PRINCESS ANN — The new superintendent of the Lumber River State Park is just beginning to settle in after starting work full time on March 1.
Thomas Delane “Lane” Garner is a Bladen County native and a 15-year veteran of the park service. He is a 2000 graduate of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and worked at Jones Lake and Singletary Lake state parks before arriving here. He replaces Neill Lee, a Lumberton native who worked at the park for 23 years, 11 as superintendent.
“Lumber River State Park is totally different than other state parks because it is a linear park,” Garner said. “It’s 115 miles long passing through four counties with three access points, at Princess Ann, Wire Pasture and Chalk Banks.”
Garner said he is learning how to manage parks that are an hour’s drive apart. But it is a challenge the new superintendent relishes.
“It’s a beautiful place with a lot of history,” Garner said. “This park has a lot of public support, and it is well used and appreciated.
“I am looking forward to preserving the mission of the park, educating people about the river and providing recreation. There is a lot to learn to carry on the mission of a park.”
State parks Director Mike Murphy said Garner will be an asset to the park.
“Lane has extensive experience — not only in park operations, but natural resource management, which is a core component of our mission,” Murphy said. “He will be a valuable leader at Lumber River State Park, which is an important part of the area’s growing local tourism community.”
One ongoing project is a post-Hurricane Matthew river cleanup funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Crews are clearing trees in a 10-foot corridor on the river from U.S. 74 to the South Carolina state line. After that they will begin clearing trees from U.S. 74 to N.C. 71 near the Campbell Soup plant north of Maxton.
“Tree clearing is an ongoing project because every wind storm will take trees down,” Garner said. “We rely on the public to keep us informed.”
There are big projects in the park’s future, including a $2.2 million construction program for the Wire Pasture access. It is located off old U.S. 74, west of Pembroke.
“The Wire Pasture project is in its design phase, and construction will start within a year or a year-and-a-half if everything goes well,” he said. “It will get a small visitor center with exhibits and a classroom.”
Farther down the road, new hiking trails for the Princess Ann site are yet to be planned.
“Currently, we only have a one-mile trail,” Garner said. “There are some lowlands on the new McQueen tract that will require some boardwalks. It will be an interesting area for a trail.”
In addition to operations, construction and planning, Garner is looking forward to meeting park supporters, including the Friends of the Lumber River State Park. The park has many assets worth supporting, he said.
“A beautiful park like this is a place to connect with and get away from the stress of day-to-day life,” Garner said.
Garner will be moving his residence to the park in a month, something he is looking forward to.
“I am excited about doing some fishing,” he said.
Garner grew up in Dublin and helped his father with the family farm. He has worked in agriculture and forestry and has earned advanced law enforcement certification.
The Lumber River State Park opened in 1989. With a little more than 12,000 acres, it is the state’s fourth largest park. The park had 17,000 visitors in 2017.
Staff writer Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]