There are often some things we all take for granted, but then we realize that some of them are not commonly known to many. As an example last weekend, I was at one such place for a publicly publicized event when two calls to my cellphone were from others asking for directions.
The place of interest is the Lumber (a.k.a Lumbee) River State Park, located just outside of Wagram on U.S. 401. There, just before crossing the river into Hoke County, is a sign on the left and a two-mile long gravel road to what is known as the Chalk Banks access, an area of ample parking, picnic tables, a public toilet, hiking trails, 14 primitive camping areas, running water, and the “Lumbee” River. Much of this area was a gift to the state of North Carolina by Wagram native Duncan McKay and his family.
The actual Park is 115 miles long as the river winds it way through Scotland, Hoke, Robeson and Columbus counties to the Princess Anne Landing near Orrum. Along the way are seven “park maintained,” primitive camping sites for anyone wishing to take the entire trip, staying overnight in their own tent, sleeping bag, and of course carrying their own food and water.
Presently at the Chalk Banks Access there are two annual public events: the “Chalk Banks Challenge” held in May, which includes canoe and kayak races, homemade raft design competition and races, music, exhibits, and plenty of food; and the Sunburnt Boys/Sunburnt Girls Lumbee River Experience fundraising canoeing and kayaking events that benefit the Scotland High School/Oban High School student exchange. That event was held Saturday and it received its name from Scotland County native and N.C. Poet Laureate John Charles McNeill’s poem: “Sunburnt Boys.” The poem is a poignant description of his beloved Lumbee River.
Actually, McNeill as a state legislator attempted to have the river named after the Lumbee Tribe, as it was generally believed that Lumbee was its original name, but Lumberton was located on its banks, and they fought to keep it known as the Lumber River. Regardless, McNeill’s poems always use the more poetic “Lumbee.”
A canoe or kayaking trip down the Lumbee from Chalk Banks to U.S. 401 is about three to four miles — despite being just two miles by a relatively straight road. The winding nature of the river will find you paddling north, south, east and west and any other variation of those directions at any given point. The coffee-colored waters flow past oaks, pines, poplars, gums, maples, junipers, and mostly the cypress trees anchored firmly within the river, on the river banks, and deep into the surrounding swamps. Their bases are always several times larger than the diameters of the trees and always covered with green moss that is fed by the river.
Even on a hot, humid summer day a canoe or kayak trip down the Lumbee is a cool and relaxing experience — especially in a kayak, where sitting closer to its cool waters makes a huge difference in the temperature.
For fishermen, the river has an abundance of large-mouth bass, crappie, catfish and pan fish. For canoeists and kayakers, a sufficient supply of canoes and kayaks, paddles, and life jackets are available at no charge, but advance registrations are recommended by calling the Park office at 910-628-4564 and leaving a voice mail. The park rangers are out and about and not usually sitting in the office.
The park is open Thursday’s through Sunday, and discovering that a slow floating trip down the Lumbee is natural medicine for relaxation. You may even realize the peaceful feeling of actually experiencing the spirit of river and becoming a true Sunburnt Boy or Sunburnt Girl … without the sunburn.
Beacham McDougald is a Scotland County historian and Laurinburg resident.