Got a wild hog hankering? Crawfish craving? Maybe the tastebuds are watering for some bear bites or deer sausage to go along with that cup of rabbit stew. They might sound like off-the-wall menu items, but those delicacies and others are regularly piled on plates at the annual Wild Game Cookout, which is right around the corner.
The cookout, sponsored by the Friends of Sampson County Waterways (FSCW), will be held Saturday, Jan. 11, 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.
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.
“It brings our local community together,” said FSCW president Timothy Tromp, “and it lets people know more about what we do.”
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.
The cost to attend the cookout is $8 for adults and $4 for children 10 and under. Those who bring a covered dish, whether it was wild game or not, will receive one free ticket — and there is never any shortage of something to eat, with the line annually wrapping around the City Market for much of the early afternoon.
“This year, we’re going to make it really comfortable for people,” Tromp said. “Standing out in the cold is not fun. We’re going to split the line into two. We’re going to be really, really improved this year — a whole lot better.”
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 and frog legs 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.
Tromp has eaten beaver dishes and last year had squirrel salad.
“I had never heard of anything like that in my life,” he said. “Anything that is considered wild game — I guess squirrel falls into that — is there.”
Those wishing to cook wild game on-site at the Jan. 11 event should bring their own grill and come early. Also part of the festivities will be children’s activities and performances by a live band. A drawing for a blue and white Hurricane Santee kayak, valued at $1,000, will be held after lunch. Tickets will be available for $5.
“There will be other prizes as well,” Tromp said.
The Wild Game Cookout offers a chance to expand the palette, but also serves to educate people on the importance of the waterways of Sampson County as a natural resource that provides outstanding recreational opportunities for everyone. it is an event that has gotten bigger and bigger each year.
It all started nearly 20 years 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.
“There are a lot of paddlers around the state that come to Sampson County,” Tromp said. “We talk about our experiences on the rivers and creeks and what’s next for (Friends of Sampson County Waterways) and when the next clear-out or excursion is.”
For anyone who wants to become a member or talk more about what the FSCW does, it is an ideal time to talk to a few longtime members over some exotic eats.
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.
Countless hours and 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.
“It helps us buy supplies for what we do, to clean up and clear the rivers, creeks and streams in Sampson County,” said Tromp. “That takes a lot of work and a lot of supplies, like chainsaws and fuel. We’re looking for new chainsaws and a motor for one of our boats.”
Long held the first Saturday of the New Year, the cookout has moved to the second Saturday and organizers are banking on just as big a crowd.
“There are not many things going on in that timeframe, it’s after the holidays and this is something for people to do,” said Tromp. “It brings people to the downtown and it is all very interesting.”
For more information, call Timothy Tromp at 910-990-2717, Ralph Hamilton at 910-590-6281 or Cebron Fussell at 910-592-7373.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.