Restoring the Heart of the Community: The Great Coharie River Initiative


In the heart of Sampson County, North Carolina, a remarkable initiative is quietly reshaping the landscape and rejuvenating the spirit of a community. The Great Coharie River Initiative, launched in 2015, is a testament to the resilience and determination of the Coharie Tribe and their allies to reclaim the once-thriving Great Coharie River. 

The journey of the Great Coharie River, from its free-flowing state to its current restoration phase, is marked by significant events. Beavers migrating in the 1970s, devastating storms in the 1990s, unsuccessful government mitigation efforts, and the initiation of the Great Coharie River Initiative in 2015 — each phase tells a story of challenges and resilience.

Since its inception in 2015, volunteers from diverse backgrounds, including the Coharie, Waccamaw Siouan, Lumbee, Haliwa-Saponi, Eastern Band of Cherokee, and local non-tribal members, have come together to restore the Great Coharie River. Armed with chainsaws, winches, a work boat, and an unwavering commitment, these volunteers have cleared fallen trees, dismantled beaver dams, and removed debris, breathing life back into the river. Despite facing the rugged challenges of this endeavor, around five volunteers dedicate their time on a typical workday, expecting no financial reward but driven by their love for the river.

The Great Coharie River, once the heart of a resilient Native American community, faced devastation in the 1990s due to storms that disrupted its natural flow. What was once a serene and vibrant place for the Coharie people had become a swamp entangled with fallen trees and beaver dams. The initiative aims to bring back the river’s essence, allowing young and old to connect with the magic it holds.

Elders speak fondly of fishing with their parents, and the initiative seeks to revive those sacred memories for them and create similar experiences for today’s youth. The river, now a source of healing and belonging, has become a symbol of resilience and community strength.

The mission of the Great Coharie River Initiative is clear: to restore a lost tradition and make the river accessible to the public. With the goal of clearing a 13-mile stretch, the Coharie Tribe envisions partnerships with governing agencies to expedite their efforts. The ultimate aim is to provide a gift of natural beauty to people from all walks of life.

The success of the initiative is bolstered by partnerships with organizations such as the American Indian Center, the Conservation Fund’s Resourceful Communities, Friends of Sampson Co. Waterways, NC Growth, and the Conservation Trust for North Carolina. Special friends and individuals who have contributed their time and knowledge play a crucial role in the ongoing restoration efforts.:

The Great Coharie River Initiative stands as a beacon of community-driven conservation and restoration. It is a testament to the power of collective action, bridging communities, and reconnecting with nature. As the initiative continues to forge ahead, it not only restores a river but also revives memories, traditions, and the spiritual heartbeat of a community. The Great Coharie River Initiative is not just about reclaiming a waterway; it’s about reclaiming a way of life!

Learn more about the initiative at https://coharietribe.org/programs/great-coharie-river-initiative/