by Michele Williams
The Catawba River extends 220 miles from Western North Carolina into South Carolina to become the Wateree River. The Catawba-Wateree River Basin consists of eleven man-made lakes created to supply drinking water, electricity, and recreation to the Piedmont towns. It has always been a source of outdoor activity from fishing and swimming to kayaking and canoeing.
The eleven-lake system is operated by Duke Energy and regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). During the relicensing of the Catawba-Wateree Hydroelectric Project, Duke Energy collaborated with many stakeholders, including South Carolina Parks, Recreation and Tourism (PRT). As a result, an exciting project is taking shape. There are three important components to the plan.
Great Falls Diversion Dams
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Duke Energy called upon S20 Design, the company that designed Charlotte’s popular Whitewater Center, to oversee the creation of this natural recreation area in Great Falls, SC. S20 is led by Scott Shipley, a three-time Olympic kayaker. Located on the Chester-Lancaster County line, two bypass channels designed by HDR Engineering and now under construction by Brasfield & Gorrie will provide year-round access to the river.
The bypass channels are not for every skill level. S20 is paying special attention to every aspect of the project to ensure the safety of all boaters while transitioning from the flat-water reservoir to the rapids of the river reach. There are opportunities for still and smooth water kayaking at several points along this recreation area.
The Great Falls Reservoir consists of two 120-year-old dams that create two original river channels. Duke Energy is working to return water to the original channels in a controlled manner to create the whitewater features. The constant flow of water will provide support for habitat and wildlife throughout the year.
The so-called “Long ByPass” will contain Class II and III rapids for those who wish to kayak or canoe the 2.25-miles of the diversion channel. Using the International Rating system, Class II is described as “medium quick water; rapids with regular waves; clear and open passages between rocks and ledges. Maneuvering required.” Class III is defined by high and irregular waves, best left to those with expert skills.
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The “Short Bypass” is .75 miles. The waters are significantly faster with a larger drop, creating Class IV rapids for advanced kayakers. The rapids here will be long and powerful. Venturing into this portion of the channel will require careful preparation and precise maneuvering skills. The controlled bypass will have recreational flows on weekends from spring to fall.
Parking, bathrooms, and access points will be available at the Nitrolee Area. There will be an interpretive center at the ruins of the Nitrolee plant circa 1900. This site is connected to the Carolina Thread Trail which runs parallel to the river.
Dearborn Island State Park
Duke Energy is working with the SC Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism to develop a state park on Dearborn Island. Duke Energy will build a bridge to connect the recreation area to the Dearborn Island State Park, which will be developed by Parks and Recreation. The Park will include viewing areas, primitive camping, a Yurt Village, and hiking trails. The ruins of the Dearborn Armory and Arsenal built in the 1800s will be the setting for a historic interpretation.
Revitalization of Great Falls, SC
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Plans for a Visitors/Welcome Center in the old Belk Company Store will create a starting point for a trip to this outdoor recreation area. Trails will lead visitors from the center to access points on the Catawba River and Dearborn Island. As the project unfolds entrepreneurs will be eager to set up outfitters, restaurants, and shops. Real Estate Developers are also looking into building communities in the area. There are plans to renovate the 7700 sq. ft. Springs Textile Mill for a mixed-use commercial and residential project.
Great Falls, SC is between Charlotte, NC, and Columbia, SC. The easy drive to either city, the draw of outdoor recreation, and the determination of the city to increase tourism will invigorate this scenic area.
You will find updates about this project at ChooseChester.com.
(Go Magazine Online Exclusive November 2021)