New ways to have fun on the Catawba River

Duke Energy adds more recreation sites in North Carolina and South Carolina to fish, paddleboard, kayak, camp, swim and more

Whether you are an outdoor enthusiast hoping to raft, paddle board or hike, or just want to find a place near the water to spend the day, Duke Energy manages hundreds of access areas on lakes and rivers in the Carolinas where its hydroelectric power plants are located.

Duke Energy agreed to give power generation the same consideration as water quality, water supply, recreation, and fish and wildlife habitats when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission renewed the company's operating license in 2015. The new license provides balanced and sustainable benefits for the Catawba-Wateree River and for communities along the river, while enabling Duke Energy to generate carbon-free hydroelectricity for decades to come.

The revamped Wittenburg Access Area on Lake Hickory now features a swim beach, outdoor showers, a changing area, restrooms, picnic shelters, a concession stand and more.

From more canoe and kayak launches to camping areas, hiking trails and swim beaches, the public’s input helped shape the new amenities and recreation sites extending from Lake James in North Carolina to Lake Wateree in South Carolina, said Christy Churchill, recreation project manager at Duke Energy.

“We welcomed input from so many stakeholders,” Churchill said. “The sites that the public can enjoy today are a direct result of the feedback we got during that relicensing process.”

To ensure the recreation needs of the communities that use the reservoirs are being met, the public will have in-person and online opportunities to let their voices be heard when the next Catawba-Wateree recreation use and needs study occurs in 2025.

“We encourage people to let us know what more we can do and what sites they enjoy most,” Churchill said

Help keep the river clean

Do your part to keep the river clean by not littering. Learn more by visiting Leave No Trace.

Considering volunteering at the annual Catawba Riversweep to help improve the health and cleanliness of the river that flows through 26 counties in North Carolina and South Carolina, generating electricity for Duke Energy customers and providing drinking water for 2 million residents.

Now open to the public: New amenities at Lake Wylie’s Allison Creek Park, the result of a long partnership between Duke Energy and York County, S.C.. The 160-acre site has hiking/walking trails, a new kayak launch, a playground, fishing pier, boat ramps, two new bathhouses with showers and picnic shelters. There are also 34 RV campsites and 16 primitive (tent) campsites where you can pitch a tent and sleep under the stars.

“Some primitive sites have really nice water views. The RV sites do not have those spectacular lake views, but it’s because we tried to save as many trees as we possibly could,” Churchill said. “RV campsites require a flat area for full hookups – water, sewer, power. So, we put them a little farther away from the water. But it’s a pretty quick walk to the lake.”

The South Point Access recreation area near Belmont, N.C., has been expanded to include a swimming beach, two fishing piers, trails, picnic shelters, picnic tables, more parking and restrooms. Six boat ramps were already at the Gaston County leased- and managed-site, and there are 105 parking spaces for the swimming beach and picnic area. Duke Energy is also building a canoe and kayak launch at the 68-acre park.

Allison Creek Park is a popular access point for York County, S.C., boaters. The boat ramps are open year-round.

“We have really good relationships with our city and county partners and quite a few of our sites are managed by public entities,” Churchill said. “These partnerships allow for a better user experience because there are more stakeholders invested in the site.”

The 21-acre Rock Hill Park, also on Lake Wylie, opened summer 2023 and has a swimming beach and canoe/kayak launch. Operated by the City of Rock Hill, S.C., the park also features trails, picnic tables and fishing stations. It’s a smaller site that’s great for swimming and paddling because it’s tucked in a cove and protected from motorized boating.

In North Carolina, Duke Energy expanded the Conley Creek Access Area on Lake Rhodhiss in Burke County, managed by the Town of Sawmills. Two miles of trails were added, and some parts have views of the lake. The trails weave in and out of an 18-hole disc golf course and lead to Sawmills Veterans Park, which has a playground, ball fields, restrooms, a fishing pier and boat ramp.

Stay informed

Check conditions on Duke Energy’s Lake View app before heading out. Whether you’re swimming, boating or fishing, Lake View can help keep you informed on lake levels, flow releases, alerts for Catawba-Wateree, Keowee-Toxaway, Pigeon River, Yadkin-Pee Dee and the Nantahala areas. Download the Lake View app from the App Store or Google Play.

Another source of information: Duke Energy’s Lake and Recreation website. This site includes an interactive map with information on each access area.

Duke Energy also recently completed Black Bear Access Area on Lake James. The McDowell County, N.C.-leased site includes a large campground with 31 primitive camp sites, five primitive cabins and trails connected to the popular Fonta Flora State Trail. It has bathhouses, a fishing pier, picnic facilities and a large boat landing, including six ramps and three courtesy docks, which, Churchill said, “are the biggest on Lake James.”

A grand opening of the new Wittenburg Access Area Swim Beach on Lake Hickory was held in May 2024. The revamped site, leased by Alexander County, N.C., now features a swim beach, outdoor showers, a changing area, restrooms, picnic shelters and a concession stand. The beach will be open six days a week between Memorial Day and Labor Day each year from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and closed on Wednesdays for maintenance.

Additional recreation improvements are planned from Lake James in North Carolina to Lake Wateree in South Carolina. At Lake James, a new deep water boating access site called the Fonta Flora Access Area is planned adjacent to the existing Linville Access Area. 

Kayakers, flatwater paddlers and whitewater enthusiasts alike can enjoy the second year of scheduled recreation flow releases at Great Falls Reservoir, located in Chester and Lancaster counties in South Carolina.

Upon completion of the new site, the Linville Access Area will convert to a non-motorized boating site complete with new picnic and restroom facilities. At Lookout Shoals Lake, there is a proposed additional access point at the upper end of the lake for motorized boating and picnicking.

The Beatty’s Ford Access Area on Lake Norman, north of Charlotte, N.C., is currently under construction for new amenities including a swimming beach. Riverbend Access Area on Mountain Island Lake and Fishing Creek Access Area on Fishing Creek Lake will both see the addition of restrooms, fishing piers, and swimming amenities in the next few years. At Lake Wateree, a new bank fishing site adjacent to the existing Taylors Creek Access Area will be added prior to 2027, and there are still more to come.

“There really is something for everyone of all ages and we hope families make a lot of memories at these sites,” Churchill said. “The exciting thing is, we are far from done.”

Check out the new and future recreation enhancements on the Catawba-Wateree lakes here.

Play it safe

Before you go for a swim or boat ride in any lake, refresh your memory with some important safety reminders from Officer Sampson Parker with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission:

  • Wearing a life jacket can save your life and help bring everyone home after a fun day in the water. North Carolina requires anyone younger than 13 to wear a personal flotation device (PFD), specifically a life jacket, when on a recreational vessel. In South Carolina, the age is 12.
  • Don’t overload your vessel. “We see this every year … pontoon boats that have rolled over or capsized because they’re overloaded,” Parker said. “We’ll see 15 to 20 people on a pontoon that’s designed for 10 or 12." Review the manufacturer's capacity. You could be stopped and fined for reckless or negligent operation for exceeding the limit, particularly if you cause injury or personal property damage.
  • Boating under the influence (BUI) is illegal. “An alcohol concentration of .08 or higher is against the law in North Carolina,” he said. “At the very least, you need a sober driver.”
  • Swimming should never be a solo activity and only in designated areas with someone on shore watching with throw rings ready. Swimming is prohibited within 50 feet of boat ramps and docks.
  • Weather and water conditions change quickly. “Know your surroundings,” Parker said. “Check the weather forecast before heading out on your boat. Summer storms, with lightning, can crop up pretty suddenly. Big winds can create big waves and rough conditions.” Additionally, access areas may close before large inflows of water. Check the Lake View app before you head to the lake.

Learn about water safety on Duke Energy’s website.