Accessibility, outdoor activities bolster 'Little' Washington's waterfront appeal

Free downtown docks and a welcoming spirit has made Little Washington a top pick for many boaters.

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Lisa D'Aromando & Abbey Slattery
This article was written for our sponsor, Washington Tourism Development Authority.

Located 30 miles off the Intracoastal Waterway from the Atlantic Ocean, "Little" Washington, N.C., is an ideal location for tourists and residents looking to escape the hustle and bustle of cities like Raleigh and Greenville.

In exchange, visitors get direct access to natural resources and the outdoor activities away from those more crowded landscapes.

Boaters in particular are drawn to Washington, especially with its free docks downtown. With no cars, these water-bound visitors can still enjoy all the perks of Washington's historic downtown, with the characteristic welcoming atmosphere and the easy access to services and professional dock workers.

These attributes have helped Washington gain an enviable spot at the top of many boaters' guides.

"I heard about Little Washington from a guide and came here on my catamaran after sailing up and down the East coast for years. It's not a difficult sail or motoring up the Pamlico River," said Scott Campbell, resident and real estate agent at Coldwell Banker Coastal Rivers Realty. "I first came here on Fourth of July weekend 14 years ago. I got into town and started meeting people, and that sealed the deal."

One of those rare cities small enough to build a community where everyone knows each other, Washington residents also remain welcoming to newcomers and tourists. As a historic port with influences from around the world, Washington has always been open to new ideas and diversity. It's all tied to the history of this charming, waterfront haven.

Washington now boasts one of the largest public access waterfronts on the East Coast — and Washington’s Inner Banks Marina is helping to make it all the more accessible, opening a new dry marina in addition to the marinas they already operate.

"We operate Moss Landing Marina downtown, as well as the floating docks right outside of the Moss Landing Community — which we’re in the process of expanding right now. Dry marinas are a little bit different since we’re not storing the boats in the water, but stacking them vertically on land," said Austin Smithwick, president at Park Boat Company. "It protects the boat from weather and wear, and it’s one of the most convenient ways to enjoy the waterfront."

The marina allows customers to use an app to check out their boats. Through this app, they’re able to request a time for their boat to be in the water, as well as any supplies they need like ice or drinks. Once boaters are finished on the water, the marina cleans off the boat and puts it back in the stacks.

Right now, the marina offers over 100 slips for boats and fuel services.

"In doing this, we've got double the number of boats that are literally right in front of downtown," said Smithwick. "People are able to enjoy the shops and restaurants and all of those things. We’re excited to not only give people better access to the water, but to Downtown Washington, as well."

The waterfront is an easy walk through the historic downtown, where visitors can enjoy a collection of mom and pop shops peddling wares ranging from designer fashions to antiques and consignment.

There is a surprising absence of chain stores in town, as the historic business district showcases local small businesses that all bear unique vibes, such as the newly opened, high-end Mulberry House Brewery, which includes a restaurant, coffee shop, rooftop bar and will soon include an attached boutique hotel.

On the other end of the spectrum are Grub Brothers, a casual burger joint, and Backwater Jack's for seafood. The assortment of distinct eatery options spans the gamut.

The waterfront showcases a large public park with two gazebos – a small one for relaxing and enjoying the views and a large bandstand gazebo – both of which may be leased from the city for weddings and other private events.

A boardwalk through the wetlands allows locals and visitors to enjoy the surrounding nature unhurried and without disruption from vehicles.

The city is also working on grants to bring accessibility to more of the waterfront. Recently, the Sound Rivers organization — a nonprofit dedicated to the protection and conservation of the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico rivers — partnered with the city to secure grant funding to install more kayak access points. Thanks to the funding, they were also able to make the launch handicap accessible.

"The one we recently put in is at Havens Gardens, and it helps navigate the kayakers to a different launch area so that we get them out of the way of the power boats. It's been well-received, and since it’s handicap accessible, even if you are an able-bodied person, it gives you a bit more confidence to kayak if you aren’t familiar with it," said Kristi Roberson, Washington’s parks & recreation director. "In fact, we actually took a gentleman out who was 101 years old. He had been waiting for the kayak launch to open up, and he was our first official launch."

The developments on the waterfront in Washington are aiding in the town’s growth.

With the busy population center of Greenville just 20 minutes west, Washington has become a bedroom community for those who work at the university or medical center but enjoy the quieter lifestyle and quick access to water available in downtown Washington. The housing options are diverse and relatively inexpensive in comparison to other metropolitan areas.

"Young families are coming in because of the jobs in Greenville just 20 minutes away, and retirees like the historic district and the extra work and TLC needed to renovate there," said Campbell. "It's a diverse population; and we have a lot of housing stock to satisfy all types, from the historic district to subdivisions and new construction."

A potential commercial fuel dock at Havens Wharf would be a major boon to local businesses by drawing tourists from further down the river for fueling and maintenance services. Private residential development is also popping up as the city expands and residents request homes near the waterfront.

As most Washington residents will tell you, it's always "about the water."

"With everything being added on the waterfront, we anticipate that you won’t even need to own a boat. You can rent a boat, you can rent a kayak, you can rent a canoe and go out for the day or just a couple of hours," said Smithwick. "By getting this new marina facility up and going, it allows us to expand those operations and give people more access to the water."

This article was written for our sponsor, Washington Tourism Development Authority.


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