The Roanoke Valley Rocks Tour
By Lindsey Listrom
Lake Gaston and the Roanoke River have for years drawn anglers, rod and reel in hand, to Halifax County seeking shad, largemouth bass, catfish and striped bass (or “rockfish,” as the locals say).
But these days, a new kind of rockfish is attracting crowds. These Rockfish are 6 feet long — but you won’t need 200-pound-test line to catch one. Swirled with designs, splashed with color and displaying historical scenes and local landmarks, these fish are hand-painted works of art. You can see them, stationed in quaint towns, outdoor recreation areas, main street businesses, historic sites and even the world’s largest bird park, throughout Halifax County on the “Roanoke Valley Rocks Tour.”
The tour, sponsored in part by Halifax EMC, Roanoke Electric and North Carolina’s Touchstone Energy cooperatives, passes more than 50 sites countywide and highlights what “rocks” in the Roanoke Valley. So grab a map, chart your path and “get hooked” on the Roanoke Valley.
“Catch” your first Roanoke Valley Rocks fish at the Halifax County Convention and Visitor Bureau in Roanoke Rapids. “Catfish,” painted by artist Leary Davis, has stripes and whiskers, and is happily situated in the middle of the dog run, which is free and open sunrise to sunset for tourists who bring canine companions along for the ride.
Weldon: The Rockfish Capital of the World
Make a stop in town at family-owned Ralph’s Barbecue (1400 Julian Allsbrook Highway). Painted by local artist Tina Gregory, their Rockfish features four little pigs reeling in a whopper of a fish. Pick up a picnic of home cookin’ favorites and bring it to River Falls Park in Weldon, where you’ll find another Rockfish. Take in the scenic beauty of the Roanoke River and enjoy a playground, a restored grist mill and access to the Roanoke Canal Trail and pedestrian tunnel with river murals. This section of the trail also features a hand-hewn aqueduct and a Confederate cemetery where more than 160 soldiers are buried.
Don’t forget your fishing pole. Rockfish are premier game fish, and Weldon is known as the Rockfish Capital of the World. March through June is the best time to catch them. Find out more at www.ncwildlife.org.
Historic Town of Halifax: The Birthplace of Independence
The Halifax Rockfish reflects the town’s nationally significant history. The design by Tina Gregory features wording from the “Halifax Resolves,” the first official declaration of independence from England by any colony during the American Revolution, and was inspired by the colonists’ many sacrifices in the name of freedom. Interesting fact: the flag of North Carolina bears the date of the Halifax Resolves — April 12, 1776.
Scotland Neck: Home of the world’s largest bird park
Visitors to Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck can see more than 2,000 birds, including some rare or endangered species, fluff their feathers over 18 lush acres. The Rockfish here, painted by local artist Napolean Hill, mimics the colors and patterns of a peacock bass on one side and pays tribute to the red-breasted goose on the other. The largest bird park in the world, Sylvan Heights is open Tuesday through Sunday, and a guided tour by golf cart is available. Contact Sylvan Heights at (252) 826-3186 or www.shwpark.com for more information.
Don’t miss Tina Gregory’s black-and-white brushstrokes on “Fisheye,” a Rockfish chronicling a 1920s photo session at les atkins Photography/Atkins Ad Group in Roanoke Rapids, or Traci Watson’s “Luna,” with Luna moth markings on her bright green sides and butterfly-wing fins, at Medoc Mountain State Park Visitors Center near Hollister.
Visit all the fish on the Tour and receive a free T-shirt from the Halifax County CVB while supplies last.