The Roanoke River has influenced the Williamston area since the English explored it in 1584. Commercial goods, including logs, fishing products, and naval stores, were shipped on the river until the Civil War. After the war railroads replaced river shipping. Logging and fishing dwindled. Today tobacco and shopping centers boost Williamston's economy. However, the river is making a comeback thanks to ecotourism. People want to experience the natural environment. A canoe/camping trail has been built, and other projects are planned.