With a zoning change, the future of Lake Waccamaw stirs fear and hope

By Ivey Schofield


Lynn Hinnant got an offer from a developer who wanted to turn his acre of campground property into a motel with a view of Lake Waccamaw in southeastern North Carolina.

Hinnant, who bought the campground last year, rejected the $800,000 proposal that would have brought him a formidable profit. Then he purchased surrounding properties and started working on a plan that he hoped would protect Lake Waccamaw, known as Columbus County’s “best kept secret,” from major development. 

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“I don’t want to bring big commercialization to Lake Waccamaw,” Hinnant said during a Nov. 8 meeting of the governing board that oversees the town of about 1,300 people. 

Lake Waccamaw commissioners agreed. 

Lynn Hinnant, left, explains his vision for the campground area he owns during a packed town commissioners’ meeting on Nov. 8.
Photo by Ivey Schofield

The board voted to rezone Hinnant’s Lake Waccamaw Campground from commercial to marina/campground, essentially nixing the potential for stores, gas stations and hotels to be built there. 

Some people, however, say they worry the change will have a big environmental impact. 

Several members of the Lake Waccamaw Sailing Club said last week that increased boat traffic would likely cause algae blooms and kill the lake’s endemic species – concerns that are already being addressed in the Bladen County community of White Lake

Critics also note that Lake Waccamaw’s land-use plan prohibits the development of marinas. Town documents from 2001 describe them as “environmentally unsuitable.” 

Carol Lawlor, a Whiteville resident and member of the Lake Waccamaw Sailing Club, said it didn’t make sense to rezone a property to a designation that doesn’t exist under the town’s rules.  

“Currently boat access to the lake is self-balanced by the public at large,” 

Lawlor told town commissioners last week. “However, if that’s going to be a for-profit launch area that is going to be available to the public at large, you lose that factor of being able to regulate.”

For some, the debate goes beyond esoteric rules in a town where residents have long pushed back against change. It’s also about the heart and future of one of the wealthiest, most desirable communities in the region.

Becoming White Lake?

At 9,000 acres, Lake Waccamaw is the largest Carolina bay, or oval-shaped body of freshwater, in the state. The lake was likely formed from wind creating sand deposits around the water’s edge after the melting of glaciers, although some local stories say it is the result of a ball of fire that fell to the earth.

Private piers surround the 14-mile shoreline that sparkles in the sunlight. Alligators often rest on logs that litter the canal near homes that have an average list price of about $425,000

Hinnant, meanwhile, charges customers $500 to $600 a month to lease one of 42 spaces for trailers and RVs at Lake Waccamaw Campground. He plans to add 24 spaces. 

“I would love to have it as an alternative for somebody to come and enjoy who does not have $500,000 to $1 million in their pocket to buy a waterfront in Lake Waccamaw,” Hinnant said.

But some residents and visitors say they don’t want Lake Waccamaw to become like White Lake, which draws 200,000 tourists each year to its amusement parks, shallow water and miles of campgrounds and mobile home parks. 

Jeff Howell, who owns White Lake Marina and Watersports, said the marina at White Lake is a major benefit. 

“It’s not too commercial,” he said. “But this is a recreational lake, so you’ve got to have some services for them. It’s an economic engine for our whole county.”

The Lake Waccamaw campground, which has existed since the 1980s but changed ownership last year, was at the center of a debate surrounding commercialization along the shore. Photo by Ivey Schofield

‘Could’ve been a disaster’

Hinnant called the Lake Waccamaw Sailing Club, with hundreds of members from out of town and at least 40 docked boats, the largest marina of the lake. 

“I will not have someone from Whiteville, Fairmont, Fayetteville, Laurinburg, etc. tell me what I can do with my property on Lake Waccamaw,” Hinnant wrote on Facebook

Later, Hinnant said he got upset about the debate taking place on social media. Some people, he said, made false comments about his plans at Lake Waccamaw. 

“To say it could possibly become like White Lake because a one-acre parcel does not even make sense,” Hinnant said. 

He hopes to bring the Old Dupree Landing, which he enjoyed as a teenager in the 1980s, back to life with an arcade, bait shop, snack sales and possibly an above-ground gas pump. 

That’s an exciting prospect to Jimmy Pierce, whose family has lived on the lakeshore for generations.

Pierce said he used to walk to the arcade at Dupree Landing and spend time with friends in “a good, clean environment.” He wants the same for his grandchildren. 

“If (Hinnant) had a little place here for them to go play a video game or something, that’d be great,” Pierce said at the town meeting. “It’d cost me a fortune, but it’d be great.”

Hinnant said he also wants to preserve another piece of property: the One Stop Shop, which offers drinks and snacks for lake visitors. He purchased the land and is now leasing it to a local. 

“All I’m doing is putting it back to what it used to be,” Hinnant said of the lake. 

Matt Wilson, the mayor, agreed that Hinnant is helping to save the lakeshore. 

“With that property sitting there commercial, it could’ve been a disaster,” he said. “Mr. Hinnant is not here to hurt Lake Waccamaw. He’s going to help Lake Waccamaw.”

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The Lake Waccamaw commissioners voted on Nov. 8 to rezone a one-acre shoreline property from commercial to marina.
Photo by Ivey Schofield