• Glinda Coleman

The Whitewater Area – the Short Bypass

Last week it was the Long Bypass reach that was revealed in more detail. This week, we will reveal the short bypass.


The whitewater areas at Great Falls are going to be a unique form of recreation and yet, in essence, it is opening back up what was there to begin with. The Great Falls of the Catawba was changed, almost suspended, when the dams were built more than 100 years ago. An engineer said, at a recent meeting, that with continuous flows (that is flows at various levels 24/7) would take it back to a more natural state. This will give experienced whitewater paddlers an opportunity to see what people in the area experienced more than a century ago.


Author BF Lossing's drawing from 1839

The short channel is located on the west side of Mountain Island at the site that folks around Great Falls call the Spillway. The Great Falls of the Catawba historically was a series of cataracts that stretched some 4 miles dropping about 121 feet. The Spillway, (also known as the headworks of Great Falls Dam) is at the site where the largest drop in this series of cataracts was located. This, according to a map by the US Corps of Engineers from 1879 showed a 50-foot drop in this area and the engineers of Southern Power Company saw the potential of that area to put in a diversion dam that would help them generate hydro-electric power.


Area where kayaks will enter whitewater

The short channel will have Class 3 and 4 rapids, and it will definitely be for the experts. Originally, the short bypass would be reached from the same access area as the long bypass, the Nitrolee Access Area. But from that point to where kayakers would be able to get their boats in the water is a little more than a mile which is a long way to paddle for those heading into the more extreme rapids.


Kayak access to whitewater

Although not a part of the original plan for the whitewater, Duke Energy is now going to build an access area just off Canal Street that will be specifically to reach the short channel. This will include a parking area with approximately 30 parking spaces, a portage trail down to a kayak launch. This area will not be completed by the time the recreation flows begin in March/April 2023 but will be soon after. The area where they are building the parking area and portage trail is where they are staging all the construction equipment currently and construction will have to be completed before they can start on the access area.


But once that area is complete, paddlers who are going to experience the whitewater will be able to access the short channel from this location.


Looking across to Mountain Island where portage trail will be

The short channel is just under ¾ of a mile but with really intense whitewater. Whitewater enthusiasts like to spend time “playing” in the waves or focusing on some of the specific rapids and very often will do the run and then go back up to the top. There will be a portage trail on the west side of Mountain Island that will allow access from the end of the short channel back up to the top of the run. This trail will be about a mile long and up near the point where kayaks can enter the whitewater will be a loop trail that will increase the length a little. This trail could conceivably be used by people who have no intention of going down the short channel but just those who might want a short paddle and then a nice walk on a trail.


Looking down Short Channel towards Stumpy Pond

There will be continual flows in the short channel at about 100 cubic feet per second (cfs) which, because of the rockiness of the channel will not make it navigable except during recreational flows.


Short channel prior to construction

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.

Short channel

The accompanying photos, I hope, will help to explain how all of this will work. The excitement is building for the recreation opportunities that will be available in the near future. We are looking forward to welcoming everyone to this beautiful corner of Chester County.


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