Kerr Lake ranger and visitors creating 24-foot dugout canoe

Murvine watches young visitors scrape charred wood from the canoe's interior with mussel shells.
Murvine watches young visitors scrape charred wood from the canoe’s interior with mussel shells.

An old stone artifact handed down in Jason Murvine’s family has finally led to an immensely long project – construction of a 24-foot dugout canoe.

It lies on a bed of wood splinters at the intersection of park roads at Kerr Lake State Recreation Area, right where it fell, hidden inside an aged tulip poplar. Dressed in American Indian garb, Ranger Murvine in his spare moments, chips, burns and scrapes away everything that isn’t a canoe. Of course, he attracts plenty of questions and curious visitors, especially youngsters, which give him an

The 24-foot dugout canoe attracts a small crowd on a recent weekend.
Murvine displays a small stone adze that helped inspire the dugout canoe project.

opening to stage interpretive programs around the project. As a small, slow-burning fire turns the heartwood to cinders, visitors are invited to scrape away with mussel shells found on the lake’s shore. Then, the fire’s hot coals are shoved further along the canoe’s length and the process is repeated.

“I just thought it’d be fun to ‘relive’ something I’ve never experienced before and I thought maybe other people would think it’s fun. Personally, that’s the kind of park I like to visit,” Murvine said. The project and the interpretive talks are especially popular with visitors who enjoy camping at the lake, but don’t have a boat; they’re always drawn to something interesting going on, he said.

The work’s going well, but not quickly. “Maybe we can launch it this summer, but it may be next year,” Murvine said. American Indians could produce such a dugout in two or three weeks, he said, but they had more skilled labor.

Growing up in his native Ohio, Murvine was always told the old artifact given him was sort of a generic “hatchet,” but after he delved more deeply in his study of American Indian crafts, it dawned on him that it is an adze – the perfect tool for boatbuilding. It’s now strapped to a new handle with artificial sinew, but he uses it mostly as an

A primitive push drill takes practice but can create holes or help start a fire.
A primitive push drill takes practice but can create holes or help start a fire.

interpretive tool, having roughly shaped the canoe with a modern adze and the occasional help of a chainsaw.

When finished, the dugout will be only about 20 inches wide with less than 24 inches of interior depth, so it’ll take some skill to navigate. Traditionally, two paddlers kneeled in the middle with one person standing at each end. American Indians in this part of

northeastern North Carolina were certainly familiar with dugout canoes, Murvine said, but native “shad boats” would likely have been more prevalent since large rivers predated the manmade reservoir. Those smaller boats were designed to act in pairs to set fishing nets. Large natural lakes farther east prompted wide use of dugout canoes. Several ancient ones have been raised from the bed of Lake Phelps at Pettigrew State Park.

A small, slow-burning fire chars the canoe interior so it can be scraped away by hand.
A small, slow-burning fire chars the canoe interior so it can be scraped away by hand.

Murvine is already pondering his next project – fashioning arrowheads from glass. And, the bottoms of beer bottles confiscated by rangers seem to be the perfect raw material. “It’s a kind of recycling,” he said.

3 thoughts on “Kerr Lake ranger and visitors creating 24-foot dugout canoe

  1. Holly James

    Native American Indian “garb”. Nice. As a park ranger, seemingly he would want to make sure he was wearing something traditional to that area (which most folks would call regalia, or clothing, not garb) and would ideally want to consult local tribes in the area to make sure he is continuing proper technique and not just his interpretation of it. Furthermore by consulting local tribes he would ensure their cultural longevity and not just the white man’s interpretation of it. I assume the University of North Carolina, which has a wonderful Native studies program, would be more than happy to assist him, to ensure he is properly educating the public on the canoe culture and history of North Carolina.

    1. jason murvine

      After reading books, consulting an I&E speciliasts with a Masters dregree in NC native american culture, and hand making all of my clothing I figured my basic attempt was acceptible. My familey is part Mohawk and i greatly value Native Culture.

      In order to stay culturaly appropriate as well as modest, we decided to wear clothing that was winter dress. The time period of european trade around the Roanke River and Dan river would have seen anything from wool and linens to silver pins as seen on the loincloth.

      I have made attempts to locate Haliwa Saponi that currently make dugout canoes in the traditional style and have come up empty. However, using a stick, fire, water, and clay you can get the job done.

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