It was a second Saturday, which meant that I had lots of options for kayaking. Traditionally my Lowcountry Unfiltered friends would be doing a trip, but that fell through this time. The Bamberg group was doing their paddle on the Edisto, and the Edisto Blackwater Boogie was in full swing. However, when I saw that the Catawba Riverkeepers were doing a trip at Stumpy Pond I decided that would be my paddling venue for the day.
I done a trip once before from the Stump Pond Landing. Alan Russell and I had launched on a very hot September day to try to find the ruins on Dearborn Island (AKA Big Island.). We found some old foundations, but they weren’t the ruins of the old armory that we had hoped to find. I had hoped this trip would include a stop to see those, but, alas, that wasn’t the focus of this trip. Today we would be explore the Long Bypass before it’s flooded for whitewater recreation.
A Bit of Background…
The town of Great Falls is located on the Catawba River and takes its name from a 50 foot waterfall that used to cross a branch of the river. The area is rich in history. It was the site of several Revolutionary War encounters and the location of an old armory. In the early 1800s the lost town of Rocky Mount was a major transportation hub. Locks and canals were built to provide transportation further up the river. Dams were built to provide water for the growing textile industry. The eponymous falls were essentially destroyed and the long stretches of shoals and rapids were bypassed. Four impoundment dams and two diversion dams hold back the water for a five mile stretch of the river.
With the decline of the textile industry came the economic decline of Great Falls. The town has an interesting downtown with interesting architecture and cool buildings, but now almost all of these are shuttered and decaying.
In 2015 Duke Power’s permit was renewed for the Catawba dams. As part of this renewal Duke agreed to make modifications to the dams to restore flow over the two bypassed areas. Along with the modifications Duke would build launch points and whitewater access for these stretches. The “Long Bypass” is a 2.5 mile stretch that would have class 2-3 whitewater. The “Short Stretch” is a little over a mile long and much steeper. It would have class 3-4 whitewater. Starting next year water will be released two weekends a month for whitewater paddling.
Those aren’t the only changes coming to the area. By 2025 Mount Dearborn will become a state park with a pedestrian bridge across the river. The map below shows the proposed changes:
The hope is that this will bring much needed economic redevelopment to the area.
Stumpy Pond is a two hour drive from my house. Since the event began at 1:00 I didn’t have to get up super early. It was a beautiful brisk fall morning so I drove leisurely across the country enjoying the view. I arrived early, but the group leaders were already there, unloading rental kayaks and getting things ready. I went ahead and unloaded my gear, too.
Long-time Facebook friend Mike Vaughn would be leading this trip. Mike is a councilman for the town of Great Falls and is very knowledgable about the area’s history. As long as we’ve been friends on Facebook, we had never met in person until today. It was great to finally do just that.
We were joined by over twenty paddlers from the area. Most were local. Some had come from further up the river, from areas such as Tega Cay and Rock Hill. However, it seemed that I had driven the furtherest to get here. We got launched, then gather up as Mike gave us some preliminary instructions.
We headed north on Cedar Creek Reservoir, keeping to the east side of the lake, with Bowden Island to the west. It was breezy with a bit of a chop to the water, it didn’t seem to be a problem. It looked like most of these paddlers were experienced and were able to handle the conditions.
Fall colors were just starting to tinge the island hills. These islands are deceptively large, and it can be difficult to figure out were you are in relation to them on the river. The banks are much more rocky and mountainous than one would expect for this part of the state. On my last visit I thought that this small reservoir reminded me of Lake Jocassee, and that impression still holds.
At the north end of Hill Island we came to the southern end of the Long Bypass. There were boulders in the water and hidden rocks that could be a hazard. We gathered around Mike for some more history of the area, as he told about a feud on this part of the river, various deaths, and how hazardous these shoals had been for river travel.
We had a couple of choices. We could either stay in our kayaks and explore the rocky waters, or we could join Mike for a hike up the middle of the long shoals. I was very tempted to see how far I could go up the Long Bypass, but ultimately decided to join the group for the hike. We found a beach area at the south end of Mountain Island to start our hike.
Mike led us on a trail marked with pink ribbons. This would become the portage path for kayakers wanting to do multiple runs on the Short Bypass. The way was rocky and it got steeper as we climbed up higher on the island.
The trail leveled off onto an old wagon road. The road, such as it is, follows the contours of the island. We hiked along it for awhile until we reached a section that provided access to the rocky shoals of the Long Bypass.
From here we scramble out onto the rocks, trying to see how far out we could get. Midway into the shoals Mike paused to give us some more history of the area and a few more details about the proposed whitewater park. He also said that this would be one of the last opportunities to climb out onto these rocks as they would be underwater when the project is completed.
Greg Nance is on staff with the Catawba Riverkeepers and had brought a drone with him. He got this shot of us standing in the shoals.
As we made our way back across the rocks one of our group spotted something that looked like a petroglyph. Mike poured some water on the rock to see if it was just a trick of the light, but it looked like there were actual etchings. To me these indentations looked like they spelled the word “Love”, but that could just be a case of pareidolia on my part.
We made our way back to the boats and were in for a bit of a surprise. In the time that we had been hiking water had been released from the dam. My boat had been pulled onto dry land, but now it was sitting in about 2 inches of water. Some of the boats were floating. Fortunately, Greg Nance had stayed behind and made sure that the boats hadn’t drifted off.
Back out on the water we all gathered for a group photo.
For our trip back we paddled along the west side of Hill Island and Pickett Island. I paddled pretty much directly back without too much delay. I was hoping to get home in time for dinner.
The combined paddle and hike was only a little over four miles, but it seemed that we covered much more ground.
It was a great afternoon of paddling. I was glad to finally meet Mike and I told him that sometime I wanted to come back down and have him give me a personal tour. There is so much to see here and it really is a hidden gem in the state. I’m looking forward to the completion of the project.