Festival promotes heritage of county

Published 7:08 am Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Special to the Daily News

People flocked to Mattamuskeet High School this past weekend for the second-annual Mattamuskeet Decoy and Waterfowl Festival, which was held Nov. 20-21.
The Hyde County Waterfowl Association was the chief sponsor of the event. People attending the event were encouraged to make donations to the high school and other groups in the county.
Brad Gurganus, president of the Hyde County Waterfowl Association, said the weekend event is a good way to celebrate the county’s heritage.
“We wanted to have something annual for the county. Hyde County has a rich history for the type of thing that we are doing,” he said.
The first day of the festival included vendors with a variety of displays.
Lewis Forrest, executive director of the Mattamuskeet Foundation, manned a booth promoting two nature films, “A Winter Day: Lake Mattamuskeet” and “A Winter Day: Pungo Lake.”
The films were a collaborative effort of the foundation and STRS Productions, which is based in Beaufort County. Collectively, the films have won 25 awards at competitions across the country.
Forrest also showcased copies of a Lake Mattamuskeet history book. The book includes many photographs that help tell the history of the lake.
Forrest’s book, “Lake Mattamuskeet: New Holland and Hyde County,” tells of an interest in draining Lake Mattamuskeet for farming purposes dating back to the 1700s. Various colonial governors appointed drainage boards to address the problem, however, the boards were never able to agree on any sort of action.
In the early 1900s, the three-member board of commissioners of the Mattamuskeet Drainage District awarded a dredging contract to A.V. Willis &Sons of Pittsville, Ill. The dredges used by A.V. Willis &Sons to excavate the large canals for draining Lake Mattamuskeet were built in Belhaven, 30 miles west of the lake, beginning in July 1913. The project would take five years and create 130 miles of large, navigable canals within the district.
Forrest saw the weekend event as an opportunity to promote the foundation’s mission.
“People can come here and learn more about the lake. It is something that we all own,” he said.
Benji Forrest also attended the event to display some of his grandfather Percy’s famous antique decoys at a booth.
Those decoys have appeared in hunting magazines and decoy shows across the country.
Forrest explained that the decoys are items with collectors.
“People want his decoys because they are made out of root heads and juniper logs. People don’t use wooden decoys anymore for actual hunting because they are way too heavy and bulky,” Benji Forrest said.