Jackie Warner had been waiting to say these words since she was elected mayor of Hope Mills eight years ago.
“The lake is back,’’ she said a week ago Monday. “It filled last night due to rain. They closed the gate this morning.’’
The news came barely four days after the town of Hope Mills got the word from the state dam safety engineer that the impoundment of water behind the repaired Hope Mills dam could begin.
Mother Nature stepped in and dramatically shortened the expected threeweek time it was expected to take to fill the lake.
Maybe that was a reward for the town’s patience battling back from not one but two failures of the dam dating back to 2003 when heavy Memorial Day weekend rain caused the first breach.
Since she was elected in 2010, Warner said she’s not had answers for people who kept wondering when the lake would return.
“You just knew it was going to happen,’’ she said. “Time kept going by. The process seemed like it was never-ending. Then the delays started happening.’’
Warner said she never ran for mayor on a platform to bring the lake back. But, she added, it became the centerpiece of her job because of its omnipresence.
“I wish Bob Gorman was here,’’ said Warner of the longtime Hope Mills commissioner who died last year. “He and I traveled so much together, going to different legal things.’’
Warner said she attended so many meetings and learned so much about architecture and dam building she felt she could be both an engineer and architect. She praised the town’s board of commissioners for staying focused on the dam rebuilding project and assuring that the people doing the work were held accountable.
“We put more scrutiny into making sure we were on top of things,’’ she said. “We just had to pick the very best team and turn them loose to do what they were supposed to do. We were very fortunate that the design companies we picked were not only good, but they did the checks and balances on each other.’
Jerry Legge has been a Hope Mills commissioner since the late 1990s, serving through both times the dam failed and the lake was gone. He was with Warner at a League of Municipalities meeting when they got the word the dam had finally been approved. “All these years of suffering and worrying, trying to make both ends meet, all the overcharges and stuff like that we’ve had,’’ Legge said.
Now, with the lake back, Legge thinks back to 1982 when he first came to Hope Mills with his wife. “I had an aunt and uncle who lived here,’’ Legge said. “We drove by the lake and my wife said, ‘This is it. This is where I want to live.’
“When people drive through the town and see the lake with the additions we’re doing, I believe they’re going to feel the same way.’’
Legge’s fellow commissioner Pat Edwards is in her fourth term on the town board. She said the town has been growing by leaps and bounds even without the lake and that she anticipates things will accelerate quicker now that it has returned.
“The mayor has plans to have a big lake party later on,’’ Edwards said. “That’s something to look forward to. I think the lake has always been a centerpiece for Hope Mills. We have a lot of plans for the future.’’
Those plans include a museum telling the story of how the mill village that grew from Rockfish Township came to be. There will also be a new park at the lake, along with a large pier for people to fish from.
“When the final plans are done, you can go to the museum, park and trails,’’ Warner said. “You can canoe, kayak or go fishing on a beautiful lake with a large pier for fishing that can accommodate lots of people.’’
With its businesses, festivals and good schools, Hope Mills already has an assortment of things that have made it the fastest-growing municipality in Cumberland County.
“Now you add the lake to it,’’ Warner said. “I think that is going to entice more people to move to this area.’’