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It was a project that started with an old boat ramp used to ferry prisoners across the Roanoke River to the former Caledonia prison on the other side of the banks in Halifax County, said Gary Gardner.

Gardner, the chief of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission engineering division said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday the new Odom Boating Access Area is the 249th built in the state. “It became the perfect example of identifying a need and collaborating with stakeholders and partners and delivering a great boating access area for the community.”

The Odom access area has a double lane ramp with floating docks on both sides. The site has 42 parking spots for vehicles with trailers, eight single car spots, two ADA single car spots and one ADA trailer with vehicle spot. It will be paved at a later date.

The access area goes along with a shooting range the commission built and opened in December of 2019.

Initial problems

Gardner said construction of the access area was not without its problems. “Unfortunately the project took a lot longer than we ever anticipated. We started back in 2018, working our way from the road to the shooting range. We were ready to move on down here but unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans.”

There were a few years of high river levels which held the commission back but its construction crew “worked through all these issues and we’re proud to announce that this ramp is open to the public.”

He said the Odom area creates an access opportunity between the Weldon access area and the Edwards Ferry boat ramp further down the river. “These guys had a lot of obstacles but worked through it along with the help of other construction crews.”

Erik Christofferson, the deputy director of operations for the commission, said these access areas are part of a public trust doctrine which assures public use of wildlife and natural resources. “Without these folks doing projects like this, without (North Carolina) Representative (Michael) Wray contacting our agency, without the department of public safety partnering with us on this project and so many others across the state, the folks that would enjoy these resources, this beautiful river you see here today would be a privileged few.”

Christofferson said that access to these areas has declined over the past couple of decades due to population growth and land sales. “These folks you see here today are working hard to ensure that generations to come will be able to enjoy fishing and recreation in areas like this today.”

Recognizing the work of others

Christofferson praised the work that Wray put into making the Odom access area a reality. “He’s a friend of Wildlife. He’s worked hard at the legislature to make sure that we have the resources and the means to make these things happen. He was instrumental in this project.”

The deputy director also praised the input of Bobby Drewette, a former employee at the now-closed Odom prison facility. “Bobby talked with us about how he used to access this river and this location but couldn’t anymore. In that meeting we formed a partnership. Representative Wray was instrumental in getting wildlife and the prison together in forming a partnership. The need was established and the project began. We opened the shooting range a couple of years ago. We said we’ll be at the boat ramp pretty soon but we didn’t know we were going to run into the issues that we ran into. Bobby and the locals had a lot of patience with us. They understood that it was going to take some time and we were up against the wall with some of this stuff.”

The partnership between Wildlife and DPS is common, Christofferson said. “The docks you see here, guess who built those? Inmates.”

Those inmates are part of a program called Wildlife Inmate Services. “They build our docks, our signs, our kiosks. That’s one of the reasons our program is the best in the nation. It takes a lot of work, a lot of different partnerships and meetings and organizations for something like this to happen.”

A long time coming

Wray said the project had been a long time in coming. “When I was a little boy I used to fish with my father in Weldon. I’ve got a lot of great memories on the Roanoke River. This is what it’s about, giving our senior citizens and our youth (the opportunity) to continue our traditions and our heritage of enjoying the natural resources we have.”

The representative said there was always a vision for this to come to fruition. “We implemented this through the General Assembly and the travel and tourism authority here in Northampton County. They got to moving and developed a chamber of commerce, had a board and very active people were working there.”

One of their visions was to have a boat landing. “We had a lot of problems with the lay of the land. We had a lot of problems with property owners. We were able to get a sweet spot when we had Kenneth Lassiter working for DPS … This is just a great tool in the toolbox for the future. Nothing can happen without people working together.”

Wray also praised the input from Drewette and as well as Mason and Lauren Price for the work M.J. Price Construction did on the facility.

North Carolina DPS Secretary Eddie Buffaloe, a Northampton County native, said, “People without a vision will perish and when you have people like Bobby Drewette who has a vision and is homegrown this is special to me, too.”

Buffaloe grew up in Potecasi and learned to hunt and fish in the county. “To come back and see people who have a vision and when you have a representative like Representative Wray this is what partnership looks like, the partnership between the Wildlife Resources Commission and the Department of Public Safety. We work hand in hand each and every day.”

Buffaloe said Governor Roy Cooper’s mission is “that we partner to make North Carolina a great place to live, work and play and for our visitors to come. For this to happen in my hometown is essential and is vital  for my parents. For them to have a place to come and see and sit in their vehicle and look out onto the Roanoke River to see the beautiful nature that Northampton County has to offer is simply amazing. This could not happen without boots on the ground.”

‘Absolutely first class’

Thomas Fonville, the vice chair of the Wildlife Resources Commission, said the Odom access area, “Is absolutely first class. I’ve been on the commission for eight years and I have never seen the commission do anything that wasn’t first class from the design, to the engineering, to the construction. It’s amazing. I’m especially appreciative of the fact that we have land here on the Northampton side that we haven’t had. We have an incredible shooting range that is an example of the first class work that everyone does.”

Charles Tyner, chair of the Northampton County Board of Commissioners, said, “When someone does something great for you there’s one thing you need to say and that is thank you. Thank you for all you’ve done to bring this to Northampton County.”

Tyner said while people look to Raleigh and other places, wishing they had the same things, “We’ve got it right here in Northampton County. We’re going to be hand in hand with you. You have the commissioner’s heart, you have the people’s heart because we want to do something in Northampton County to bring people to our county and also to have recreation in our county.”

Dick Collier of Visit Northampton said, “We’ve been waiting for this for years and years. I can remember there were four who talked about it back in 1998. We said to each other we need a boat landing that you won’t believe in Northampton County and believe you me we got it. It’s here, it’s beautiful. It’s probably the number one in the state.”

Collier acknowledged the initial issues with the project. “You went back and engineered this bulkhead and the boat landing that would take the high water. We appreciate everything you do for North Carolina.”