In the Fayetteville area, we know the Cape Fear River. But have you everheard of Chalk Banks, a trail that runs along the edge of Lumber River State Park? May 19, this area will host its annual event called the Chalk Banks Challenge and River Festival.
At 133 miles long, the Lumber River extends from as far north as Scotland County all the way down to the North and South Carolina border before eventually emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. As a blackwater river, which is a kind of river that is slow-moving through swamps and wetlands, the Lumber River is the only one of its kind in North Carolina to be designated as a Natural Wild and Scenic River.
Here, at this natural haven unbeknownst to most people coming into the Fayetteville or Fort Bragg area, is a set of races that are free and open for the public to participate in or just watch. There are 2-mile canoe and kayak races. There is also a 5K trail run at 9:30 a.m. and a one-mile race at 10:30 a.m. for any school-age students.
The event’s most eccentric challenge, though, is homemade raft races, which start at roughly 11:45 a.m.
According to Cory Hughes, director of the Scotland County Tourism Development Authority, the raft race originates from a popular tradition in Scotland County during the 1970s and 1980s when people would raft down the river just for fun.
Hughes said the purpose for this wacky, fun event nowadays is to perhaps introduce or reinvigorate interest in the Lumber River State Park.
“We have a beautiful state parkup at Chalk Banks, and people just don’t know about it,” said Hughes. “When I’m walking through the event and hear people go, ‘Wow, I’ve never been out here, this is really great,’ that’s a win.”
As for the raft race, teams must build their own raft, without using traditional parts for boats. The rafts cannot be motorized. Many different groups have participated in the past, including Boy Scout troops, fire departments and military officers.
“The raft races are, I don’t want to say comical, but absolutely leisure(ly) and casual,” said Hughes. “It’s not Gilligan’s Navy, but it’s something pretty close to it. Once (participants) do it once, they have such a good time.”
Hughes described one group of military officers from Fort Bragg who participated in the event for several years. This group, on the first year, made their raft out of an inflatable mattress, plywood and duct tape – and didn’t quite make it all the way down the river. But they came back the next year after “learning their lesson” and ultimately won the race. The following year, the same members of the group were all deployed in Afghanistan but made time to send a message on YouTube to the event, wishing everyone good luck and saying they would be back the next year to defend their title.
“It’s that kind of attitude that embraces the whole day,” Hughes said. “It’s just a day to come out, have fun, enjoy your friends, meet new people, laugh – maybe laugh so hard you cry.”
For those not competing in the races, the River Festival component promises to entertain outdoorsy, interested families. There will be inflatables to bask in the river’s slow moving channel and bands playing bluegrass or country music throughout the day. There will also be craft vendors as well as food vendors providing barbecue fare and Italian ice.
Hughes also mentioned there will be a “Kid Olympics,” featuring several youth games like relay races, hollering contests and grape spitting contests.
“It’s a country-good-time kind of thing,” said Hughes.
The event is free and open to the public. It takes place at the Chalk Banks access point in Wagram May 19 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. For directions or more information, contact the Lumber River State Park at 910-628-4564.