WAGRAM — Though attendance was somewhat low at Saturday’s 8th Annual Chalk Banks Challenge, spirits were high.
The crowd was still treated to most of the events that people have come to know and enjoy over the last eight years at the Lumber River State Park.
The exception were the canoe and kayak races which had to be canceled due to a scheduling conflict when the event originally planned for May 19 was postponed due to thunder storms.
Saturday morning began with a 5k trail run with every runner a winner due to fewer participants than expected. The categories in the race were 55 years plus, ages 18 to 30 years and 12 and under. Runners were tasked with running through the woods down one of the park’s many trails to a pond and coming back to the starting line.
Bryce Miller, 10, took home the overall fastest finish coming in several minutes ahead of more experienced runners despite the fact that he and some of the others added to the length of their race by veering off the trail.
Miller has been running for three years and enjoys the challenge.
“It’s long distance; it’s fast and I just like running,” he said.
Bryce’s sister 11 year-old Ella Miller won her age group’s half mile race. She has been running at Chalk Banks for four years and said trail runs are tricky because, unlike tracks or road races, runners have to account for natural obstacles.
“It’s harder on this trail because there’s nothing but roots, and people trip so you have to get used to it,” she said.
Both children plan to join track teams when they reach middle school.
Visitors not running or getting ready for the homemade raft regatta were treated to music by a local bluegrass music group.
Though the canoe and kayak races were not held, visitors did show up hoping to get some canoe time in the water.
Maximina Clark and Nga Vu-Hancock are friends and kayakers from Fayetteville and Raeford respectively. While at the park, they joined the Lumber River Canoe Club. Vu-Hancock has been kayaking for the last four years and had visited Chalk Banks in the past.
Clark jokes that her friend “dragged” her into the pastime, but that the pair now enjoy their adventures together.
The highlight of the day was the Chalk Banks Challenge raft event which saw homemade rafters accepting the challenge to see if their boats would make it two miles down the river from the Chalk Banks put in to the old US 401 bridge access.
Five rafts constructed with everything from 1×6 boards and inner tubes to cardboard, Styrofoam and duct tape were created and maned by people with a passing acquaintance with physics and not much more experience paddling down river.
The first-place overall winner was the Duct-A-Gator created by Brent Spivey of Grey’s Creek and co-piloted by John Stephens of Lumberton. The pair relied on their Army and Marine experience to beat the others down river. The Duct-A-Gator was constructed of medical Styrofoam coolers with the tops glued down with a cardboard bow and stern wrapped in plastic and duct tape. The boat was designed to look like one of its distant alligator cousins that might inhabit the swamps along the Lumber River.
“The one thing I like about it is, I think I can still lose pieces and finish the race,” Spivey said.
Not only did Spivey and Stephens finish, they had the fastest time of any of the racers − 47 minutes and 35 seconds, beating their nearest opponent the She-nanigans by nearly 20 minutes. She-nanigans was piloted by Addy Prat, Megan Fulton and Liza Purcell.
Laurel Hill Fire Department was represented by four of five fire department rafts in the competition between volunteer fire departments.
“Last year we came down with one float and the guys that saw it decided they wanted to participate as well,” said William Skipper of the Laurel Hill Fire Department. “We decided we’d come down and have a good time.”
Skipper captained the SS See Ya which won the competition between the firehouses and came in third overall with a time of one hour and thirty minutes. The See Ya was also manned by Gary Woodard, Brad Butler and Stevie Knight.
Coming in second in the completion between fire departments was Laurel Hill’s Fat Man’s Raft conducted by three of the firehouse’s more hefty members.
The men reached the bridge access quite a bit behind Skipper’s crew with one of its team joking that next year he would use a trolling motor as he rolled off the raft to take a hard earned swim in the Lumber’s cloudy flow.
Thirteen firefighters represented Laurel Hill.
The simplistic design of the Gibson department’s float with an aluminum extension ladder and Styrofoam served them well. The raft designed by Wesley Herring and co-piloted by his son Alex placed third in the race between firemen.
“We figured the lighter the better, that gives us an advantage I guess,” Herring said.
One of Laurel Hill’s rafts did not complete the race. The Spirit of Laurel Hill, the raft entered in last year’s challenge, made it less than a quarter of a mile down river before its spirits began to flag and then sank altogether when the Styrofoam flotation apparatus came loose from the deck.
Laurel Hill Fire Chief Clyde Locklear vowed to revisit the design and bring the boat back next year.
While the rafters were working their way down the river, Parks and Recreation conducted the Chalk Bank’s Challenge’s first ever Men’s High Heel Sprint.
Four men half ran half hobbled down the short course to sort-of dash to the finish line with Andrew Kurtzman ,director of the Scotland Community Health coming in first in a photo finish to take home a gift certificate to Jerry’s Deli and Grill.
The festivities wrapped up in late afternoon with trophies being handed out to the top three teams.