DURHAM — Buddy Brown said the first year he attended the Eno River Festival on July 4, 1980, the men had long hair. The women wore bandanas and also had long hair in their armpits.
“They were hippies,” said Brown, 62, the owner of L&B Enterprises food truck.
While the crowd has changed in appearance, what hasn’t changed is the number of people who attend the two-day festival, he said.
“I always made money here,” Brown said. “(The festival) has always been good to me.”
Festival director Greg Bell said every Fourth of July the festival brings an average 20,000 people over the course of two days. Since the festival’s beginning in 1980, it has made $1.4 million. Some of the money goes to purchasing land to protect the banks along the river so trails can be built for the public.
So far, more than 500 acres have been protected.
“We get all these people out here to see the river and learn of its importance, because it’s drinking water and a habitat for wildlife,” Bell said. “And it’s a place to go and be in nature and swim and picnic or go kayaking.”
For some, Independence Day is a day to celebrate America’s birth. For others, it’s a time for cookouts and good eating.
The day was a little cooler than a typical day in July, reaching only into the high 80s. Families – some dressed in red, white and blue – listened to music, paddled on the river in canoes, played games and ate food. Kids learned about science and played hide-and-go-seek.
More than 140 different vendors sold everything from T-shirts, pottery and art to funnel cakes and turkey legs.
The crowd was a mix of folks from the Triangle and beyond.
“It’s a few thousand of your closest friends,” Bell said. “It’s shady and funky. Great music. Great activities. And everybody is happy to be here.”
Pat Stenger, 75, and her daughter Judy Stenger, 50, of Durham, said they have attended the festival 15 of the last 20 years.
“It’s really become a tradition,” Judy Stenger said. “It’s grown each year, and we look forward to coming every year.”
Pat Stenger said that after her first year at the festival, 20 years ago, she couldn’t stop coming. She invited her son and grandchildren from New York to come down this year.
“One word – great,” she said of the festival. “We like the crafts, food, and we support the Eno River.”
The Eno River is a swift, shallow stream flowing from northwest Orange County into Durham County, extending 33 miles until it joins the Flat River to become the Neuse and empties into Falls Lake.
The festival will continue at West Point on the Eno today at 10 a.m. A lineup of the day’s musical acts can be found at http://bit.ly/1oiPrCo.
West Point on the Eno, a natural and historic city park, is located along a two-mile stretch of the scenic Eno River. The 404 acres of woods, waters and wildlife have changed little in the centuries since this area was the home of the Shocco and Eno Indians.
Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1