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MAKING MOUNTAIN CREEK PARK: NEW CATAWBA COUNTY PARK BUILT ON PARTNERSHIP

Along the shores of Lake Norman in Catawba County, N.C., the sounds of osprey, red-bellied woodpeckers and cicadas now mingle with the joyful squeals of children, friendly greetings from hikers and the whoosh of mountain bikes zipping by. Catawba County’s newest public park has been over 15 years in the making, and it is finally open.

Covering 606 acres, Mountain Creek Park is a regional outdoor recreation destination with nearly 20 miles of multi-use trails (10 of which are part of the Carolina Thread Trail), an adventure playground, mountain bike pump track, pickleball courts and more. Catawba Lands Conservancy protects the land around those trails and waterfront areas. The park is a prime example of partnership and patience.

Mountain Creek Park’s story began in the mid-2000s with Duke Energy’s relicensing of the Catawba-Wateree hydropower system, which includes Lake Hickory, Lookout Shoals Lake and Lake Norman. Through that process was born the idea for a passive recreation park along the lake. As a land trust serving Catawba County, the Conservancy stepped in to help secure funding. Mountain Creek, a tributary of Lake Norman, runs through the heart of the property, making its protection meaningful for water quality. With the Conservancy as facilitator and additional support from Crescent Resources, LLC, Catawba County secured a $2.1 million grant from the North Carolina Land and Water Fund (NCLWF) for acquisition of 589 acres. The property was officially protected in 2010, with the Conservancy holding a conservation easement on approximately 306 acres and the remaining 282 acres held by NCLWF.

Since that time, the Conservancy has stewarded the property, monitoring annually, as work to turn the site into a regional destination progressed. As plans for the park came into focus, it was clear that there was an opportunity to connect into the Carolina Thread Trail network. Catawba County worked with the Thread Trail to designate a loop of approximately 10 miles as Thread Trail, giving mountain bikers and hikers a fantastic place to go for longer excursions.

With the park’s official opening in June 2022, the results of this hard-working partnership have finally come to fruition.

“Thanks to the perseverance and commitment of all the partners involved, we now have 600 acres of public space, with nearly 20 miles of trails, 10 miles of streams and lake frontage, and all the associated amenities,” shared Will Summer, Executive Director of
NCLWF. “There is something for everyone who shows up.”

Residents of Catawba County and beyond can now experience the beauty of the Carolina Piedmont in their own backyard.

 

Photo by Nancy Pierce

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