Charlotte, NC, to Get Yet Another Whitewater Park


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The kayaking and rafting in Charlotte, N.C., is about to get even better.

Thanks to Duke Energy, the region is about to boast another major whitewater recreation center to complement the US National Whitewater Center.

The Project

Duke Energy announced a new multi-million dollar project, called the Great Falls-Dearborn Development, that will revision Dearborn Island, including building a massive pedestrian bridge to the 650-acre island, the installation of three canoe and kayak launches, and restructuring water channels into a series of Class II-IV whitewater rapids. The company is also partnering with South Carolina to develop an entirely new state park.

Duke will be working with S2O Design, designer of Charlotte’s U.S. National Whitewater Center, on the project, as well as HDR Engineeringto build two new bypass channels, the longest one being about 1.5 miles. The new channels will gradually dissipate the reservoirs released energy using switchbacks and a series of progressively challenging waves. Each bypass will use notches and gates to regulate the water flow.

“If you came out here 200 years ago when the river was down, it’d likely look exactly as it is today,” said Tim Huffman, Duke Energy’s senior project manager charged with implementing the FERC agreement. “The reservoir now has very limited access. When the elements of the Catawba River agreement are put in place, not only will access be improved, the two dried out reaches will have their flows restored for recreational access as well as biological and habitat enhancement.”

Work is currently underway at the Nitrolee Access Area and construction on the short and long bypass is scheduled to begin in the second quarter of 2021. The completed facilities are planned to be finished within the next two years.

Of note to paddlers is the Lower Great Falls Canoe/Kayak Launch, which will be located near the pedestrian bridge and will provide parking and a canoe/kayak launch for access to the waters in the lower Great Falls Reservoir.There will also be canoe/kayak access trails providing access to the short and long bypass river channels.

The Great Falls-Dearborn Development was constructed 100 years ago to provide power to the local community. In creating Great Falls Reservoir, two dams were constructed across separate river channels— the long bypass and short bypass—diverting the river flow. As part of Duke Energy’s new license to manage the Catawba-Wateree Project, the company will return water into these diversion channels in a controlled manner to provide additional habitat for fish and other aquatic life as well as recreation opportunities for the public.

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