ORRUM — As Cindy Williamson and Nancy Jacobs sat overlooking the Lumber River on Saturday, they didn’t just see the families paddling canoes in front of them. They saw the generations before them who had enjoyed and lived off that same black water.
“I like coming to the Lumber River to just see it and let my mind go back to how my ancestors traveled the Lumber River, lived on the Lumber River and respected the Lumber River,” Jacobs said. “And it’s just beautiful.”
Saturday was Jacobs’ third time attending the annual Lumber River Day festival in Orrum, but like Williamson, she had been coming to Lumber River State Park long before the festival got started in 2010.
Williamson recalled running and jumping into the water as a child when swimming was allowed, camping and fishing with her family. On Saturday, the cousins, who are both from Fairmont, socialized and had their blood pressure checked at Southeastern Health’s Wellness on Wheels bus before grabbing a prime spot next to the river.
“I’ve run into old friends I haven’t seen in years,” Jacobs said. “It’s just a day of rest and there’s no better way to do that than on a river bank.”
Elsewhere in the park, there were dulcimer lessons, pony rides, food vendors, crafts, a casting competition and wildlife exhibits from Wildlife Action and the USDA. Lumbee Ambassadors explained the history of their colorful regalia, and raffles were held for a bicycle and a kayak. The bike went home with 5-year-old Imani Howard, who particularly enjoyed the food at his first Lumber River Day and was looking forward to a boat ride.
Music filled the humid air courtesy of Jim Caulder and the Bluegrass Misfits. Caulder, from Lumberton, brought about 22 musicians with him to provide music this year for the festival, as he has done every year since it began.
“You may have worked all week but when you get here and start playing and singing, you kind of forget about all that,” Caulder said.
Not only does the park provide a unique backdrop for a concert, Caulder and the musicians want to help more people discover the Lumber River and all it has to offer by drawing them to a free show.
“We like to support the river, the Lumber Rive State Park and all the programs they have,” he said.
That is also the mission of the Friends of the Lumber River, founded in January 2015.
Gayle Bigelow, the group’s vice president, said she hopes attendees at Lumber River Day see that the river is worth protecting.
“I hope they renew their love and appreciation for the river,” she said. “We wouldn’t be who we are without the river. We need the river.”
Her favorite thing to do at the park is to find a good view and imagine the landscape as it was centuries ago. She has found several artifacts of the park’s history, from arrowheads to pottery.
“Ancient people came here,” she said. “You get a real strong sense of how special this place was before we navigated it.”
For Krissy Smith, of Lumberton, Saturday was her first time visiting the Lumber River State Park. Her cousins, 15-year-old Haley, 11-year-old Evan and 7-year-old Charlee, were visiting from Sophia for the weekend and the group decided to check out the event.
As Charlee took a pony ride, Smith, who kayaks, said she was impressed with the park, the abundance of kids’ activities and, in particular, the free canoe rides.
“They’re showing people how fun and easy it is, especially people who may not always have that opportunity,” she said.
Neill Lee, who has managed the park as its superintendent for about 10 years, relished the chance to show others a river that was selected as one of the top 10 natural wonders in North Carolina. Some people don’t know the Lumber River State Park is right in their back yards, he said.
“Every day should be Lumber River Day,” he said during the festival’s opening ceremony. “We just celebrated it a little harder today.”
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.