Festival to raisefunds for studentexchange program

WAGRAM — More than a century after Scotland County native John Charles McNeill committed to paper the sensation of paddling in seclusion down the Lumber River, a fundraiser capturing the spirit of that poem will be held this month to help students travel to Laurinburg’s Scottish sister city.

The first “Sunburnt Boy/Sunburnt Girl Lumbee River Experience” — deferring to McNeill, who as a state legislator attempted to change the river’s name — will set off at 10 a.m. on July 25 at the Chalk Banks Access Area north of Wagram.

The guided canoe trip will cover the four miles, by river, between Chalk Banks and the landing at U.S. 401.

Organized by the Laurinburg Rotary Club, the Laurinburg Sister Cities Association, and the Young Professionals Network-Scotland, the event aims to raise money for scholarships to assist local students selected to participate in the annual exchange between Laurinburg and Oban, Scotland.

Currently, the exchange raises about $4,500 per year to cover travel expenses for participants with financial need, but that is less than half what is needed.

Canoes, life jackets, and paddles, have been pledged by the state park, the Riverton community, Duncan McKay, and several private individuals for the river tour.

Once all canoes are safely back on dry land, Dr. Mary Wayne Watson, a “road scholar” with the N.C. Humanities Council and great-neice of McNeill, will read McNeill’s poem, “Sunburnt Boys,” and present certificates to all participants.

McNeill is viewed as North Carolina’s first poet laureate, though the first official appointment to the position did not come until 1948, 41 years after his death. He also practiced law in Laurinburg and worked as a journalist for the Charlotte Observer.

The requested donation for participation in the “Sunburnt Boy/Sunburnt Girl Lumbee River Experience” is $100 per person, but as little as $25 may be accepted if space allows.

For registration or other information, call event chair Beacham McDougald at 910-610-8202.

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