PEMBROKE — A jewel in the crown of the rejuvenated Cultural Center, the Lumbee Tribe Aquatic Center, was dedicated Saturday morning.
At nearly 40,000 square feet and filled with 150,000 gallons of crystal clear and cool water, the pool represents much more than its physical dimensions.
“This is a bright shining light of hope for us,” Lumbee Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr. said during the dedication ceremony. “It says this belongs to the Lumbee people.”
The Lumbee Tribe Aquatic Center was restored at a cost of $600,000 and with the help of many volunteers, said Tribal Administrator Freda Porter.
“It was a tremendous project that had us asking, ‘What have kids been doing all these years?’” Porter said.
The pool was built in 1964 when the Cultural Center featured a lake, golf course, tennis and basketball courts, and later an amphitheatre for performances of the outdoor drama “Strike at the Wind!” It serve America Indians not welcome at other venues then because of segregation.
For more than a decade, the pool and the Cultural Center have languished, overgrown with weeds and the dam broken by Hurricane Matthew. The pool is remembered fondly by people such as state Rep. Charles Graham, who was on hand for the opening.
“This is where I learned to swim,” Graham said. “My father would not let me swim in the river.”
Today, the grass is manicured, the dam is being repaired, and hopes are high for the amphitheatre to be ready in 2020 for the return of “Strike at the Wind!”
The pool had a soft opening last week and attendance has been excellent, “better than expected,” said Jordan McGirt, pool manager. “We will offer swimming lessons after Lumbee Homecoming.”
“It’s a good, clean, safe environment, a place for us to come together for fellowship,” said David McGirt, project manager. “The Boys and Girls Clubs have already been here and the elders will be here Monday for water aerobics.
“We have a great pool.”
Volunteers played a big role in bringing the pool and the Cultural Center back to life. P.J. Smith, former Aquatics Center director at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and American Red Cross Water Safety instructor, was a key consultant.
People such as Woodrow Dial, who care about the Cultural Center, never gave up on it.
“Ten years ago, I couldn’t even see the lake for the weeds,” said Dial, who is chairman of the Lumbee Regional Development Center. “Not long ago we had 267 volunteers with all kinds of equipment, and in a day, we turned this place around.”
Godwin thanked the Tribal Council for supporting the pool project. He also thanked Rep. Graham and Sen. Danny Britt Jr. for getting $100,000 in state funding for the project.
He noted that the first Miss Lumbee was crowned at the pool in 1968, and a reception for the reigning Miss Lumbee was held there recently.
“Men of vision created this facility,” Godwin said. “Today, we have a garden, an arbor, a playing field for stickball, and we host the annual Spring Moon Powwow here. When the dam is repaired, it will be stocked with fish, and we’ll have canoes.
“This is a beautiful place that connects us with nature.”
The pool will be open on July 4 and after the Lumbee Homecoming Parade on July 7. Its regular hours are Tuesdays through Fridays, 1 to 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays 2 to 6 p.m.
Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]