ORRUM — The weather was just as accommodating as the program at Lumber River Day Saturday.
With temperatures in the mid 80’s and activities for everyone, the hundreds of people who attended the event were all smiles.
The biggest concern for 12-year-old Austin Springle, who came all the way from Raleigh with his father, Jeremy, and sister, Alyssa, to partake in the festivities, was that he wouldn’t be able to beat his sister for the second time in the fishing race.
“I can’t compete in the final,” he said, “because I have a canoe race at the same time.”
The festivities were all part of the third annual Lumber River Day, which celebrates the park’s naming as one of the state’s top 10 natural wonders by Land For Tomorrow, an alliance of environmental advocacy groups.
The celebration, held the third Saturday in July each year at 2819 Princess Ann Road, featured free activities like canoe rides and races, booths and exhibits, a fishing and casting contest, a wet T-shirt race for children, as well as an antique tractor parade and live entertainment.
Neill Lee, the superintendent of the park, who has been employed since it was staffed 18 years ago, said the activities were mostly geared toward children in order to instill in them an appreciation for the outdoors.
“I think it’s a great way to get people to appreciate it,” Lee said. “Not everyone has a state park in their backyard. It’s beautiful and it’s here to enjoy.”
Mickey Gregory, executive director of the Lumberton Visitors Bureau, couldn’t agree more, deeming the park an “asset to the community.” She pulled her grandchildren around in a wagon as they cooled off with a snack of Italian ice.
“It’s just a wonderful family day,” said Gregory, who has seen the event grow each year. “It’s nice to be able to bring our grandchildren out to enjoy the nature.”
Gregory’s grandchildren, 2-year-old Leah and 4-year-old Ty Willoughby, had already had a canoe ride and were fresh off the excitement of having looked at all the animals on display.
Soundtracked by bluegrass tunes being picked by Jim Caulder and the Bluegrass Misfits, other children also got the opportunity to gawk at animals, particularly reptiles from all over the world.
Two-year-old Cayden Wood wasn’t afraid to pet the ball python as his mother hoisted him up for a peek at the reptile being held by Lathan Leviner, the owner of Big Smiley’s Reptiles.
Cayden giggled as he petted the snake, and Leviner explained where ball pythons originated, and where they got their names.
“They’re originally from Africa,” he said. “…When they’re afraid, they wind up into a ball for protection.”
In addition to the exotic reptiles, children and adults were given opportunities to learn more about animals indigenous to the park from Lumber River Wildlife Action group, which provided information on native animals.
Austin and Alyssa agreed that they had the most fun at the wet T-shirt race, where competitors rung out their T-shirts in a race to see who could fill up a cup the fastest; canoeing, they said, came in a close second.
In order to enjoy the river, attendants could hop in a canoe and meander through the only black water river on the East Coast given the National and Wild Scenic River designation.
The 115-mile waterway gets its black water from the fallen leaves of the cypress tree, which color the water — much like tea leaves — with its tannins. The black water river is one of the longest unobstructed rivers in the state.
According to Lee, Lumber River Day was a day to celebrate the park, and it was also a day to get outside and enjoy the environment.
“More and more, kids are staying inside watching TV,” Lee said. “Someone needs to educate them about the environment so that they learn to respect it.
“If we don’t respect it, we’ll destroy it.”