A TOURIST IN MY OWN HOMETOWN: VOLUME 3 LABOR DAY AT THE LAKE

I probably shouldn’t say this out loud, certainly shouldn’t put it in writing. This is the type of thing that may get me fired from my job at a real estate company in a beach town, or perhaps it may even cause the chamber of commerce to deport me to some landlocked state. But here goes: I’d take a lake over the ocean any day of the week.

Yeah, I said it! And I mean it, too.

Part of it is I grew up in Michigan, the Great Lakes State! But mostly it’s just that lakes are calmer, in a way more peaceful. No sharks. No rip currents. No salty aftertaste in your mouth. And yes there’s sand, but it doesn’t get stuck everywhere.

And you can swim on a lake, really swim. To me what people do in the ocean is not swimming. It’s more like they are having a personal battle with God. “Really, you think that wave is big enough to knock me off my feet?

SMACK! BANG GULP!

BLOOP! BLOOP BLOOP!

God 1, Tourist nothing!

North Carolina really does have some of the most beautiful lakes in the country. But almost all of them are on the western side of the state; Lake Norman, Lake James, High Rock Lake, Lake Glenville and so many more – all of them are well worth a weekend road trip.

But on this side of the state, we are limited. No one swims in Greenfield Lake (too many alligators), Lake Waccamaw and Boiling Springs Lake are both residential, not really recreational. And so all that is left is White Lake in Bladen County, about an hour’s drive from Wilmington.

The lake is big enough for small boats and jet ski’s, and in the 50’s and 70’s, it was known for water skiing. That’s because a 7 member, trick, water skiing team called the White Lake Ski Heals put on regular performances. The group was frequently featured on Wide World of Sports and other shows of the time period and their fame put the small town on the map.

But then sometime in the late 70’s and early 80’s the state started to turn the old route 74/76 into something that more resembled an actual highway. For people in Bladen, Columbus, Cumberland and Robeson Counties that meant a trip to the ocean could now be done in maybe 90 minutes… in the past, the journey may have taken four or five hours. And so they started to drive to more fancier places.

Go to White Lake these days and it does feel as if time has forgotten about this place. There are some beautiful modern homes built on the lake, but turn a corner, and head towards “the strip” and you’re back in an era before franchises and chains monopolized every street corner. Everything here is locally owned: the pizza parlor, the ice cream shop, the hamburger stand, the put-put golf courses, are all family business passed down from one generation to the next.

In the center of town is Goldston’s Beach. It’s one part resort, one part amusement park, one part restaurant and one part arcade. But the main attractions is the pier. It jets out into the lake, from the beach, maybe a 100 feet or so. So people jump off the pier, some people swim
underneath the pier. And everyone, whether they want to or not, will eventually be part of a pickup game of “King of the Pier.” Because nothing celebrates Labor Day more than pushing a loved one into the water.

I love this place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We only come here once asummer, but it’s always for the entire day. And so do many others. The town of White Lake only has 857 residents, but every year 200,000 others will visit this place. That’s a lot, but it’s only half, or maybe just a third, of the number of visitors who came here during its heyday several decades ago. But somehow the fact that it’s no longer in vogue, kind of makes it cooler to me… kind of makes it feel like you’re in on a secret.

So SHHH! If you’re one of the strange people who like lakes more than the ocean then make this part of North Carolina history a part of your future. White Lake is 49 miles, 55 minutes from downtown Wilmington and its hours of fun.

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