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  • Outdoor recreation and the future of Great Falls

    Good evening: Last year was an extremely eventful year for Great Falls. During 2023 we opened the whitewater area, began work on the rail corridor trail and saw more plans announced that tell us that things are well underway for the new State Park and all the amenities that will be a part of that. This year marks 23 years of the Town of Great Falls working toward Nature Based Tourism and outdoor recreation as a major economic development tool for the Town and surrounding areas. Why so long, I’ve heard people ask? Vision for the future is something that does take time and funding is always a problem for a small, rural town in South Carolina. In 2000, Great Falls Home Town Association, at the request of the Town, held a charette, which is basically a planning and brainstorming session with economic development experts, various state agencies, nonprofit organizations, and the citizens of Great Falls to develop an economic development plan that would propel Great Falls into a sustainable economy. Over a 4 -5 day period, these people and organizations met with more than 200 citizens of Great Falls to develop a plan. It was determined that the former textile mills would not be suitable for modern manufacturing because of their location, within neighborhoods, and the lack of rail and appropriate roadways leading to those mill sites for distribution of products. Because of the exquisite location of Great Falls along the reservoirs of the Catawba River, nature based, and outdoor recreation was determined by those citizens to be the logical way to revitalize the Town. It was determined that the islands would make a great state or national park, the abandoned rail bed would be a perfect trail; the area around Stumpy Pond should be conserved to remain pristine, and the Town should work with Duke Energy on possible educational and tourism opportunities surrounding their hydroelectric electric plants and reservoirs. From this process the Nature Based Tourism Initiative was born. Funding was an issue in the beginning. But work began in earnest to find funding sources from grants, public funding and private funding. In 2003, Duke Energy invited the Town and GFHTA to be a part of the stakeholder process for the relicensing of the hydroelectric plants and dams along the Catawba Wateree. The first license, a 50-year license, was issued to Duke for the system in 1958. Duke chose the stakeholder process, which was a three-year process, to complete a Comprehensive Relicensing Agreement. It was submitted to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in 2006. That agreement had to be reviewed by FERC to get a license before the 1958 license expired in 2008. As part of the licensing process, Duke must provide recreation on the waters that they use for their commerce, and this was a great opportunity for Great Falls to negotiate for things that were a part of the plan from that charette. We met every month for three years and the recreation plan was a part of the license application. It took from 2006 to 2015 for Duke to receive the license, and there were a lot of extenuating circumstances that caused that delay, from an endangered fish to a interbasin water transfer agreement to petition to remove the dams, but once the license was issued, plans began. As per the license, those recreation amenities were to be completed by Duke in four five-year increments and that first 5 years was up at the end of 2022. The whitewater areas opened up to the public on March 18, 2023 with close to 200 people coming to experience the first whitewater open to the public for more than 100 years. Since the license was issued, Duke Energy has invested nearly $81 million in Great Falls. And that is just to date. In the next few years there will be millions more – all focused on Nature Based Tourism and outdoor recreation. The agreement helped us meet many of the goals that were set during the 2000 charette but there were others for which funding had to be sought. That included finding money for the abandoned rail corridor and other trails. Through a partnership that the Town, GFHTA and the Carolina Thread Trail (CTT) formed with the Arras Foundation, Chester County, KVLT and others, money was obtained for environmental studies and purchasing the 3.5-mile abandoned rail corridor. The rail corridor was purchased in July 2021 and GFHTA, CTT and the Town applied for a $125,000 grant from the Recreational Trails Program from S.C. Parks, Recreation and Tourism to develop it into a trail. Great Falls has done some work on the corridor and will do more in the next few months. Requests for bid for the work will go out soon and work will soon begin on the section of trail that is covered in a federal $300,000 EPA grant. In the next few months, we will send out requests for qualifications to build a bridge over Fishing Creek to connect the Nitrolee Access Area to the rail trail. That is being paid for with a nearly $1 million legislative grant that Sen. Mike Fanning was able to get for us. Another grant written by GFHTA that the Town received from CTT is funding a study to design a connection between the existing Rocky Creek Trail and the future rail bed trail. The plan will be completed within the next month. The Town recently approved a proposal for a Wayfinding system that will organize and point people, locals, and visitors, to the places we want them to go to and to see. That too, is being paid for with the legislative grant. Tourism is the largest industry in South Carolina. Tourism is an estimated $29 billion industry in South Carolina, supports one in every 10 jobs and generates $1.8 billion in state and local taxes. -- SCPRT Chester County has a new Parks Recreation and Tourism Director, and that department will be unveiling a series of videos they recorded from around the county in October. Great Falls figures prominently in those videos and they see the great benefit to the county with the various outdoor recreation that is now and will be available here. Those videos will be released at a Tourism Fair scheduled for Feb. 1, 2024 from 2 to 7 p.m. at the Gateway Convention Center. Within the past month I have had conversations with state park leaders, and they are so excited about the prospects of a new state park in Great Falls. They have always said that a state park in Great Falls will be a tremendous asset and economic boost for the Town. They have also expressed interest in purchasing the No. 1 mill property, which is basically at the entrance to the state park, to enhance the park and make it even more attractive for visitors and locals alike. 2023 was a productive year for Great Falls. And I know that as we work towards Nature Based Tourism and outdoor recreation within the Town, additional progress will be made towards Great Falls being a signature destination in the southeast for visitors from all over the world.

  • Short Bypass opens July 8! …But there is a wrinkle

    The Short Bypass will be open to the public on Saturday, July 8 and Sunday, July 9! Yaaaay!!!! But wait … there is a slight wrinkle in the process. After construction delays postponed the opening of the short bypass from May to July, Duke announced the first of July that there was a problem with the continuous flow gate at the diversion dam, also known around Great Falls as, the Spillway. The first recreation flow for the short bypass reach will run as scheduled on July 8 and 9. However, Duke Energy informed us that the rec flows scheduled for July 15 will have to be cancelled and rescheduled. That is for both the Long and Short Bypass channels. There will be a drawdown of Great Falls Reservoir starting on July 9 after the rec flows end at 3 p.m.  A leak has been discovered in the minimum flow release gate that requires Duke to completely disassemble the gate, remove the inflatable bladder, install a new bladder and reassemble the gate. To do this, Duke will need to draw the reservoir down to approximately 10 ft below full pond. This will dry out both the long and short bypass channels (LBR and SBR).  In doing this, there is a potential for a fish kill (defined as the death of more than 25 fish) in both channels. Duke plans to draw the reservoir down slowly to minimize the chance that this will occur. Duke plans to have the problem fixed by July 21, but depending on the extent of the problem, there is a chance that it might take a week or two longer. They do plan to have the problem fixed no later than Aug. 1. An updated recreational flow calendar (as of June 7) has not been released yet, but Duke has assured us that a new calendar will be on their website as soon as possible. I drove over to the Canal Street Access Area today just to see the finished product. There are 34 parking places available in the gravel lot. This parking area is not paved like the Nitrolee Access Area and it does not have a restroom facility. But it is in a beautiful spot and even if you don’t have any intention of running the short bypass, it is a lovely area to visit. The trail that leads to the kayak launch is a steep one. But it winds down the hill towards the Great Falls Reservoir and gives some spectacular views of the water and surrounding area. However, it is steep, and I mean really steep. The kayak launch will give people another access to the Great Falls Reservoir in addition to the Nitrolee Access Area for flat water paddling and it will also give you boat access to Mountain Island where the portage trail for the short bypass is located. It is just over a mile long and is supposed to be a beautiful trail. I have only been on a couple of hundred feet of the lower part of the trail but I am looking forward to traversing the entire length. Those wishing to go into the whitewater will have to travel down a series of steps on Mountain Island to reach it. Just to remind people, the Long Bypass and the Short Bypass are intended for experienced whitewater paddlers. The Long Bypass has Class 2 and 3 rapids and the Short Bypass has class 2, 3, and 4 rapids. Those classes require considerable experience in whitewater. It is not for the novice. Just recently there were some people who had to be rescued because they took tubes down through the “paper clip” and ended up far downstream. Fortunately, they did not receive serious injuries. Those are some serious rapids out there. The whitewater is just one of the many natured based recreation opportunities that will be coming to Great Falls over the next few years. Things are coming together but it will take a little time for it all to be the vision that the folks more than 20 years ago compiled. Come check out the new access area over the next few weeks and please be safe.

  • Celebrating National Trails Day Carolina

    Carolina Thread Trail leads hike on the Rocky Creek Trail in Great Falls Saturday, June 3 was National Trails Day and the Great Falls Home Town Association’s partner, the Carolina Thread Trail, led a great hike on our beautiful Rocky Creek trail that morning. More than 25 people signed up to walk along Rocky Creek with CTT staff member Brittany and of course, I tagged along as well. It was a beautiful day to walk along the creek and while Brittany pointed out some flora and fauna, I caught the group up on some of the history in the area. The folks visiting were from both North and South Carolina, and many were coming to Great Falls for the first time. The Town public works crews did a great job mowing the high grass, picking up trash and sprucing up a bit extra for all the visitors. We all appreciate their help and dedication. Rocky Creek trail was developed by the Town of Great Falls through a Recreational Trails Grant from South Carolina Parks, Recreation and Tourism and opened in 2009. The trail head is basically in the middle of the trail with the shoals and rapids to the west and the waterfall and lower trail to the west. As hikers head east they can see across the creek the ruins of several grist mills from the 18th and 19th century that were an important part of life along Rocky Creek. They are much easier to see in the winter time than in the spring and summer. But one of the exciting sites as we headed west along the shoals was the site of a snake. Now some folks wanted to insist that it was a rattlesnake but it was instead a water snake – no rattles and the wrong shaped head for a poisonous snake. Heading east back to the trailhead and then about a ¼ mile is the waterfall. The falls were created when Southern Power Company (forerunner of Duke Energy) blasted out rock and granite to build the Great Falls Dam between 1905 and 1907. The hike lasted about an hour and a half and the visitors were eager to find out more about the lovely little town of Great Falls.

  • Whitewater area to open March 18

    Well… it’s finally here! The date for the whitewater area in Great Falls to open has been set and we are less than a month away from that long awaited day. The Long Bypass Reach, also known as the Long Channel, will open to the public on March 18, 2023. The Nitrolee Access Area off of U.S. 21 will open at the same time and experienced whitewater kayakers will be able to take that two-mile thrilling ride. For the time being, the Short By-Pass Reach (the Short Channel) will remain closed because there is still some construction that has to be completed for it to open. The opening for that channel will be the first weekend in May. This opening of the channel was first proposed nearly 20 years ago as the stakeholders in the Duke Energy relicensing process talked about the possibility of opening up the area for whitewater recreation. I was a part of that process and was amazed that something like that would even be considered. American Whitewater advocated for that possibility and by the time the Comprehensive Relicensing Agreement was signed in July 2006, the idea was going to become a reality. Very few people (although one or two from Duke did tell me it could be a long process) thought it would be nearly 17 years before the whitewater would be a reality. In the ensuing time, however, the first idea grew to be a major whitewater development and thanks to Duke Energy, this will be a special part of the Nature Based Tourism Initiative that the Great Falls Home Town Association started in 2000. The Nitrolee Access with it’s 100 parking places, an easy turn around and a restroom facility will be the first thing that visitors to the area will see. Down a short trail is the ruins of the nitrogen plant that James B. Duke and Williams States Lee put in to help use the electricity they were producing at the Great Falls Hydro plant after it’s opening in 1907. The process used was a rare form of producing nitrogen for fertilizer. There will be boards with photos that tell the story of the process around the one building that still stands from that industry. The whitewater is something that people need to be cautious about. The rapids in the long channel will be at least Class 2 and Class 3. The other day in talking with one of the experts in the field of whitewater kayaking, he said that the rapids could be a bit higher in the long bypass. Only experienced paddlers should be in either of the channels. These flows and rapids are NOT for the novice. The whitewater that makes up the Long Channel is just the first of the many outdoor recreation amenities we will have in Great Falls and it will probably be the most adventurous. Things are progressing towards having all the other recreational opportunities available. Earlier this month, South Carolina Parks, Recreation and Tourism signed a lease agreement with Duke Energy to lease the islands in the Cedar Creek Reservoir (better known as Stumpy Pond) for use as a South Carolina State Park. It was an exciting day with a nice ceremony and people gathering to commemorate the signing as the official kickoff to the planning and development of the State Park on Dearborn Island. I was especially excited because I had been waiting for that lease to be signed since July 2006. With these developments, Duke will begin with the project slated for the next five years of the license. Construction of the recreation amenities were scheduled in five-year increments. Over the next five years the pedestrian bridge to Dearborn Island will be built, a canoe and kayak launch will go in near the new bridge giving access to Great Falls Reservoir and another canoe and kayak launch will go in at the old Mudcat Inn site which is just south of the Great Falls Dam. There will also be a fishing platform installed in the tailrace of Fishing Creek Dam. There are a lot of exciting things in store for Great Falls over the next few years. And this whitewater is just the first. I can hardly wait!

  • A life well lived

    Speedy Starnes was dedicated to Great Falls The first time I met Dr. H.C. “Speedy” Starnes was in 1992 when he was serving as the Interim Superintendent of Education for Chester County. I was a reporter and editor at the Chester News & Reporter and I covered Education and the Chester County School Board. I met him at the Career Center for some reason, I don’t remember why, and he sat down and we had a delightful conversation. I was more than nine years away from taking the job as the executive director of the Great Falls Home Town Association and little did I know just how well I would get to know Speedy. From that very first interview, my impression was a man of great humility but with a driven purpose. He cared greatly about his students in Great Falls and all the students and teachers across Chester County. It was evident as he talked about that interim job that he was taking on for a short time as the school district looked for another superintendent. Fast forward nine years later. I had moved from the newspaper to the Chester Downtown Development Association, written a book and worked briefly for Chester County. Speedy was one of the first people to greet me. By that time, he had been mayor of Great Falls for about three years and GFHTA had been focused on Nature Based Tourism for about a year. We had no idea how much time we would spend pushing the tourism initiative. Speedy spent so much of his life in dedication to the small textile town he adopted back in 1951 when he came here as a guidance counselor and ended up coaching football. He would regale stories of his early time here in Great Falls, living originally in one of the two mill executive houses on Dearborn Street (the one next to the current War Memorial Building.) He told me while living there, on the second floor, that he heard a noise in the basement. In that basement was a large safe which had an armored door and was always closed. That noise startled him, and he slowly descended the stairs and turned the corner where that safe was located. That heavy armored door was closed. It took him very little time to get back up the stairs. He found another place to live not long after that. In early 2003, he and I began a journey that would bring us closer to having the many areas of outdoor recreation that Great Falls is looking forward to today. Duke Energy began a stakeholder process that brought together people from across the Catawba/Wateree River basin to negotiate an agreement to be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in connection with the license renewal. For three years, once a month or even more often, Speedy and I and a few others from Great Falls met with dozens of other stakeholders to hammer out the agreement. After that process, it still took nine years until the license was issued and another two years before things really got underway with the planning, design and finally the construction of the whitewater area, access areas and the trails. By that time Speedy was no longer mayor but he came by the office at least once a week to find out the status of things. As is the case with most of us, it gets harder to remember things as we get older. He didn’t always remember the details but he was extremely interested in what was going on. The pandemic hit and he had to stay in but at least once a week and usually twice he called for an update and to find out if there was anything he could do. In the past six or eight months the calls got fewer and his questions were usually the same ones he asked from the last time we talked. But he always ended our conversations with “I want to keep up with what’s going on. You call me if there is anything I can do.” I got word early Sunday morning that he had passed away peacefully. His beloved Jeanette was nearby and his family as well. Speedy Starnes dedicated his life to Great Falls. Much of what is happening to revitalize this lovely little former mill town is due to that dedication. He will be truly missed by all who loved him – including me.

  • Commerce in Great Falls 100 years ago

    Sydney J. Harris, the syndicated newspaper columnist from Chicago, used to write a periodic feature called “Things I Learned En Route to Looking Up Other Things.” So here is something I came across while looking up “other things” and I found it to be quite interesting. In a special section of The Chester News, dated Aug. 1, 1923, there was a headline about a spectacular event: Two Big Bargain Days in Great Falls August, 3rd-4th Merchants of Great Falls Cooperate for Greatest Bargain Event in the History of the Town. The special section was called The Great Falls Tribune and was a six-page full size addition to the regular Chester News. I’m not sure if this was done more than one year but it was a big event in 1923. The sub headline goes on to read: “Thousands of Bargains to be Offered to People of the Community – Big Advertisements in this Issue Tell of Wonderful Goods and Prices Offered.” In 1923, there were at least a dozen retail establishments in Great Falls, as well as other businesses and services. In addition to the advertisements there were some news stories, some tidbits about people in the community, a few obituaries and church news. The majority of the publication, however, was advertisements of what would be offered during “Dollar Days” in Great Falls. There was an ad for Republic Cotton Mills Department Store featuring such items as $1.50 Men’s Shirts, extra good madras, stripes for only $1.00- and .75-Men’s Blue Chambray work shirts, good values 2 for $1.00. For the ladies there were, .35 Dress Gingham, full 32 inches, extra fine combed gingham check, stripes and solid, 4 for $1.00. And $1.00 off all Ladies’ shoes from $4.00 and up. They also included Luzianne Coffee, canned North Carolina apples and Baker Coconut anywhere from 5 lbs. to 10 cans, all for $1.00. The advertisements other than Republic Mills Department Store included Republic Pharmacy which had a free giveaway of phonograph records and record albums with every $3 purchase. They were the headquarters for High Boy Ice Cream and Good Drinks! During “Dollar Days” the Republic Theatre, “The Home of Good Pictures” was running a special offer on Friday for any seat in the house, adults 15 cents and children 5 cents. The feature was “Queen of Sheba” – a ten reel Super Spectacular Production of Ancient Judea. “The Greatest Biblical Story Ever Picturized – at the cheapest admission ever offered in the state.” A little research on “Queen of Sheba” shows that it was actually a 9-reel silent drama, produced by Fox Studios, about King Solomon and Queen of Sheba’s ill-fated romance starring Betty Blythe as the Queen and Fritz Leiber, Sr. as King Solomon. The average silent reel was about 11 minutes, so this flick was a little more than an hour and a half long. The complete film probably no longer exists because of a 1937 fire at the Fox film vault in New Jersey but there is a 17-second fragment discovered in 2011. One of the notable things about this film was the risqué costumes, which is evidenced by the few stills that exist. This was before there was a great deal of strict censorship or the film code era which came about in around 1930. The ad said there were continuous performances at Republic Theatre from 2:30 until 11:00 p.m. Other ads include Clark-Plyler Furniture Co., H.J. Francis Department Store and Sam’s Place, Sam Kilgo, Proprietor; and Ehrlich’s 5 and 10c Store. There were several ads for the Dearborn Inn Hotel restaurant, one for Sanitary Café, Pete Bratsos, proprietor; and one for the Great Falls Candy Kitchen which featured a complete line of candies, a fine line of fruits , cigars, etc. These are just a few of the advertisements and bargains that were to be had at the Great Falls Spectacular. The newspaper encourage everyone in the surrounding area to head to the town on that Friday and Saturday. This newspaper was accessed through Louise Pettus Archives and Special Collections at Winthrop University’s Digital Commons. It is a glimpse of what Great Falls was like almost 100 years ago. I could not find any kind of story or follow up as to whether the “Dollar Days” was a success or not, but it seemed to be a well-planned, coordinated event designed to focus on the business of Great Falls in 1923. Just something I found “enroute to looking up other things.”

  • Great Falls in miniature – the art of Bill Steele

    I have always been fascinated with miniatures – whether it’s doll houses, a depot and train set or whole villages complete with moving cars and trains – I could look at them for hours. A good miniaturist pays attention to detail and brings to life a setting that might otherwise be lost. Earlier this year, I got a call from Bill Steele, a Great Falls native now living in Pineville, NC and was excited to find out that he had created portions of Great Falls in miniature. It took us a while to get together but finally last Saturday, I got to see some of the examples of what he has created. When I entered the Masonic Lodge where the annual Mill Hill reunion was taking place, I saw on one of the tables a series of tiny buildings all laid out side by side. I was awe struck. There was No. 2 Mill sitting beside a Shell service station and in front of the old depot. And then I met the man who created them. Steele, 81, was always interested in miniatures and models. He said as a child he made model cars and model airplanes and then in the 1980s he got interested in NASCAR and made some models of a few of those. He also over the years did some scenes and dioramas of the old television westerns including one from the series Bonanza. “About 7 or 8 years ago,” Steele said, “I decided I was going to write a little book, “My Life in Great Falls” and I started doing research on some things for accuracy. I found the old Great Falls Reporters were on microfilm at the Chester County Library and I would go down there one to two times a week looking for things about the history of Great Falls for my book.” While looking through the reels of microfilm and coming down to Great Falls every couple of months, Steele saw what the buildings looked like in the 1950s when he was growing up and the run-down look they had when he visited. He decided at that point that he really would like to capture that time period of his childhood in miniature. And so, the adventure began. The very first building he did was the old Belk building or Company Store that the Town is in the process of turning into the Visitor’s Center for all the outdoor recreation and nature-based tourism that is coming to Great Falls. This will be the site of a museum or exhibit space as well as the state park office, an area for visitors to gather and other uses yet to be determined. Next, he did the bank and drug store which is now Town Hall and his third project was the long strip of commercial buildings with the decorative ceramic frieze across the top. Steele’s choice to portray Great Falls in miniature with am emphasis on the 1950s was twofold. “The 1950s was when I grew up in Great Falls. I graduated from high school in 1959,” Steele said, "And I also felt that the 1950s into the 1960s was really the heyday of Great Falls.” Steele was very familiar with much of the architecture of the area. He was born in one of the 4-room mill houses on Canal Street and then he and his family moved to Circle Street. His father was the overseer of the No. 2 weave room and later when he went into management, they moved to a 7-room house on Pinecrest. Steele ‘s father died when he was just 13 years old. His mother didn’t want to stay in that larger house, so they moved again. After the first three or four models, Steele kept going and he has done nearly all of the downtown area from the old jail, “Smokey Lonesome” as some people called it, all the way up to No. 2 Mill. Some of the models are of buildings that no longer exist. He has done a few of the buildings in Flopeye, most of those are the ones that have been torn down. He says there are four buildings between downtown and Flopeye that he hasn’t done yet and he is thinking about getting those done soon. He has built most of the school buildings in Great Falls, three of those either burned or were torn down, and they were located between downtown and Flopeye. These buildings are all on the HO scale that is 1:87 scale (3.5 mm to 1 foot) which is a scale used in model train buildings. He has done a few models of the mill houses and some of the other buildings around No. 2 Mill. A few of the buildings he was able to complete the interiors with furniture, people and specific details. The roofs come off so you can peer down into this tiny world. The old high school building has the auditorium with the stage marked as a basketball court. Students played the game there before the gym was built. The old jail has the iron cots that would fold up against the wall complete with an unlucky prisoner laying on the cot. Steele has an eye for details. He was engineer for Duke Energy for 28 ½ years. Even though he has lived in North Carolina for about 42 years, he still thinks of Great Falls as his hometown. “Those were good times and hard times,” Steel said of growing up in Great Falls. “It was a really good place to grow up.” Steele and the Great Falls Home Town Association are talking about him donating the model village to be used in the exhibit area of the new Visitor’s Center. I think it will be the perfect way for people to see what Great Falls was like in it’s prime – something that we are trying to bring back for everyone to see right before their eyes.

  • 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

  • The Whitewater Area - The Long Bypass

    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!

  • Great Falls Rail Bed Trail

    A part of the Carolina Thread Trail I have written a lot of narratives about trails, historic sites in the area and descriptions of what will be happening here in Great Falls over the next couple of years. I came across a narrative that describes the rail bed trail that will become a part of the Carolina Thread Trail. I remember when I first came to Great Falls about 20 years ago, one of the first things I did was talk with the railroad company that owned the abandoned rail bed about either purchasing or donating the land to the Town for a trail. The Town did not actually purchase the property until July 2021, almost 20 years after I started working on it. Railroad companies are notoriously slow – obviously. Below is the story of how Great Falls, GFHTA and the Carolina Thread Trail has worked together to get this project off the ground. The Town of Great Falls partnered with the Carolina Thread Trail (CTT) and Chester County to create a trail on an abandoned CSX rail bed that runs along the Catawba River and reservoirs. The trail will be the terminus/trailhead of the north/south spine of the multi-county, two-state trail system and the CTT has placed their highest priority on this corridor that will ultimately connect Great Falls to Statesville, N.C. The purchase of the rail bed and due diligence paid for by the Town, Chester County, CTT, and the Arras Foundation. Other partners include Catawba Regional Council of Governments and Katawba Valley Land Trust. The first phase of the construction project will be to make this 3.5-mile stretch of the rail bed walk-able and use-able for the public. Other funding will be sought to enhance the trail including branches off the main trail featuring beautiful vistas, interesting rock formations and spurs that will lead to a bridge that provides access to a proposed state park, a kayak launch, and other areas of interest. The trail will provide nature-based tourism opportunities to help revitalize the Great Falls economy. The length of the abandoned rail bed is 3.5 miles in length with a 100' ROW width (usable trail width on existing rail bed will be 10'-12'). The property is 42.08 acres according to a recently completed survey. On either side of the rail bed the site is primarily forested coverage (80% hardwood, 20% pine). Remaining coverage consists of a short portion within a residential neighborhood -- approximately 1500 feet. The trail follows the Catawba River and the reservoirs that are a part of the Catawba- Wateree hydro-electric systems owned by Duke Energy. The north/south oriented trail has water on the majority of the western side. There are also several small creeks that empty into the Catawba basin. The property is an abandoned rail line, and the trail will be on the existing rail bed. The initial goal of this phase of construction is to repair washed out areas and fill in low, wet areas to make the rail bed walkable. The rail bed base is in good shape for the most part and once the washed out or low areas are repaired the existing trail surface will be quite good. The rail bed corridor consists of a packed surface consistent with a rail bed constructed in the early 1900s. All approved Best Management Construction practices will be implemented in this project. This includes measures aimed at erosion control and sediment runoff to protect the integrity of nearby water sources. This is not intended for motorized use. Motor vehicles will be prohibited except for emergency vehicles that may be necessary for incidents. This is considered to be a new construction project aimed at the conversion of a former rail corridor into a shared-use trail. The rails and ties were removed from the property years ago. The aim of the funding is focused on improvements to repair existing drainage and erosion problems that resulted from years of neglect since the CSX railroad has not been in operation since the late 80's. Additionally, surface improvements will be conducted throughout the corridor, such as removing vegetation, grading, and other efforts to ensure a cleared and consistent trail tread. The goal is to get the corridor to have basic functionality to allow users access to the trail. The desire is to improve the trail in subsequent phases to enhance the user experience such as additional surface materials and compaction, signage, fencing and other components. Currently, however, there is a need to focus on drainage improvements to provide structural integrity of the facility. The trail will utilize the existing rail bed which already has the benefit of sound design and engineering. The RR facility was built with drainage infrastructure to best manage water runoff as well as solid base and sub-base layers to ensure durability. The corridor is located such that flood impacts are minimal. Design will reflect best practices set by AASHTO, DOT, and ADA design manuals, which typically guide construction of shared-use bicycle and pedestrian facilities. The trail will consist of a 10' wide compacted tread. Surface treatment will consist of existing soils and fine stone, which provide a consistent surface for walkers and cyclists, as well as providing solid compaction that accommodates wheelchairs and does not allow wheels to countersink. As noted, drainage infrastructure and trail surface have been compromised after years of inactivity along the corridor. These problem areas are identified and will be the focus of new construction. The Town of Great Falls will own and manage the trail. The Town will assume responsibility for the integrity and safety of the trail. This includes structural as well as public safety. Additionally, management will be complemented by safety, maintenance, and educational programs led by partners such as the Town's police force, Chester County public works, and Duke Energy. Additionally, the Carolina Thread Trail, which has a robust volunteer component that consists of certified "Trail Masters" who can assist with maintenance activities. Moreover, the CTT volunteers will develop and lead programming events. Public participation in these events increase awareness of the trail. Hours of operation will be dawn to dusk. The trail will be open free-of-charge to the public - 365 days per year.

  • Whitewater Access Area

    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. Nitrolee Building 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.

  • The Battle of Alexander’s Old Field

    It’s almost July and we are looking forward to celebrating Independence Day, the Fourth of July, the day of our nation’s birth with barbecue, hot dogs and fireworks. From the signing of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776 until the British surrendered at Yorktown, Va. In October 1781, the early national military forces and many local militia units fought for freedom from Great Britain and for the formation of the United States of America. When you studied US History in high school, you probably didn’t study about the sheer number of battles fought in South Carolina. Yes, we’ve heard of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts and Yorktown in Virginia, but more than 250 battles were fought across South Carolina. Battle of Beckhamville Reenactment 2006 There were three battles within two miles of downtown Great Falls. Although Great Falls wasn’t inexistence, the Great Falls of the Catawba was and these battles each had an important significance. The Battle of Alexander’s Old Field, later known as the Battle of Beckhamville, was fought just outside what is now the town limit of Great Falls. Charleston fell to the British on May 12, 1780 and Patriot General Lincoln surrendered the city and headed northwest toward North Carolina. Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander left the British army in the hands of General Charles Lord Cornwallis whose goal was to subdue the rebellion and establish British garrisons throughout South Carolina. He was determined to have all those who opposed the British to sign loyalty oaths to King George. Battle of Beckhamville Reenactment 2006 The area around Rocky Creek and Fishing Creek in what is now Chester County had largely tried to stay out of the war. Even though the majority of settlers in the area were from Scots-Irish stock, and many were Presbyterians who had no love lost for the British, they had largely stayed out of the conflict until it was brought to their door. The Battle of Waxhaws, also known as Buford’s Massacre had taken place on May 29, 1780 and the testimony from those who survived that Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton attacked and then would not accept surrender from the Patriots helped to spur resistance to the British across the area. Historians now debate whether what became known as “Tarleton’s Quarter” (butchering those who sought to surrender) actually happened it was quite effective as propaganda. When the Loyalists began the efforts to force those suspected of being disloyal to the Crown to sign the oaths of allegiance, a Colonel Houseman (although, according to late historian Michael Scoggins in his book “The Day it Rained Militia” he was Capt. Houseman) went to Justice John Gaston, who had much influence among the people in the area with some 50 Tory militia to “convince” him of the futility of resisting the Crown and that he should convince the disloyal to sign the oath. Gaston, immediately after Houseman left, called on his older sons to gather the men of the area to pay a visit to the Loyalist Camp at Alexander’s Old Field and show them just how they felt about his demand that he convince people to swear an oath to the King. Most of the men who gathered on the evening of June 5, 1780 were either the sons or nephews of Justice Gaston along with others in the Rocky Creek, Fishing Creek and upper Sandy River communities. Battle of Beckhamville Reenactment 2006 There were 32 men in all who gathered early on the morning of June 6 each armed with a knife and a rifle and headed ready to head to Alexander’s Old Field. The camp at the Old Field, which is located very near Rocky Creek and not far from a blacksmith shop that was owned by a free African American who helped the Patriots over the course of the remainder of the war, was occupied by approximately 200 Loyalists. Over the past few days, the Tories had posted notices around the area telling people to be at the Old Field to sign the oath and receive British protection. The men summoned by the Gastons included McClures, Knoxes, Walkers, Morrows, Johnsons and two McKeown brothers who had already scouted the camp. That small band of men thoroughly routed the Tory militia. Although the exact number of killed and wounded are not know, there were some reports that said there were several killed on both sides. Scott Coleman and Wade Noland repair the Battle of Alexander's Old Field historical marker located at the intersection of S.C. 99 and S.C. 97 just outside the town limits of Great Falls. The Battle of Alexander’s Old Field has the distinction of being the first Patriot victory after the fall of Charleston. It was just the first of many battles in the upstate of South Carolina that led to victory over the British. It’s nice to know that the roots of freedom were firmly planted in our little corner of Chester County known as Great Falls. Scott Coleman touches up the paint on the Battle of Alexander's Old Field historical marker. GFHTA helps to take care of the markers and on occasion put up flags to mark the site. (I used the late Michael Scoggins book “The Day It Rained Militia” as a reference. You know he had ties to Great Falls and did much research about the American Revolution in this area.)

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