Fifty percent of the employees at the Brevard DuPont Plant joined the DuPont Employees Recreation Association (DERA) when it was formed in 1963. DERA was a private organization open to DuPont employees and their families who paid an annual membership fee. Members were required to show their membership card to use DERA facilities. Initial activities included use of the Guion facilities for picnics and a children’s Christmas Party. Over the years, DERA added an Easter Egg hunt, stocked the Little River with trout, built a rifle range, established hiking trails and primitive camp sites, planted apple trees in food plots for deer, recruited members for bowling, golf, and softball teams, and negotiated discounts for admission fees to Busch Gardens, Carowinds, Six Flags, Disneyworld, and other entertainment venues. By 1971, 96% of the employees at the Brevard DuPont Plant were DERA members.
In 1971, the DERA Board voted to create a recreational lake northwest of the plant site. Volunteers began to clear the site of trees and shrubs in 1971 and continued throughout 1972, when a channel (later named DERA Creek) was dug for the outflow from the lake. An earth and rock dam was constructed in early 1973 by Banks Construction at no charge in return for material taken from the rock quarry to build roads in the Sherwood Forest community. By May of 1973, Lake DERA was full and covered approximately 22 acres (Figure 1 in slide show). During 1974, a sandy beach and a 400 ft long swimming dock were completed (Figure 2 in slide show), a bath house was built (Figure 3 in slide show), an area was cleared for nine campsites and the lake was stocked with bass, bream, and bluegill. During 1975, six additional campsites with water lines were built and 16 new picnic tables were installed. In 1976, an additional 15 campsites with water and electric hookups were constructed. A report in Fotofax (newsletter for employees at the Brevard Plant) stated that on one Sunday in the summer of 1976, “there were 500 people swimming, fishing, boating, and camping at the lake”. In 1980, tennis courts were built next to Lake DERA. Some employees camped at Lake DERA with their family for an entire summer and walked to and from work while their kids played in and around the lake.
Each winter a drain valve at the bottom of Lake DERA was opened to reduce the water level and prevent damage to the 400 ft long swimming dock if the lake froze. In 1981, the valve got stock in the open position and the lake drained. As the lake was draining, volunteers spent two days using nets to catch the fish and 55 gallon drums to transport the fish to a holding pond until the valve was repaired (Figure 4 in slide show).
Lake DERA lies within the so-called “donut hole”, a 440 acre parcel that encompasses the site of the X-ray film manufacturing plant and several waste disposal areas. Ownership of this parcel was transferred from the DuPont Corporation to the State of North Carolina in 2016.
As of 2020, this 440 acre parcel is still subject to some decontamination and remediation procedures conducted by DuPont (now Corteva Agriscience Inc) and thus is not open to the public. The bath house and campground utilities are long-gone and only traces of the beach and tennis courts remain. The drain valve failed again in 2016 and was replaced by DuPont before the property was transferred to the state. During the months-long repair process, the lake was maintained at a shallow level. This time many of the fish were consumed by a bald eagle that took up residence in nearby trees.
Surface water quality tests conducted by the DuPont Corporation before the donut hole was transferred to the state did not detect any industrial pollutants in Lake DERA. This was expected, because the water sources for Lake DERA are two small streams that originate on slopes west of Lake DERA near the Cascade Loop trail (aka Pine Tree Trail) and merge before flowing into Lake DERA. These pristine watersheds were not used as waste disposal areas. Although the streams that supply Lake DERA are shown on various maps, they are nameless (Figure 5). However, based on surveys for land grants that mention the Rye Field Branch (Robert Hamilton, 1799) or the Wheat Field Branch (Robert Hamilton, 1800; Micajah Thomas, 1836), it is reasonable to conclude that the stream that feeds Lake DERA today was called the Rye Field Branch in the late 1700’s and the Wheat Field Branch in the early 1800’s. The DuPont X-ray plant was built on a relatively level area near the Little River. Such a location would have been ideal for a farm when settlers first arrived in the area about 240 years ago. It is tempting to speculate that at one time wheat fields covered the area now occupied by Lake DERA.
Will Lake DERA return to its former glory, with a bath house, campsites, and supervised swimming open to the public for a fee? Given sufficient support from the community and state legislators, it could happen. Time will tell.
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