The construction at the whitewater area in Great Falls that will allow people a safe access to the glorious whitewater that is part of the Great Falls of the Catawba is about five months from completion. It really is exciting to see what Duke Energy is doing at the site and it will create a unique recreation opportunity for this area.
A couple of weeks ago, I was privileged to take a tour of the site that really helped me to understand how all of it is going to work. A previous blog looked at the Nitrolee Access Area. The area that will be the entry point for kayaks to enter the reservoir leading to the whitewater.
Kayakers will paddle down Fishing Creek to the Great Falls Reservoir over to the safe boater access point. Please see the photos that are a part of this blog. The photographs are extremely helpful in understanding the structure, which was designed by S2O’s Scott Shipley who designed the Whitewater Center in Charlotte.
A natural “finger” of rock will help guide boaters into the access point where they will enter a still pool (about 4 feet deep) to prepare to travel through the boater bypass channel and into the whitewater. Along this 1000 foot “ramp” are bypass structures that allow the boaters to traverse down the “ramp” from the top of the dam to the bottom, which is some 10 to 12 feet. There are also deflectors that help to slow the water down for a safer passage. Along this passage are areas that if the paddler turns over, or has second thoughts about entering the whitewater or any other reason, they can get out and walk back to the top. There are steps at these areas with a walkway on along the top of the structure. Duke Is taking great care to assure safety in reaching the whitewater area.
At the bottom of the “ramp” there is a small waterfall area that will take boaters into the whitewater. Just below that is a portage trail (which is actually a cement structure) that will allow people back to the top where the entry pool is, and it gives boaters a way back to the Great Falls Reservoir where they can paddle back to the access area.
This can be really confusing but if you study the pictures and the drawings, this might make sense.
Recreation flows which, for both the long and short channel, will be just under 3000 cubic feet per second (cfs). These flows will be released between March 1 and October 31 each year, two Saturdays per month and a total of four Sundays, in the long channel. The Short Channel will have recreation flows one Saturday per month and two weekends per month. The flows will start at 10 a.m. and end at 3 p.m. The total number of days for the recreation flows is about 24 total days. There are also 10 hours of additional flows that can be requested by the Town of Great Falls and approved at the annual flow schedule planning meeting.
Both structures have minimal flow release points which basically mean there will be water running in these channels all the time. As the head engineer of the project said, this is basically putting it back in a more natural state as far as river flow is concerned. There has been relatively little flow in these channels since the dam was competed about 115 years ago. But because there is the notch at the long channel that allows continuous flows, the river will once again flow a little freer than it has in the past century. There will also be a notch at the short channel. As anyone knows who observes the Catawba River around Great Falls, the amount of water in the channel is influenced by the amount of rainfall, the amount of rainfall north of Great Falls (from Lake James, NC on down) when Duke has to move water through the system, and other factors. Conceivably, there could be anywhere from 460 cfs (the minimum continuous flow in the long channel) to 1500 cfs or more during higher rainfall weather events.
The long channel is expected to have Class 2 and 3 rapids when the recreation flows are released. At those levels it isn’t for the novice but when the flow is considerably under that amount it could be open to those will slightly less experience than the recreation flows. That being said, this channel is going to have some pretty rough whitewater and experience is necessary for navigating it safely.
In my next blog, I will go into more detail on the short channel and how it will work and how people will be able to access that point.
These are really exciting times for Great Falls and things will really be underway by the spring of 2023!