Hinson Lake: The “crown jewel” of Richmond County
By Matt Harrelson
A day at the lake usually isn’t a small vacation one can take and still stay within the city limits. It’s been possible at Hinson Lake in Rockingham, though, since 2006.
The history of Hinson Lake goes back as far as the 1930s. Local historian Neal Cadieu can remember going swimming in Hinson in the early 1940s. Before that, Cadieu said, it was a site for the Works Progress Administration, a government program used to hire men out of work.
“They did quite a bit of work in Richmond County,” Cadieu said. “They built several buildings here.”
Cadieu said the program put people to work but didn’t pay much. It did, however, provide living quarters for workers. The remains of those quarters can still be seen today on the right side of the path leading into Hinson Lake.
The Hinsons themselves were a prominant Richmond County family dating back as early as the Revolutionary War.
Nona Lee Hinson, who went by the nickname Pitt, is who the lake is named after. She and Elizabeth Montgomery, Marion Lee Hinson’s first cousin, grew up like sisters.
Montgomery said they spent their entire childhoods out there. Her father was Marion Lee’s uncle, and they both loved to go fishing and hunting. Montgomery recalled memories of going out in her dad’s rowboat, but having to learn where all the stumps in the lake were back then. As a teenager, Montgomery and her friends used to catch baby turtles at Hinson Lake, and she remembers geese being more prominent when she was younger.
Montgomery is the only one left to carry on the memory of the Hinson family and looks at it as an honor.
“Out of the 100 acres out there, the two acres that the house I own sits on is all that’s left from the family,” Montgomery said. “You couldn’t give me a million dollars for it. I’m the only one left to carry on their memory.”
In the late 1980s, Marion Lee left all the land to the North Carolina Wildlife Commission, but while the state owned the property, it sat unused for more than a decade. It was at this point in the early 2000s that the City of Rockingham approached the Wildlife Commission about the land. Russell Wong with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission said that the property is managed through the wildlife management division.
As it looks today, Hinson Lake was completed in 2006 with funds from the Cole Foundation, Leath Foundation and the Tourism Development Authority, said city planner John Massey.
“It’s a nice amenity for the community,” said Massey. “It’s been very well received and has far exceeded expectations.”
Foot bridges, benches, picnic tables and the gazebo on the walking bridge were all built using in-house labor through the city of Rockingham, said Massey.
As far as the Rotary lodge located on the property, it came about when Senator Gene McLaurin was mayor of Rockingham.
“We knew the city and the Cole Foundation and the North Carolina Wildlife Commission were working together, and at the time there was a club out there called The High Lake Lounge. It had been closed for several years,” McLaurin said. “Rotary didn’t have a building so the Rotary Club gave a generous contribution, the building got torn down and a new one was built.”
Rotary International was celebrating its centennial year in 2005, and Russell Bennett and McLaurin were asked to co-chair a project for the local club. A committee was set up and challenged to do something meaningful, said McLaurin. After debating, they finally settled on the building at Hinson Lake.
David Harling, past president of the Rockingham Rotary Club said the club paid a $50,000 one time fee for the lifetime naming rights to the building.
“The Rotary Club continues to give money for the upkeep of the lodge,” said McLaurin.
McLaurin added, “It’s a great way to recognize Rotary and to put the name on something that can be used by generations for years to come. A lot of people deserve credit. It’s a great example of people working together for the quality of life.”
Hinson Lake since 2006 has been used for fishing, kayaking, canoeing, walking, running and many more activities. On this past Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Maizey Peek, 16, Ana Rivers, 15, and Hannah Craven, 17, were all preparing for the upcoming track and field season at Richmond Senior High by training at Hinson. It was an unseasonable 60 degrees, warm and sunny.
“We run out here often when the weather is nice,” said the girls. “Plus school related events are run out here.”
Mike and Elizabeth Ward, from Ellerbe, were out walking their two Walker Hounds, Angel and Buffy and their Yorkie, Chewy.
“We usually don’t come here, but it’s the first time we’ve brought the animals,” said Mike. “They’re excited to be here.”
Silena Luther, of Rockingham, and Stephanie Quick, of Ellerbe, were trying their hands at fishing on the nice day.
“I bring my kids out here a lot,” said Luther. “It gets them off their phones and off the couch, especially during the summer. This is the first time this year that we’ve gone fishing out here though. We come out here a lot.”
Added Quick, “I’ve caught plenty of fish out here.”
Kayakers Rosemary Baxley and son Evan, of Hamlet, took their new kayaks out for a test run on Hinson Lake.
Gerry Baxley, the father of the family, said they come here very often and his wife is an avid runner.
Speaking of runners, one of the biggest events to take place at the lake is the Hinson Lake 24 Hour Ultra Classic. This year will mark the ninth year of the September event, during which runners try to see how many laps they can run on the 1.52-mile trail in 24 hours. Runners from all over the country participate in the race, which reached its 300-runner limit in a matter of days after registration opened on Jan. 1.
Hinson Lake is located at 152 Hinson Lake Road in Rockingham. Hours of operation are daily from dawn until dusk. Canoe and kayak rentals are in-season only. Hours for rentals include Monday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday from noon to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.
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