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Time to glide

John Marks/jmarks@lakewyliepilot.com

Klaus Walther pulls ashore J. Black and Theresa Holmes of Gastonia during a recent weekend trip at NC Flatwater Outfitters, now open in Belmont.
John Marks/jmarks@lakewyliepilot.com Klaus Walther pulls ashore J. Black and Theresa Holmes of Gastonia during a recent weekend trip at NC Flatwater Outfitters, now open in Belmont.

LAKE WYLIE -- For the cost of a fast-food lunch, Klaus Walther offers something unique, adventurous and, he believes, much needed. Plus, it promises better results around the waistline than a fast-food lunch.

Klaus Walther, originally from Germany but a recent Georgia transplant, moved to the Carolinas in November and started NC Flatwater Outfitters on 3.5 acres in Belmont. This month, with boating weather here, almost 200 people came out for his official grand opening weekend earlier this month of the kayak and canoe rental facility with a park-like setting for $5 an hour.

"The economy being what it is right now, bad, it seems like everything has been done already," Walther said. "I thought this was a little something different, and something people could enjoy."

Two miles downstream of the U.S. National Whitewater Center, Walther's property is perfect for inexperienced to seasoned paddlers.

"It's just totally flat," he said. "It's where the Catawba River turns into Lake Wylie."

The business has 20 single and 10 tandem kayaks, along with 10 canoes.

Cheryl Spainhour, who lives in Gastonia, already is a regular having gone on a recreational paddle and a birthday trip.

"We just found out about this place and this is already our fourth time here," she said recently. "I'm going to be coming back all summer."

Walther also is teaming up with Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation by storing its 18 kayaks for the group's upcoming Youth Kayaking River Expedition program, set to launch in June, and even donating 10 percent of proceeds from Riverkeeper members' use of his facility.

"Our overarching goal is to give young people an opportunity to spend time on and connect with the water that ordinarily do not have that chance," said Catawba Riverkeeper David Merryman, explaining the foundation plans to bring up to 13 children at a time to events at the new facility on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the summer.

The new Riverkeeper program, for youth aged 13 to 18, is geared toward educating them to understand how everything from drinking water to electricity and jobs depend on the river.

"We will do some exploring on the undeveloped and developed banks of the lake," Merryman said.

Walther envisions his property being used year-round, whether for paddling or concerts, even Boy Scouts wanting to earn merit badges.

"We need to get back to basics," Walther said, adding his company is an economical recreation opportunity at a time when those options are needed. "You still need something to do."

Walther hopes his new business will succeed, not just in making money but in opening up a vast resource to a large number of people who seldom, if ever get to use it.

"Right now, the lake is all marinas, bass boats, cruisers," he said. "There's really not much for people who can't afford big boats."

WANT TO RENT?

NC Flatwater Outfitters is located at 1500 River Drive in Belmont. Hours are by reservation. Facility rental and group events are available. Canoes, kayaks, including tandem, and personal flotation devices are available, as well as storage. Trails and picnic tables also can be used. Rentals cost $5 an hour, or $40 for an entire month. For more information, call 704-914-7484 or visit ncflatwateroutfitters.com.

WANT TO GO?

The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation's Youth Kayaking River Expedition will be held in June at NC Flatwater Outfitters in Belmont. Donations of $20 will be accepted for participants aged 13 to 18, and scholarships are available. For more information about the program, call 704-679-9494 or visit catawbariverkeeper.org.

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