There are few things more beautiful as fall approaches than watching the transformation at Hope Mills Lake.
The 88-acre lake is in the heart of downtown Hope Mills. In autumn, the pointed green needles of the old bald cypress trees that skirt the entirety of its shores begin to change, gradually transforming into a brilliant orange-red prior to falling to the ground with the coming of winter.
People in kayaks and canoes steadily paddle their way to the seldom seen “backside” of the lake to take in the vibrant colors at the peak of fall.
Autumn’s bright blue skies reflect on the lake to make the water appear a more vivid blue. As the bustle of summer activities slows down and the days grow a little quieter, the lake becomes a place for peace and thoughtful reflection.
For nearly two centuries, all these natural changes at the lake have served as signals to the Hope Mills community that fall is just around the corner. Many years ago, the late former Mayor Al Brafford told me that the trees that circle the lake form what he thought looked like a “ring of fire” each fall. After that, I never looked at the seasonal foliage around the lake without thinking about what he said.
He was absolutely right.
Hope Mills has always been known for its centerpiece lake. The community was founded as a textile mill village, and water from the lake powered the first mill known as Rockfish Factory. The water was channeled from the lake through a flume to a turbine to provide power to the mill.
Later, the lake water also would be used to power other mills in the community.
Without doubt, Hope Mills Lake represents the resilience of a strong community.
On Memorial Day 2003, the community lost its iconic lake when its earthen dam gave way following a torrential rainfall. The community rallied together, and a concrete dam was built and the lake was restored. The community held a huge celebration.
Sadly, the new dam breached again a year and a half later. After a lengthy court battle, a settlement was reached with the engineering and construction companies that built the dam. The town received enough money to replace the dam, and the treasured lake was again restored. And the community once again celebrated.
The old mills are gone now, and what was once a small mill village has turned into a thriving town of about 18,000 people. Throughout the years, the lake has remained a constant centerpiece of beauty, entertainment and enjoyment for the community.
The lake provides an amazing backdrop for concerts, festivals, weddings, prom pictures, family picnics and other celebrations. It provides a place for swimming, kayaking, canoeing, fishing and occasionally wildlife watching.
As we head into fall and cooler weather prevails, we will once again watch the bald cypress needles gradually turn to a bright orange-red around the lake. Come visit the lake to see that beautiful “ring of fire” that was so aptly described many years ago. I think you will be glad you did.