Members of White Lake/Bladen County Water Rescue, Station 75, were called to the William O. Huske Lock and Dam last summer after the empty canoe was found below the locks. The Corps of Engineers lockmaster found the boat and called 911.
The small boat had some fishing equipment and personal property inside, but nothing to indicate the name of the owner.
Divers and search crews worked for days trying to locate a missing fisherman, but official finally decided the boat must have broken loose from a private mooring somewhere upriver.
State law passes ownership of any abandoned boat to the person who recovers it if attempts are made to locate the boat's owner. After repeatedly publicizing the canoe and still not finding the owner, the Army Corps of Engineers donated it to Station 75, according to Water Rescue member Gary Allcox.
After weeks of volunteer work, the canoe has been restored and is ready for a new home.
"This is not the same beat-up boat we pulled out of the river," Allcox said.
The boat's dented hull has been repaired, and a fresh coat of paint applied. Lee Reason of Ace Towing coated the interior with a skid-proof liner often used in truck beds. Wal-Mart of Elizabethtown is donating fishing equipment and safety gear.
The squad will raffle the boat off Sunday at the White Lake Fireman's Olympics.
"This is the perfect size boat for an adult and child to take fishing," Allcox said. "It's not to big, and not too small. One man can easily pick it up."
The 12-foot wide-body canoe is made of heavy-weight plastic, which resists dents and is easily maintained.
"This is a good canoe for someone to take fishing, hunting or just floating down a river," Allcox said.
The boat comes equipped with personal flotation devices, tackle boxes, a cooler, and fishing equipment.
"It would probably take you several hundred dollars, at least, to have a canoe outfitted and ready like this," Allcox said.
Tickets are $1, and may be purchased from any Squad 75 member. Tickets will be available until the drawing on Sunday.
Volunteers will be selling tickets throughout the water festival, and the canoe will be displayed at several locations throughout the event.
Station 75 is supported in part by the county and the town of White Lake, but most of the squad's operating budget comes from fundraisers.
The squad is trained to rescue victims of boating accidents, and is often called out for search and rescue operations throughout the county.
Members have also helped recover bodies of drowning victims in Bladen County and elsewhere, as well as evidence in criminal cases. When an Elizabethtown man became trapped on Lock and Dam No. 2 last year, Water Rescue workers ferried equipment and personnel across the river and helped rescue the fisherman.
The squad is equipped with jet-skis, flat-bottom boat and a pontoon boat for emergency rescues, such as boating accidents in White Lake and the Cape Fear. A dive truck and two Suburban SUVs are used to support the team in the field.
Squad member Lee Reason was part of the search crew that spent hours diving below the Huske Dam looking for the canoe's owner. He said ticket sales have been strong.
"I think it's worth a lot more than a dollar," he said. "You aren't going to find a deal like this."