Not your average cookout, an event sponsored by the Friends of Sampson County Waterways offered a few hundred people a wild time this past weekend while also raising money to protect and preserve a vital natural resource.
The 2012 Wild Game Cookout was held Saturday at the Clinton City Market and members credited the new location, great weather and the uniqueness of the cookout itself in making it one of the most successful events yet. Proceeds benefit the Friends of Sampson County Waterways, a group dedicated to keeping the creeks and rivers of Sampson clean and clear for the enjoyment of all.
“It’s actually getting bigger,” said Ralph Hamilton, president of the FSCW, and one of its original founders. “It’s just turning out to be something real big. It all started 15 years ago in my backyard, but it got too big for my backyard.”
The event featured wild game from the bounty of eastern North Carolina, with everything from wild hog sandwiches to venison meatballs on the menu. Among some of the other items at the cookout were various recipes that included beaver, squirrel, rabbit, bear, catfish and venison, to go along with a smorgasbord of side dishes, desserts and beverages.
Those who brought a covered dish, whether it was wild game or not, received one free ticket — and there was no shortage of something to eat, even with the line wrapping around the City Market for much of the early afternoon.
“This year’s Wild Game Cookout was an outstanding success in that we were able to raise nearly $950 and get a tremendous amount of exposure in the community,” said Robert Von Hagel, treasurer for FSCW. “This is not our major fundraiser for the group but, in combination with the raffle (this year a 42-inch plasma HDTV was raffled off), we raised over $2,400.”
The $950 raised in the cookout alone was far and away the most in recent years, with $370 raised last year and $728 in 2010. Previous events were held at Owen’s Home Furnishings and last year’s was cold and damp, keeping many away. A change of venue, along with some clear skies, helped bolster this year’s cookout.
“An important aspect of the Wild Game Cookout is the chance to educate people on the importance of the waterways of Sampson County as a natural resource that provides outstanding recreational opportunities for both the citizens of Sampson County and visitors to our area,”said Von Hagel. “I believe that the Clinton City Market location attracted passersby that stopped in to see what was going on.”
FSCW strives to keep the nearly 300 miles of creeks and rivers in Sampson County clean and open for the enjoyment of paddlers, fishermen and hunters, Von Hagel said. To accomplish that, groups of the members travel sections of the various creeks and rivers in canoes, kayaks and jon boats picking up trash and debris, along with cutting trees that have fallen across the waterways.
The group works to improve water quality through the monitoring and improving current water regulations and seeks to boost public appreciation and understanding of water’s status as a valuable resource. The community trips, cleanup excursions and other outreach projects are all utilized to spread the message of the importance of protecting and conserving clean water, preserving natural waterways and keeping them litter free and open for paddling.
“The labor is all volunteer but, in order to clear a waterway, we need chainsaws and supplies and kayaks and canoes and the trailers to get them to the creeks,” said Von Hagel. “We also develop and maintain access points to the waterways and hope to continue in this effort.”
Events like the Wild Game Cookout help raise money toward the effort, but Hamilton will be the first to say that it would be held either way. It didn’t start as a fundraiser, and it has never been about money.
“It was never as a fundraiser for the Friends of Sampson County Waterways,” said Hamilton, “but we can’t put it on, and we can’t clean waterways, for free.
Hamilton said he doesn’t care about the numbers. He attested that the wild game cookout does help put a few bucks toward a positive effort, but it is more about the camaraderie of people and the kinship of a similar origin that has kept the event going, and growing.
From his backyard to the center of Clinton’s downtown, the core of cookout has always been the same.
“This is really a celebration of our ancestors,” he said. “They were all hunter-gatherers who caught wild game. This is a celebration of where we came from and why we’re here today. We have evolved into a society of grocery shoppers, and we need to back up every now and then and appreciate where we came from.”
In the hustle and bustle of life in today’s society, sometimes it is important to reflect on that, he said. The cookout is as much about fellowship and hearkening back to old times as it is about sampling delicacies of the earth. It is food, but with a history lesson attached.
“We can do this forever and really celebrate our ancestry,” Hamilton said. “This is what this is all about.”
FSCW meets on the first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Pizza Inn in Clinton. Everyone is welcome to attend our meetings to found out more about the creeks and rivers of Sampson County and to learn about how they could be a part of maintaining these waterways.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.