Bragging Rights: First Fourth Kayak Decent of Milburnie Dam in Over 100 Years

Edit 12/27/2017: After posting this, I spoke with someone else who had the same idea and had gone down the rapids before me. They went without the benefit of rain though and got stuck, so while not the first, I was likely the first at a slightly elevated rate…

Edit 01/29/2018: I’ve had a chance to run it a second time after work on the Dam removal was completed and after a decent rain event. I ran it 4 times, portaging up around the dam. While it will still take a lot of rain and some time to clear out the old sand, I think this may shape up to be a cool little rapid.

Today, I did what I think is likely the first, or at least the first in a handful, of kayak decents in over 100 years down the newly removed Milburnie Dam.


If you are in the area and thinking of doing this, please don’t. The water levels aren’t great for it and as it is now, there are no good paths down and all of them have their own dangers.

So, give them some time to, hopefully, fix the paths and make this a fun/safe play spot.


The Milburnie Dam was built around 1900 and is located close to the intersection of Milburnie and New Bern Ave in Raleigh. In its most recent form, prior to being removed, the dam was built to power homes in the area. Before that, there had been other dams dating back to before the Civil War.

For at least the past 15 years or so, there have been discussions about removing it, but the removal did not begin until this year. Starting in around September, they began reducing the amount of water behind the dam and actually started the removal around November 15, 2017.

The company who is handling the removal, Restoration Systems, is doing so to generate mitigation credits, which will be sold to other companies or entities as a way of offsetting damage that is being done to the environment elsewhere.

Overall, I am excited about this, as I think it will make the river healthier, although I’m sure there are some upstream folks that aren’t too excited about loosing their lake front property.

About the Decent

I have been excited about being able to run this rapid since I first heard they were planning removal. Unfortunately, water levels have been really low all year and there hasn’t been a good time since they actually began the removal process, several weeks ago.

We got a little bit of rain starting on Friday and really Saturday would of been the best day to do this since the dam was removed, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get out there until Sunday Morning 12/10/2017.

I did my normal upstream run to Milburnie Dam and then spent about 30 minutes scouting it from different angles. There isn’t really any good path as it stands now, partly because the water levels are too low, but also because the area down stream area is filled with sand and shallow, and from a safety perspective, there are a number of safety concerns whichever way you decide to go down.

I ended up picking what I think was the least dangerous of the paths and made it down fine, although it was really scrapy.

Am I really the First Kayaker to Run the Dam in 100 Years

Since the dam has only been down for a couple weeks, there hasn’t been any rain to speak of since they took it down, and the number of people that are motivated enough to do it and live in the area is probably pretty low(possibly only 1,) I think there is a good chance I am the first or one of the first.

In an article by the News and Observer, they include some drone footage released by Restoration Systems showing two standup paddle boarders going down. However, you can tell that there isn’t a good path for a kayaker, let alone a paddle boarder, and they cut the video twice, ending with one of the paddle boarders stuck on his knees trying to get over the last rapid.

I think it is fair to say they were probably the first, but it was even less elegant than my decent…plus they were on a SUP and not a kayak…so I’m counting it.

If anyone has done it prior to today, please let me know in the comments!

Thoughts on the Work So Far

Hopefully, they intend to fix this so that it is more paddler friendly and not just leave it more or less like it is now. I have a feeling they are, but as it stands now, the old dam site is hardly passable now and full of danger to someone who wanted to go down it. Most of it is one big low-head dam and there are strainers and bad lines, not to mention the amount of sand once you get down the rapids makes most of it unpassable.

Some Pictures of the Dam

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