CATAWBA -- One of the Catawba's signature species took a couple of seasons off from many sightseers, but should be back strong in 2009.
The Rocky Shoals Spider Lily, living in its largest cluster on the planet just south of Lake Wylie, were not damaged by the past two years of drought. At least not judging by the blooms already beginning at their Landsford Canal State Park home.
"They're looking fine," said park ranger Don Oneppo. "They're beginning to bloom now."
The first week of May to the first or second week of June is peak time for the lilies, which grow from river rocks in a patch spanning the Catawba River at Landsford. Canoe and kayak trips are common during that bloom stretch, however, the drought the past two years led to low water and tough trips.
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Last year, the park even canceled its scheduled trips because of low water. But this year Oneppo expects the lilies, and the guests, to be back.
"We anticipate a good season this year," he said. "We've actually got water. Last year we were scraping rocks, and when you take 10 canoes down the river, it gets kind of hard."
On Sunday, the park hosts its Lilyfest from noon to 5 p.m., including music and an opportunity to paddle or hike to the lilies. The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation hosts a paddling eco-tour May 23, an annual event teaching paddlers about the ecology of the area. Catawba Riverkeeper David Merryman expects one of the better tours in recent years, mainly due to the water.
"We've already been guaranteed water this year," he said. "We won't be scraping rocks like we were last year."
As part of its federal relicensing application to manage Catawba River lakes and hydro stations, Duke Energy agrees to provide recreational flows for paddlers along the river at certain times, usually weekends during spring and summer months. But the recent drought was so severe, those flows were discontinued as residents throughout the basin were asked to cut back on water use.
"That's typically the very first thing that gets cut," Merryman said of the recreation flows.
Landsford Canal should be back to pre-drought conditions this year. The park charges $2 for adults 16 and older, $1.25 for South Carolina seniors 65 and older and nothing for children 15 and younger. Those rates also apply for Lilyfest. The park does not offer canoes and kayaks, but refers visitors to rental company Catawba River Expeditions.
For more information about the park or the spider lilies, call 803-789-5800 from 11 a.m. to noon daily, or leave a message at other times. The park is located at 2051 Park Drive, Catawba. To reserve a canoe or kayak, call Catawba River Expeditions at 803-327-9335.
Want to go?
Landsford Canal State Park, is open daily. To attend the Catawba Riverkeeper Spider Lily Eco-Tour May 23, visit catawba-riverkeeper.org.