PEMBROKE — Lumbee tribal officials say the large number of volunteers who participated in the recent cleanup of the grounds of the former N.C. Indian Cultural Center — once a prominent recreation area and educational center for the Lumbee people — shows that the property is sacred and embedded in Lumbee culture.
“It was heart-wrenching to watch the 240 people who worked cleaning up the grounds,” Lumbee Tribal Chairman Paul Brooks said Wednesday during his annual State of the Tribe Address. “It shows that you (Lumbees) love your culture and who you are.”
The cleanup, held June 28, was the first step in revitalizing the property the tribe recently purchased from the state for $351,000. There are four parcels, totaling more than 500 acres, located southwest of Pembroke between Pembroke and Maxton. The largest parcel, 387 acres, includes the now closed Riverside Golf Course, a swimming pool, picnic area, lake, and amphitheater where for years the outdoor drama “Strike at the Wind!” was performed.
During the cleanup, trash was picked up, grass cut, weeds cleared, and refuse hauled away. Trees were trimmed and downed limbs were removed.
“The cleanup was extremely successful and there is another cleanup day being planned for the near future,” said Gary Strickland, the tribe’s public relations manager. “There were 240 people of all ages, from 10 to about 75 ,who took part.”
Strickland said that people were already waiting at 6:30 am. for the gates to the property to be opened at 8 a.m. Many stayed past the 3 p.m. scheduled ending for the cleanup, some staying as late as 7:30 p.m., said Strickland.
The land became available for purchase when the state terminated the 99-year, $1-a-year lease it held with a private nonprofit that maintained and operated the site. The Lumbee Tribe was given the first chance to buy the property, which it did about two months ago.
Brooks said in a statement prior to the cleanup that the property is special to the Lumbee people.
“This land holds a special meaning for our tribal members, especially our older generation,” he said. “For years, it was a popular destination spot for family gatherings and recreational activities. We want our younger generation to share that same experience. Our youth should be educated about the significance of this property.”
Tony Hunt, the tribe’s administrator, said Wednesday that the tribe wants to bring the property “back to its original state.”
“We want to make it better and enhance it,” Hunt said. “By now owning the property we can invest more in it because we know what we have out there.”
Hunt, like Brooks and other tribal members, emphasized the cultural and recreational value of the center to the Lumbee people.
“In the past this was a place where Native Americans could come and enjoy themselves,” he said. “It’s a place where a lot of our tribal members learned to swim, have concerts, and played their first rounds of golf. There are a lot of memories here.”
The cleanup day was the launch of a campaign to get the whole community behind tribal efforts to renovate the property. Tribal officials estimate that renovations, construction and other upgrades — including the swimming pool, amphitheater and golf course — will cost about $6 million. The property, tribal leaders say, will also not be just reserved for American Indians, but will be available for people of all races.
Hunt said that the renovations and improvements to the property will be funded through grants and private donations.
“There are a lot of grants we have to explore to see if they fit our needs,” he said.
Hunt said that there has been no time frame set for completing all of the renovations and improvements to the property. He said, however, that current plans for improving the property include three phases.
According to Hunt, the first phase will include improvements to the swimming pool, camping and picnic areas, and the lake. The second phase will include improvements to the antiquated amphitheater so that future performances of “Strike at the Wind!” can be held. The last phase will include improvements to the Riverside Golf Course that will lead to the course’s re-opening.
Hunt said plans also call for the construction of a clubhouse-activity center to be constructed at the golf course. Conferences and meetings could be held at the center that hopefully will include a restaurant, he said.
According to Strickland, it is the hope of tribal officials that the pool can be opened by next summer, with the amphitheater and golf course being opened at a later date.