Federal regulators have approved a Duke Energy plan to improve or build new recreational areas on the Catawba River reservoirs in the Charlotte area, including York County, over the next two decades.
The improvements range from the practical – restrooms will be installed at 28 recreation areas – to the spectacular, with the periodic release of crashing whitewater into a stretch of the river from which water has been diverted for a century. The 58 existing recreation sites will be expanded to 81, adding more places to swim, paddle, camp and hike.
Lake Wylie alone had improvements written into the re-licensing agreement for Buster Boyd Access Area to add restrooms, 48 more acres at Allison Creek Access Area, restrooms and trails at Fort Mill Access Area, park property in Rock Hill, an emergency access site in York County, leases on two islands totaling 174 acres to recreation groups, and several more kayak launches, parking areas and camping sites.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved Duke’s recreation management plan for the Catawba on Dec. 19. Appendix A of the FERC order is a detailed list of the improvements.
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Duke filed the recreation plan after winning renewal of its 40-year federal hydropower license for the Catawba in 2015, which required that Duke contribute $4 million to local governments for public recreation.
The federal license gives Duke authority to manage the river, storing and releasing water needed to make electricity. But it carries an expectation that Duke also offer recreational access to the water.
Duke negotiated license terms with 69 government agencies, advocacy groups and residents over a three-year period. Duke manages 225 miles of the Catawba including 11 reservoirs, from Lake James in the North Carolina foothills to Lake Wateree in central South Carolina.
The improvements FERC approved this month will be installed over a 20-year period, but FERC expects most work to be completed within five years. Apart from restrooms, the will include new picnic areas, fishing piers, swim beaches, campgrounds and expanded parking at access areas, as well as additional boating access areas.
Kayakers will get new access to paddle whitewater in the Catawba’s Great Falls near the namesake South Carolina town 40 miles south of Charlotte. Water will be released on a regular schedule, and portages and kayak launches built.
The federal approval gives Duke the green light to start work.