In the late sixties and early seventies, the wild, picturesque, and historic Eno River was threatened: the city of Durham planned to dam the river and create a new reservoir for its growing population. The Eno had already been used as a water supply for the city once before at the turn of the century. The City Council now viewed damming the river as not only possible but also inevitable.
Concerned about the city’s plans, an informal “walking ” group of local citizens came together to raise awareness and stop the project from happening. On October 14, 1966, they formed the Association for the Preservation of the Eno River Valley, Inc. In addition to lobbying the city to find other solutions for its water needs, the Association contacted the Regional Triangle Planning Commission, City Council members, and local newspapers. They scheduled hikes, canoe trips, and slide shows, created river maps, researched mill histories, and conducted wildlife inventories. Public outreach accompanied political action to put the Eno in the public eye. The first hike the Association sponsored brought out 75 people. The next hike brought out 450. A new model for river conservation (and one that would be replicated across North Carolina and beyond) was being created.
In 1972, the Association formed an alliance with the Nature Conservancy and presented to the North Carolina Board of Conservation and Development their case for preserving the river. As a result, the Board of the Nature Conservancy and its State Parks Committee endorsed acquiring property along the Eno River for a state park. Soon thereafter, Dr. and Mrs. Frederick Bernheim donated the first 90 acres. Association secretary Margaret Nygard said the donation “set up a territorial area for the park,” adding that “…It was more than words – it made it real.” One year later on June 15, 1973, after a cooperative effort between the city of Durham, Orange County, the State of North Carolina, the Nature Conservancy and the Eno River Association, Governor James Holshouser welcomed the Eno River State Park into the NC State Parks system.
Since then, through additional fundraising and land acquisition, the Eno River Association has helped Eno River State Park grow to well over 4,000 acres. In addition, we have helped create other riverfront parks in Durham and Orange counties. Used by over a half million people annually, they include West Point on the Eno City Park, Old Farm Park, Penny’s Bend, Little River Regional Park and the Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area. Now protected for much of its thirty-five miles, the Eno flows on.
However, there are still 2,000 acres still to be acquired for Eno River State Park and miles of riverfront still vulnerable to development. The river also continues to face serious threats. In addition to a series of fish kills, we have battled two major highway construction projects, a city landfill, two sewer systems, and an asphalt plant. The Eno River Association has continued to be a first line of defense, standing up and speaking out to successfully halt these projects.
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