Exciting things are happening everyday in Great Falls. The Nitrolee Access Area that will allow people access to the whitewater areas is almost finished. Even though it won’t open to the public until all the whitewater construction in completed and the bypass reaches are ready for the public to enjoy the recreation flows, the parking area and the kayak launch is looking really good. I was fortunate to get to tour the site last week.
The Access Area is not just a parking lot, although there is a good bit of parking available. There are approximately 100 parking places, including places for buses, as well as a turn around area for trailers that might be hauling kayaks or canoes.
Designed to be kayaker friendly, there is a ramp that leads down to the stairway. The railings on that stair are designed to support the kayak as you walk it down to the water. At the bottom of the stair is a walkway that leads to the tiered launch. The walkway passes through a beautiful wetlands area.
Kayakers will paddle down Fishing Creek, around the point where the creek flows into Great Falls Reservoir and over to the Safe Boater Access Point that will lead to the whitewater.
At the access point is a restroom area and there will be a kiosk that will give information about the access point, safety rules and information about recreation flows.
But the access area isn’t just an access area. There is a historic structure that can be seen down a short trail and from that point there will be access to the Great Falls portion of the Carolina Thread Trail.
Dr. W. Gill Wylie brought James B. Duke down to the Great Falls of the Catawba in the first couple of years of the 20th century to consider investing in hydro power. The first dam and hydro plant built by Southern Power Company, the forerunner of Duke Energy, was in Great Falls. Because there was a need to use the power they were producing, Duke and his chief engineer William States Lee, sought various
types of industry to bring to the area.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries there was the prediction that fertilizer would be in short supply. New sources of fertilizer were being sought and Lee found an emerging industry in Europe where engineers and scientists were find ways to manufacture nitrogen. One of those industries was using electricity to convert nitrogen in the air into nitric oxide which could be used to produce fertilizer.
Lee and Duke brought Germans to Great Falls to build and run the Nitrolee (named for nitrogen and William Lee) plant which was a part of the Southern Electro-Chemical Company. There was a similar plant in Germany but the only one in the United States was right here in Great Falls.
There were originally a dozen buildings or more on the site which used power from the Great Falls dam and hydro in Great Falls to produce the nitric oxide. No construction drawings have been found concerning what each of the buildings were designed to do in the process but the one building that is
left does show some of the structures that were used in the production.
This is the only vestiges of the industry left. Legend has it that the only other known facility, which was in Germany, blew off the face of the earth in the 1920s. It was a very volatile process.
The entire site is owned by Katawba Valley Land Trust who has partnered with Duke Energy to preserve the remaining building. There will be story boards around the site that tell about the lost industry as well as a marker that outlines some of the Revolutionary War history in the area. Duke is leasing the parking area/access area from KVLT.
Just beyond the Nitrolee Building will be a short trail to a future bridge (near the trestle area of the rail bed) that will connect the rail bed trail now under construction, part of the Carolina Thread Trail, with the Nitrolee Access Area.
This is just another facet of Nature Based Tourism and Heritage Based Tourism that Great Falls Home Town Association, Town of Great Falls and Chester County is promoting. We value our partners, Katawba Valley Land Trust, Duke Energy, the Carolina Thread Trail and S.C. Parks Recreation and Tourism.