Mahanaim Adventures: At the Intersection of Faith and Passion
I watched from the middle of Rice Creek as Don Harty helped the other members of our party into their kayaks. His kind voice floated across the water as he adjusted life vests, gave simple safety tips and pushed each kayak into the water. In just a couple of minutes he and his wife, Diane, slipped their kayak in the black water and joined us in the middle of the creek. A few instructions on paddling later, the six of us were off for a half-day kayak tour of Town and Rice creeks.
Don Harty owns Mahanaim Adventures, a company specializing in kayaking, canoeing and backpacking adventures in southeastern North Carolina and beyond. As someone with a lifelong love of the outdoors, it’s a business that comes naturally to him.
“My passion for the outdoors began when I was young,” he says. “My father was the superintendent of a church camp in Florida, so I grew up in the outdoors and at camp. As a kid, if I wasn’t involved with an activity at the church camp, I was off with my Boy Scout troop camping or canoeing across Florida.”
A major influence on Harty’s life has been his involvement with scouting. It’s where he learned to camp and canoe, where he learned the lessons and responsibilities of adulthood and where his faith matured.
“Scouting was my real introduction into the great outdoors and all the adventures you could have in God’s creation,” he says.
Still active in troop and district-level activities, Harty helps organize, facilitate and lead a wide range of weekend and week-long adventures. Currently, Harty is working with the local Boy Scouts of America office to establish a Venture Crew — a co-ed extension of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts that provides more intense and adventurous outdoor activities.
As we paddle down Rice Creek, Harty provides a running narrative, identifying plants and trees and birds by their call or silhouette overhead.
“Go ahead, paddle over there if you like,” he says to the youngest member of our group — the 11-year-old son of the other two paddlers.
The boy paddles his kayak into a cove filled with lily pads the size of trash can lids. With the black water of the creek, he looks like he could be an extra in the remake of Creature From the Black Lagoon.
After a moment we all paddle over to inspect the lily pads ourselves.
“If you look, some of them are starting to bloom. In about three weeks they’ll all be blooming,” Harty says.
The Hartys founded Mahanaim Adventures in the summer of 2010. It was a decision borne of necessity.
During the workforce reduction the University of North Carolina (UNC) system underwent in 2010, Harty was laid off from his position as department head of Printing Services at UNC Wilmington (UNCW). To stay in the printing industry — where his education and work history lay — would mean another move with his family and he didn’t want to put his teenage son through that.
“When we moved from Lubbock, Texas, to Wilmington, we had to uproot our daughter from her high school, take her away from her friends and take her someplace new,” Harty says. “It was one of the most difficult things we’ve had to do as parents.
So when I was laid off I started thinking of ways I could stay here and love what I did.”
It was a natural evolution in Harty’s career. During his undergraduate studies, his printing job in Lubbock and his time at UNCW, he’d spend sunny days dreading another hour of being inside, chained to a desk. He’d dream of spending the day in the woods or on the water. Now he had the chance to make those daydreams a reality.
“Mahanaim Adventures had been my secret desire for years,” he says. “Every time I’d plan a Scout trip or an excursion for friends and family, I wondered if there was a successful business here.”
The creek widened and we joined Town Creek. Harty pointed out the huge bald cypress trees lining the bank and the strange holes — woodpecker nests — in the sides. Pretty soon the conversation changed from nature to Scouting. Harty is an Eagle Scout; he earned his in 1977, the year I was born. I’m an Eagle Scout; I earned mine in 1995, a full five years before the other Scout in our group, the 11-year-old paddler, was born.
Following Town Creek for a half-mile, we swapped Scouting stories and then turned to head upstream and back to our cars. On the way back Harty told us what he knew of the surrounding area, from the failed Colonial-era settlement on the Cape Fear River at the mouth of Town Creek (the settlers found it too buggy and moved south to found Charleston, South Carolina) to Brunswick Town, settled a few years later and a few miles south, through the years of logging and the Orton rice plantation. To punctuate his story, we came upon bridge pilings poking out of the black water on Rice Creek.
“This was an old logging bridge,” Harty says. “If you look into the woods you can pick out the lane this little road followed.”
Sure enough, the trees were smaller, much smaller, in paths on either side. In fact, most of the trees here were smaller and there weren’t as many of the enormous cypress and cedars here.
“They logged cypress and cedar in the land around here more recently,” Harty says. “In colonial times they logged live oaks, longleaf pines and poplar for shipbuilding.”
I looked at the woods around us and tried to imagine them muddy and messy, boughs strewn here and there, mules pulling logs out to the main camp. I tried to imagine the noise of the men working and the trees falling, but in the midday stillness and serenity of Rice Creek, it was impossible.
Harty’s passion for the outdoors is not the only thing fueling Mahanaim Adventures. His faith provides plenty of energy and inspiration.
“The word mahanaim just struck me one morning as I was reading the [Holy] Bible,” he says. “I came across Genesis 32:1-2, where Jacob is on his way back to Canaan when he meets some folks he calls ‘angels of God.’ He named that place mahanaim, which translates to ‘this is the camp of God.’ We thought it was the perfect name.”
And he’s right. Once you know the Hartys and know the story, you see Mahanaim Adventures as the perfect intersection of their faith and passion.
Harty sees himself as fortunate to have finished a career in printing in a place like southeastern North Carolina. There are thousands of miles of creeks, waterways and shoreline to explore; hiking trails in the flats across Brunswick, Pender, New Hanover and Duplin counties are only a short drive away; the mountains of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and even Virginia and Tennessee are only a few hours drive from here.
“I’ve lived a blessed and fortunate life,” Harty says. “I hope the blessings continue and that Mahanaim Adventures continues to grow, allowing us to share our faith and our love of nature with more people.”
Visit Mahanaim online at mahanaimadventures.com.