LUMBERTON — Meandering through the cypress tree-lined water of the Lumber River, 84-year-old Rudolph Floyd prefers to glide under the overhanging branches that shroud his canoe.
Approaching the Princess Ann Access Area after the three-hour, eight-mile paddle trip, wafting fumes from the awaiting cookout welcome the members of the Lumber River Canoe Club, whose 30th anniversary celebration took place Saturday at Lumber River State Park. As one of the founding members, Floyd begins reading from a folded paper taken from his pocket. Emotion interrupts his recollections of Sherwood Hinson Sr., the club’s founder, as he recounts his close friend’s passion for the river and the fellowship that flowed from it.
“He had an abiding love for the river,” Floyd said, “and he devoted his life so that we can enjoy it.”
The vision that Hinson Sr. saw reflecting in the slow-moving water that welcomed him when he first moved his family to Lumberton from South Carolina was one that he hoped wouldn’t change. With a goal to preserve the waterway and make it accessible for canoes, he also wanted to clean it of debris and trash, and remove the trees that blocked its passage.
“Daddy wanted it recognized as a natural water resource that at the time, people looked at as only there to pollute,” Sherwood Hinson Jr. said.
Hinson Sr., who was retired from the Navy, famously never took “no” for an answer and, after serving on the Lumber River Basin Committee, succeeded in appropriating $1,500 to fund cleanup of the river into which raw human waste was once dumped. After securing volunteers from the Navy to aid in the effort, he sought out people who could further help him with his cause.
Flowing 115 miles freely, today the Lumber River is one of the longest unobstructed rivers in the state. Jeremy Isom, a child when he first met Hinson Sr., paddled the same river on Saturday that he paddled with his father, the late Danny Isom. Jeremy, together with his wife, stopped the canoe along the sandy banks to let his 4-year-old twins — Dandridge and Savannah — dig in the dirt and admire the sunbathing turtles.
“We moved to Lumberton in 1982,” he said, “and my father was a land manager for a large timber company that owned a lot of the land along the river. My dad’s job was to manage that land generally for growing, harvesting and planting trees. Shortly thereafter Sherwood found out that my dad was the land manager of a lot of the land along the river … and Sherwood talked to him about leasing that property as a canoe access just for he and his friends to utilize for putting in and taking out.
“In that conversation, they started also talking about the club and getting that going and then the rest is history.”
The same year, Isom and Hinson Sr., along with Floyd, founded the club and Isom helped protect the river by not cutting down trees along its banks — a decision that would result in its eventual recognition as a Wild and Scenic River, a recognition that would in turn garner more funding for its preservation.
“He realized there was a better use for that land,” Isom said.
Today, the Lumber River Canoe Club, which has events nearly every weekend and more than 600 online members, takes its name from the only black water river in North Carolina designated as a National Wild and Scenic River by the United States Department of Interior. In 1989, it was established as a state park.
Hinson Sr. lived just long enough to see the ripple effect of the change he set in motion. The park, which was under construction when he died in 1993, was opened to the public soon afterward.
In the distance, a plaque looks on to the river, reading “Sherwood Hinson, a simple man who loved people, boats and the Lumber River. This park is a result of his dream and his unwillingness to accept ‘no’ for an answer.” Hinson Jr. joked about his father’s persistance, embodiment of the manicured park entrance now called the Princess Ann Access Area.
“He could walk up to a tree and talk to it and it would give in one way or another,” he said.