Columbia: The Small Town That’s Big On Fun & Adventure
By Michelle Wagner
Kim Wheeler calls Columbia, N.C. a hidden jewel, and anyone who has spent time in this quaint town just an hour or so away from the Outer Banks would easily agree.
As a member of the Tyrell County Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Red Wolf Coalition, Wheeler cites the region’s amazing waterways, plentiful wildlife, charming community and historic buildings all as reasons to make Columbia a destination rather than just a town to drive through on the way to somewhere else.
And she’s right. From the Palmetto-Peartree Preserve along the Albemarle Sound to Pocosin Arts in downtown Columbia, this little-known town is brimming with activities and cultural opportunities. And with a population of less than 1,000, those who are lucky enough to spend some time in Columbia can enjoy all of this while getting a taste of small town life in northeastern North Carolina.
Columbia is located on the eastern shore of the Scuppernong River and is known for its hometown feel and welcoming residents. Many community events bring thousands of visitors to this small town to enjoy the downtown area and surrounding natural resources. Two of the largest events are the Scuppernong River Festival and the annual River Town Christmas held every December.
While most will drive to Columbia, if you prefer to sail into this riverside community, the municipal docks in the downtown area are a perfect place for boaters to spend the night and take some time in town where they will find plenty of options as far as restaurants, shopping, nature, history and wine all rolled into one small geographic area.
“Columbia’s downtown is home to an antique shop, photography gallery, art studio, cultural resources theater, restaurants and businesses to meet your day-to-day needs,” Wheeler says. “And our Main Street ends at the docks of the Scuppernong River, offering boaters the chance to dock within walking distance of our downtown area.”
The historic district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and visitors can go on a self-guided walking tour by picking up a tour brochure at the Tyrrell County Visitor’s Center adjacent to the Walter B. Jones Center for the Sounds, located on the south side of Highway 64 on the Scuppernong River.
For nature lovers, opportunities in and around Columbia are limitless. The Tyrrell County Chamber
of Commerce refers to the region as “nature’s buffer zone, sprawled between the urban mainland and the popular stretch of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.”
“Here is where the red wolf howls. Bald eagles and northern harriers soar across the sunset. American alligators live at their northern limits near ancient pocosin forests,” boasts the chamber’s webpage.
And there are plenty of opportunities for visitors to get out and explore.
The Palmetto-Peartree Preserve, just five miles outside of town, was established in 1999 to protect red-cockaded woodpeckers and is home to more than 100 species of migratory birds. Visitors can walk along a network of boardwalk trails through wetland forests while viewing a wide variety of birds and native plants. Kiosks along the way share the history and uniqueness of the 10,000-acre preserve.
There are also miles of walking trails, 14 miles of canoe and kayak trails for visitors to explore along the Albemarle Sound and Alligator Creek, as well as primitive camping.
The preserve is open seven days a week during daylight hours.
The Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is another way to get off the beaten track while
visiting Columbia. The refuge headquarters is located at the Walter B. Jones, Sr. Center for the Sounds. The center includes exhibits about the refuge and features a 10-minute film about the region and its wildlife. A nature store is also inside the center.
A .75-mile interpretative boardwalk loops behind the center and takes hikers through a cypress swamp to downtown Columbia. Other activities within the refuge include fishing, canoeing and wildlife observation. A picnic shelter is also available.
A second trail and observation platform can be found at the Pungo unit of Pocosin Lakes. This half-mile Duck Pen Trail takes hikers to a blind that is perfect for viewing waterfowl in the winter as well as birds that visit the lake while migrating south.
Pocosin Arts on Main Street is a must-see while visiting Columbia. This fall the center will feature three artists in residence, two ceramicists and a metalsmith. Visitors can enjoy the center’s gallery that displays current resident artists’ work as well as selections from past residents. They can also visit the artists’ studios as they work.
Pocosin Arts’ mission is to “connect culture to the environment through the arts.” Rotating exhibits as well as classes and retreats ensure that there is always something exciting and new to see here.
The gallery is open during the week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Don’t miss the Columbia Theater Cultural Resources Center, built in 1938 and located on Main Street. The center is an environmental and cultural history museum and visitors can learn more about Tyrrell County’s long history of forestry, fishing and farming. Here you’ll meet “Hunter Jim” and see other artifacts from Tyrell County.
The Vineyards on the Scuppernong is a perfect place to relax and enjoy some of the finest wine in northeastern North Carolina that comes right from local vines. The winery and tasting room is located in the oldest building in Columbia that once served as the town hall and fire station. Every Thursday through October, visitors can take a tour of the grape fields and winery. Tours by boat leave the docks of the Tyrell County Visitors Center. The winery is located on South Elm Street.
At Ashbee Dora Vineyards, just 15 minutes from Columbia, visitors can pick their own muscadine
grapes in the fall and at Scuppernong Produce they can treat themselves to hoop cheese. And you will step back in time when you visit the oldest Ben Franklin in North Carolina right on Main Street.
While in town, stop by the Southern Dreams Gallery, located right in downtown Columbia on Main Street to view local artists’ work. The works of Mark Buckler, Ken Cherry, Jane C. Perry and Currwood Harrison are described as being inspired by northeastern North Carolina’s natural beauty.
The downtown area also has shops featuring local arts and crafts, sweet treats and other specialties.
Visitors to Columbia will find that there are great places to shop and eat while in town. Some favorite restaurants among the locals are Call of the Wild, Hwy. 55 Burgers, Shakes and Fries, Elements Café and Full Circle Crab Company. Guests to Full Circle can watch watermen bring in their catch at the company’s loading dock and get some of the area’s freshest seafood packed to go.
And if you are planning on staying for more than a day, Columbia offers a variety of lodging options including the waterfront Egret House cottage, the Brickhouse Inn Bed & Breakfast and the Dalton Inn.
But whether you visit for a day or spend a few nights, you’ll see that Columbia is exactly as Kim Wheeler describes—a hidden jewel.