Improved access, mapping set to spur water recreation in WNC

After more than a decade of hydropower relicensing negotiations and years more of permitting and construction, Duke Energy is finishing a slate of river accesses that will make the Tuckasegee one of the most accessible rivers in the Southeast. At the same time, a collective effort to create an interactive map showing where and how to recreate on Western North Carolina waterways — using a tool called Smoky Mountain Blueways — is wrapping up, further boosting WNC’s future as a Mecca for outdoors lovers of all skill levels.

Before Duke’s relicensing agreement spurred the development of more access points along the waterways from which it generates its power, there were only four places along the entire reach of the Tuckasegee which were built specifically to put in a canoe, kayak or raft. That number will soon reach 17, including reservoirs on the Tuckasegee.

There are just a few projects to finish up as spring approaches. Probably the most notable is the Pine Creek Access at Lake Glenville. There’s going to be a swimming area there — Duke drew down the reservoir so that crews could reconstruct the reservoir bottom to a more gradual slope — as well as a pump and haul toilet, picnic area, dock and handicapped-accessible walkway.

There’s also going to be a hiking trail, 0.8 miles of steep downhill into the canyon that houses 120-foot High Falls. By all accounts, it’s incredible, especially during wildflower season. “You need to go to the High Falls Trail in March and April,” a spokesman said. “It’s drop dead spectacular,” calling the trail construction of harvested rocks “incredible.”

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