Flooded twice in six months, campground's future uncertain
After fleeing by boat due to water's quick rise, owners suspect problems with upstream dams
By Brenda Monty
Friday, May 19, 2017
SNOW HILL — Once a thriving family-oriented hunting, fishing and camping haven, Wooley Swamp Farm in Snow Hill was one of several local businesses that suffered total lost from flooding following Hurricane Matthew in October.
Owners and on-site residents David and Sherry Madures had just completed repairs from Matthew when they had to escape by boat the week of April 24 because after torrential rain here and upstream — the second time flooding forced them to evacuate in six months.
Wooley Swamp Farm consists of 130 acres along U.S. 13 Bypass just west of town. Its centerpiece is a six-acre catch and release pond surrounded by electrical hookups for campers and five rustic rental cabins, including a two-story bunkhouse that sleeps eight, and unlimited tent sites along the creek.
The recreational property offers canoe and kayak rentals with access to Contentnea Creek and hunting packages for hogs, rams and Spanish goats.
The quite, secluded, family-oriented camp draws local and out-of-state visitors and caters to the military, church groups and scouts.
“There were 65 people here the weekend before the last flood,” David Madures said. “Military is 80 percent of our business. The weekend after the flood, I turned away five times a full house.”
On one end of the pond, the Madures family’s private home was built in 2007. The house is perched on beams 14 feet above the ground, 2 feet higher than the post-Hurricane Floyd (1999) building requirement.
David points to two notable watermarks on the pilings beneath their home, one at 12 feet during Matthew and the more recent one at 10 feet.
The couple purchased the farm in 2005 and developed the campground, and like their neighbors, had not had experienced a single flooding issue until Matthew.
“That’s why these bunk houses are built where they are,” Madures said.
If ever there was a threat of flooding, furnishings from the small cabins could be moved into the two-story unit on the higher side of the pond.
That is no longer the case. Water from Matthew reached the flooring on the second story, and waters were above the first story windows during the April flood.
During Matthew, the camp was dry at bedtime. By 5:30 a.m., panic struck when guests woke up to water inside their cabins.
At their own expense and labor, from October 2016 to February, the couple gutted, restored and refurnished each cabin with beds, furniture, appliances and decor.
“Every cabin has been full every day since we reopened in February,” Madures said.
During last month’s flood, it all happened again — water rose 10 feet overnight.
Escape by boat was the only option.
For the sake of their business and other families in Greene County affected by the flooding, the Madureses have done some investigating.
They are convinced they know why the last two floods occurred — and will continue to occur if not corrected.
Water is being released from Falls Lake dam in Raleigh and Buckhorn Dam in Wilson, existing dams across the state need repair and Contentnea Creek needs to be cleaned out, Madures said.
“I know the dams are releasing water. Without a hydrologic report, I can tell you within an hour of when they do it. I can watch the flow of the water change from a chocolate milk color that comes from the fields here to the clearest, most beautiful water you’ve ever seen and running like a torrent,” he said. “Even the species of fish are different in the pond every time it floods; species never seen in this area show up.”
Other dams are broken, which he believes also contributes to flooding issues across the state, Madures said.
“Wait until hurricane season; we’re set up for disaster,” he said.
Prior to Hurricane Matthew, water had never reached the cabins at Wooley Swamp Farm.
“It started getting worse with the tornadoes in 2011 that went right through our property. For a quarter mile, every big tree on the creek is still in the creek because even though they are on our property, we’re not allowed to touch them,” David said.
Runaround and conflicting information from insurance companies and FEMA flood victims experience also add insult to injury.
Water from the April flood reached midway the windows in the small cabins, and when the water receded, anything that wasn’t nailed down floated off. The roadway and lush grassy areas are scalded. The pond contains firewood, landscape timbers, portable toilets, parts of decks and an assortment of other items.
Determined to stay positive, Madures said, “I am not going to go out of business, especially when it is so well received.”
Sherry Madures added, “People who have stayed here have come to see the damage and cry, begging us not to close because they love coming here.”
The couple have begun to work on the cabins yet again and are giving serious consideration to elevating them this time.
They estimate it will cost $100,000 to restore the camp, again.
The Standard Laconic is based in Snow Hill and serves all of Greene County.