ORRUM — There were plenty of familiar faces and just as many new ones attending the fifth annual Lumber River Day festival on Saturday, but more importantly, according to the superintendent of the Lumber River State Park, were the number of smiles.
“Folks love coming out by the river and taking a free canoe ride, and I think we try to make it real kid friendly. We get them out and moving around, and getting involved in nature,” Neil Lee said. “Kids love this kind of thing. They might not get out on their own on a Saturday morning but this festival gives them a good excuse to get out of the house.”
Like in the previous year, Lee estimated Saturday’s turnout to be about 600 to 700 people, though he says he’d love to see 1,000.
“Can’t never have too many,” Lee said.
The free event began in 2010 as a way of celebrating the park’s designation as one of North Carolina’s top 10 natural resources by the conservation group, Land for Tomorrow, and has since become a hit with Robeson County residents thanks in part to many outdoor activities, including canoeing, racing, playing in the bouncy castle, and this year a watermelon-seed spitting contest.
“For me, I love playing in the canoe, just because I like the river and getting wet,” said Garron Henderson, age 13.
Henderson has attended the event for three years with his church group from Orrum Baptist Church. According to Henderson, getting out to the park has become an annual tradition.
“It’s awesome out here,” Henderson said. “Even if it can get hot, though it isn’t that hot.”
For many, the lack of heat was a pleasant surprise given the high temperatures this summer. The shade provided by trees and 79-degree temperatures was a winning combination in Wanda Jacobs’ eyes.
Jacobs brought the whole family out for the event, including her son, her daughter and her two grandsons.
“I’m hot natured but it feels so nice out here. This is a mini-vacation,” Jacobs said. “It is my first year here, but I have really enjoyed it. The crowd is nice, and I just love seeing all of the crafts that the vendors are showing off. I love original crafts.”
While Jacobs spent much of her time by the river, she said she was hesitant about jumping in a canoe.
“Me and my husband have been joking about that,” Jacobs said. “He keeps threatening to tilt me into the water. The kids are loving it though. So far they have gone on the train ride, the wet T-shirt race and are just loving the hiking. ”
Attendee and mother of three Jana Stevens says that her two oldest daughters have loved the event so much that she is wishing she had taken them there sooner.
“Oh they are going to want to come here again and again,” Stevens said. “It is very family oriented and you feel safe out here. Everyone is out here to have fun, no one is here to start trouble. It has been a great way of getting in touch with nature. As soon as we stepped off the canoe, my girls were asking to go again.”
While the festival had no shortage of things for kids to enjoy, adults seemed to be having fun just taking in the sights and sounds, including the sounds of bluegrass bands the Lumber River Ramblers and the Bluegrass Misfits.
“It’s all about fun for us. We have people here from all over playing music,” said bluegrass artist Jim Caulder, who plays with both bands. “I think it is nice to be able to offer folks some wholesome entertainment.”
One thing that was different about this year than in previous years was the introduction of the newly formed Friends of the Lumber River State Park organization, an independent chapter of Friends of State Parks that aims to help advocate for contributions and resources. Annual membership in the group is $10, and according to Lee the event has already helped them reach 60 members.
“That’s a pretty good number, because I am wanting 125 by winter,” Lee said. “We are going to keep collecting applications. I think it is good for advocacy and there will be a lot of people we can call upon when we need volunteers; also it will help with financial support.”
Though vendors who sell crafts during the festival are invited to donate some of their profits to the park, Lee says that for the most part the festival is more of a labor of love than a way of bringing in money, and that people who join the Friends of the Lumber River State Park organization can help ensure that the park is able to continue providing free events like Lumber River Day.
“This festival gives people a reason to come out and keep playing outside … We don’t make much money, but it isn’t really about that. I’d just like it to be self sustaining,” Lee said. “We just want to give people more excuses to come out and enjoy the park, and we love seeing these kids eyes light up. We have had such a great group of folks who have supported us and we’d like to grow that support.”