privately owned, so we advise people to visit the river on day canoe trips. (The water itself is publicly owned.) Water levels fluctuate significantly during the year. You may have to maneuver and/or portage around fallen logs and trees in the river during dry periods, especially during the summer.

Conservation Highlights:

By working with many local landowners and Boise Cascade Corporation, The Nature Conservancy has purchased critical sections of the floodplain and acquired conservation easements on privately owned natural areas. Conservancy stewards are working to restore the upland pine plantations to longleaf pine forests. In 1998, The Nature Conservancy acquired 2,757-acre Roan Island on behalf of the Wildlife Resources Commission. This remote island is located at the confluence of the Black and Cape Fear Rivers, roughly 12 miles northwest of Wilmington, and is only accessible by boat.

About the Black River Region:

The Black River is characterized by meanders, oxbows, artesian springs and mature swamp forests. As tannins from decaying vegetation leach into the water, the river is stained its characteristic dark tea color.

Tall, flat-topped bald cypress with huge buttresses completely dominate the sometimes open canopy in the old-growth stands. This extensive forest, including several trees ranging from 780 to 1,600 years in age, is considered to be the oldest stand of trees east of the Rocky Mountains.

The Nature Conservancy has been involved with protecting important tracts along the Black River and its tributaries for nearly 20 years, during which time approximately 14,540 acres have been protected largely through partners. In addition to owning and managing over 2,200 acres in its Black River Preserve, the Conservancy monitors conservation easements on 262 acres of privately-owned land.

The oldest known trees east of the Rocky Mountains can be found on this meandering blackwater stream in the southeastern part of the state: a stand of 1,700-year-old bald cypress. These ancient trees are easily recognized by their huge buttresses and flat tops that have been blown out by countless storms.

The river flows 66 miles through portions of Sampson, Pender, and Bladen counties before emptying into the Cape Fear River 14 miles above Wilmington. Water ash and cat-briar form a subcanopy of dense thickets along the banks of the river. Elsewhere along the river, slight variations in elevation allow for changes in the forest from black gum and tupelo gum in lower areas, to water hickory, American elm, and some oak species on the ridges. In a few places, dry upland bluffs along the river support longleaf pines and turkey oaks.

In recognition of the fact that the Black River is one of the cleanest, high-quality waterways in North Carolina, the state designated the river an Outstanding Resource Water in 1994. The river is home to rare fish species such as the Santee chub and broadtail madtom and numerous rare mussels like the Cape Fear spike. Many wildlife species inhabit the river’s floodplain, including bobcat, river otter, black bear, and neotropical songbirds like the prothonotary warbler and yellow-throated vireo.

The Black River is a treat to canoe throughout the seasons. You will relish drifting down the slow-moving tea-colored stream flanked by stately bald cypress draped with Spanish moss. Swamp roses bloom in the spring and spider lilies grace the water in the summer. Spring is a great time to see migratory songbirds nesting, while the foliage is outstanding in the fall.

Birding / Fishing / Boating (small boats)


Following the Pender County/Bladen County line, the Black River is easy to see on a map. Some of the old-growth bald cypress can be seen from the NC 53 bridge four miles south of Atkinson. There are no public campgrounds on the river.

Several put-ins and boat landings provide access to some of the most scenic parts of the river:

  1. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has two public boat landings on the river: one is located approximately five miles north of Beatty’s Bridge on Ivanhoe Road and the other is located just west of the 11/53 bridge off Route 53.
  2. You can access the river fairly easily from either side of Beatty’s Bridge. There is a sandy bank under the bridge that provides good canoe access.
  3. You can access the river by canoe from the Route 11/53 Bridge located just outside of Atkinson.

Here are a few options for a daylong boat trip on the Black River:

  1. Put in at the Wildlife Resources Commission public landing approximately five miles north of Beatty's Bridge on Ivanhoe Road and take out at Beatty’s Bridge. This stretch is about nine river miles and passes through some bottomland hardwood areas as well as cypress swamp. You can park a car on the side of the road at Beatty's Bridge.
  2. If you are ambitious, you could put in early in the morning at Beatty's Bridge and canoe about 14 miles to another Wildlife Commission public boat landing that is about one and a half miles south of the 11/53 bridge just outside of Atkinson off Route 3. This stretch of the river contains Larkin's Cove and Three Sisters, sites where the oldest known stands of bald cypress have been found.
  3. Another option is to park and put in at the second Wildlife Commission landing and canoe upstream toward Three Sisters. This is a nice area because it contains several coves with ancient cypress.
See N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission for more information.

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