In 1966 an idea surfaced in North Carolina to dam the Eno River. The shallow, swift waters of the Eno flow for a little less than 40 miles from Hillsborough, across the northern edge of Durham, then join the Little and Flat Rivers at Falls Lake. A concerned group of citizens were reticent to see their local river altered in such a drastic way. Their persistence paid off, saving the Eno in its natural state.
That loosely organized group of locals has evolved over the last four decades to become one of the oldest and most successful land trusts in the state. Now, as a direct result of the Eno River Association—which has educated and advocated for the river—the majority of the Eno is buffered by conserved land.
Over the years the group has been directly involved in the creation of five separate parks along the banks of the Eno and Little Rivers. And in a time when so many watershed areas suffer from pollution, the Eno is known for its high quality, clean flowing waters.
Growing up in Hillsborough, near the headwaters of the Eno, Cynthia Satterfield grew up “exploring the woods and rambling around the river.” After a stint working for other conservation organizations, Satterfield returned to the Eno, joining the Association as Development Director in 2011. For her, it was a happy reunion where she could begin “raising money for the river I know and love.”
Satterfield explains that the Eno is a critical resource for hundreds of thousands of people in Durham and throughout the Triangle. The river, which is a major tributary for the twelve thousand acre Falls Lake Reservoir, is a source of drinking water for some 365,000 people from Hillsborough to Raleigh North Carolina, she says.
But beyond the vital role of supplying drinking water, the Eno River provides another important function for the people of Durham, and the Association has played a huge role in helping everyone enjoy it. Through the ERA’s advocacy to create five separate parks along its banks, over 500,000 outdoor enthusiast enjoy all the river has to offer. The 50-plus miles of trails and exceptionally clean waters make for an optimal place for hikers, paddlers, and anglers—plus some of the best swimming holes in the region.
Satterfield says that a dedicated group of volunteers is at the heart of the Eno River Association’s mission. The stewardship program gives volunteers a chance to “adopt a trail.” After receiving training from the Association, these protectors of the forest regularly patrol their trail, doing light maintenance work and providing regular reports on areas that need a more involved looking after.
The Association also organizes group workdays twenty to thirty days per year to maintain the pristine territory around the river. Volunteers and organizers work to restore habitats, remove trash, and plant trees.
Much of the efforts of the Eno River Association, however, are simply geared towards getting people to the river. The group organizes a volunteer-led hike every Sunday afternoon from New Year’s Day through Mother’s day. Walkers have the opportunity to learn about the river from unique angles such as its history or its plant and animal inhabitants. Three youth camps, called iWalk the Eno, teach middle school children the science of the river and the efforts to conserve it.
Of course, if you really want to get a lot of people to one place you bring beer, food, and music. The Festival for the Eno , held around the July 4th Holiday, is attended by upwards of 20,000 people. For thirty six years, the festival has been a staple in Durham.
“If you live in Durham, the Festival is just one of those things you do,” Says Satterfield. “We have people who have attended every single one. They now bring their children and grandchildren.”
An eclectic collection of music styles fills West Point on the Eno from four stages. For two days the park is filled with the music of over 60 acts. While it wouldn’t be a southern festival without some folk and bluegrass, Satterfield says there’s something for every musical bent.
With so much music, it can be difficult to know where to start. Satterfield’s must-see pick is Diali Cissokho and Kaira Ba. The group’s modernization of traditional West African themes makes for an earthy and exceedingly danceable set filled with spirited baselines and high flying melodies.
Over two dozen food vendors bring everything from traditional fair food to the complex, ultra-local cuisine the Triangle has come to be known for. "Look for Vimala’s Curryblossom Café ," says Satterfield. The Bombay born Vimala fuses the flavors of Indian street cuisine with the best of local North Carolina produce.
The location for Festival for the Eno is no accident. The park, West Point on the Eno, borders the river, offering festival goers a chance to “kick their shoes off, go for a swim, and refresh,” says LM. Reminding everyone what this amazing resource has to offer.