The chirp and song of returning springtime birds are the only sounds in the Stonewall Campground this Saturday afternoon. Charles Alexander bought the 12-space campground just off highway 55 in the town of Stonewall, a year ago.
Charles picks me up in his golf cart and wheels me over pine cones and between towering pines to the waterfront he cleared and made sturdy with a metal and wood bulkhead. The creek that runs along the back of the camp, shouldered by reeds and grass, leads to the Bay River.
“When I was a kid, us boys would ride up and down the river on a wooden skiff,” he says. “We made a diving board out there in the middle, and held hot dog roasts on Saturday nights.”
“I remember this ditch being dug by a local farmer, before these pines were ever planted, back in the day,” Charles continues, “in the late ’50s or early ’60s.” Since then, the downed trees piled up from the past three or four hurricanes. He had 25 loads of debris removed to make the property more pleasant.
Charles, who is 78, has been the mayor of Stonewall, a town of about 300 people, since 1987.
Regarding Stonewall’s monthly town meetings, he says: “If the meeting is over five minutes long, we have a problem. We supply free trash pickup, keep the roads paved, furnish street lights and pay a minimum tax rate. We don’t waste a dime.”
“We are pretty blessed for a county with only two traffic lights,” he says, looking at the water.
He tells me he doesn’t know what the future holds for the campground, but he likes the idea of continuing the property as a simple RV park for those who like the water. People like John Shearer, a musician and pilot from Chapel Hill, who parked his RV here in December. He practices his music in his RV every afternoon. Or John and Joan Laskowsky from Florida, with their three indoor cats and Com-Pac 16 sailboat they call Little G, trailered next to their RV. Two shiny Airstream RVs are also parked here, one adorned with plastic pink flamingos. The campground holds stories of romance, and the sadness of death — one resident died two months ago from COVID-19, Charles says. The longest resident has been there four years, since before Charles bought the property.
Charles says that every day he gets calls from people struggling with housing in the county, looking for an inexpensive place to live. Many have family with drug issues, he believes.
“It’s a nightmare. I’m a retired farmer — I bought this because I like this piece of property — it gives me something to do. But there has always been a separation (between the rich and the poor) and it’s getting further apart,” Charles says. He farmed corn, beans, wheat and potatoes on over 4,600 acres of the county until he retired in 2015. “The middle class is not as comfortable as we think. … I’d rather this be an RV park than a trailer park.”
He points to the boat ramp, the same one that existed when he was young. He says, even still, he is proud of purchasing the campground.
“I put in right there on the weekends,” he says of putting his boat in the water to go fishing. “This property … I made a nice little place of it.”