Travel a little over an hour south of Raleigh and you’ll find one of North Carolina’s unique treasures. The Black River has its headwaters in Sampson County, and a swampy forest along its edge known as the Three Sisters is home to some of the oldest trees in the world. Venture into the thick woods and you may stumble upon one of the many bald cypress trees that date back to Roman times, the oldest on the East Coast.
Canoe down the river and you’ll see astounding sights. Not only will you run into the ancient bald cypress trees, but the river’s water itself has its own unique story. The Black River is the most intact “blackwater” system in North Carolina. Since its headwaters lie in coastal swampland, the river is rich in decayed plant matter, giving the water its characteristic dark, black color.
“People love it. They love to get on the river, back to their heritage,” said Friends of Sampson County Waterways founder Ralph Hamilton. “I take scout troops and church groups down the river all the time.”
For locals, conservation areas can serve as an inexpensive, local getaway. Close-to-home outings are a great opportunity in counties like Sampson County, where 25 percent of all residents live below the poverty line. Public conservation funding, which has created parks and other recreational areas across the state, is crucial to providing these opportunities.
People also travel to Sampson County specifically to see the Black River. Tourism has the potential in communities along the river to be a useful economic driver.
Outdoor recreation is a big economic driver in North Carolina. Per the Outdoor Industry Association, it accounts for $19.2 billion in consumer spending, 192,000 jobs, $5.6 billion in wages and salaries, and $1.3 billion in state and local tax returns. The state’s conservation trust funds are vital to that industry – funding projects in all 100 counties that attract people to the outdoors.