Turkey, ham, stuffing and mashed potatoes, maybe even some collards and black-eyed peas, are standards around this time of year. But how about ringing in 2016 with some wild hog, bear bites or deer sausage, possibly even some rabbit stew or squirrel salad?
They might sound like off-the-wall items, but before the stomach growls and noses turn up, the Friends of Sampson County Waterways (FSCW) are urging everyone to let their taste buds have a new opportunity — one many over the years have taken advantage of to their ultimate delight.
Those delicacies are regularly piled on plates at the FSCW’s annual Wild Game Cookout. The cookout offers a chance to expand the palette, but also serves to educate people on the importance of maintaining and preserving waterways of Sampson County as a natural resource that provides recreational opportunities for everyone.
It is an event that has gotten bigger and bigger each year.
This year’s cookout will be held Saturday, Jan. 9, at Clinton City Market on Lisbon Street with the festivities starting at 11 a.m. and wild game served around noon.
Obviously not your average cookout, the event has regularly hosted hundreds for a wild time while also raising money to protect and preserve a precious natural resource in Sampson’s many local waterways. Proceeds benefit FSCW, a group dedicated to keeping the hundreds of miles of creeks and rivers of Sampson clean and clear for the enjoyment of all.
In addition to club members, local hunters, fishermen and farmers bring together a feast of squirrel, raccoon, bear, deer, beaver, fish, pork, sweet potatoes, cabbage dishes, desserts and more to celebrate the bounty of the land and help raise funds to support the FSCW’s river maintenance trips.
Wild game cooks often bring their cooking gear early to socialize while fixing their special dishes. They are asked to start arriving around 9 a.m., with already prepared dishes to be made available at 11:30 a.m. In addition to the cookout, a new-model Hurricane kayak will be raffled off. It has a roomy cockpit and is an eye-catching orange. Raffle tickets are available now but can also be purchased at the cookout.
The cookout is not a big money-maker, but has never been about that. It is about enjoying something different, sharing the fellowship of friends, old and new, and talking about future adventures, organizers said.
Countless hours are volunteered, but waterways can’t be cleaned for free. There is equipment involved. While the amount raised through the cookout is often a nominal one after expenses, every bit helps.
FSCW’s mission is to keep the 300 miles of waterways in Sampson clean and open for the enjoyment of paddlers, fishermen and hunters. Members travel sections of the various creeks and rivers in canoes, kayaks and jon boats picking up trash and debris and sawing trees that have fallen across rivers and creeks. The group also aims to develop and maintain access points to the waterways.
Money raised through the cookout goes toward continuing that effort.
Cooks eat for free, but cost is $8 for 13 and older and $4 for 12 and under. Pimento cheese sandwiches and hot dogs will be available for the less adventurous so organizers urge those interested not to leave anyone at home.
The event has featured wild game from the bounty of eastern North Carolina, with everything from wild hog sandwiches, deer sausage and venison meatballs to rabbit stew, bear bites, frog legs and squirrel salad featured on the ever-changing docket. Whatever people bring to eat, that is what is for lunch. And it is different every year. Quail and dove, crawfish, beaver, squirrel, catfish and loads of other game have also been served up at past cookouts to go along with a smorgasbord of side dishes, desserts and beverages.
It all started over two decades ago in the backyard of one of FSCW’s original founders, Ralph Hamilton, “but it got too big for my backyard,” Hamilton has said.
It was taken from there to the parking lot of Owens Furniture, and then moved to the City Market several years ago. Most of the people who attend are from the county, but there are others who come from outside Sampson — some from out of state — to attend a unique event while supporting the local Waterways group.
The event was long held the first Saturday of each year but moved in recent years to the second Saturday.
The public is always invited to meet and learn more about the Friends of Sampson County Waterways, whose goal is to maintain the traditional boating rights-of-way by removing blockages and to educate the public on the importance of waterways as a valuable resource. Partnerships with landowners, corporate members, scouts and church groups have helped keep those waterways healthy, as concerned citizens work to pick up trash, cut limbs and trees and stabilize the water banks.
The club also holds paddle trips for recreation and education at various times throughout the year, typically during the spring and summer months. The club will schedule trips for interested groups and provide equipment (boats, paddles and life vests) for participants who do not have their own, for a $10 per person fee.
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.
For anyone who wants to become a member or talk more about what the FSCW does, the cookout serves as an ideal time to talk to a few longtime members over some exotic eats.
For more information on paddle trips, contact FSCW president Karen Tyler at 910-465-7491. Those looking for details on the Friends of Sampson County Waterways or the Wild Game Cookout are encouraged to attend the next general membership meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 5, at Pizza Inn on Sunset Avenue, Clinton. You can find the group on Facebook at “Friends of Sampson County Waterways.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.