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U.S. National Whitewater Center.

The Great Outdoors

By Sam Boykin

Posted: Monday, Nov. 22, 2010

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Boredom doesn’t stand a chance in Charlotte. The city takes full advantage of its sunny weather and natural beauty with a host of outdoor recreational opportunities. With an extensive park and greenway system, nearby lakes and mountains, and the largest manmade whitewater river in the world, the biggest challenge is trying to decide what to do first.

Parks and Greenways

There’s always a place to go outside and play in the Charlotte area, which has 210 parks on more than 17,600 acres. Many parks have recreational facilities, including athletic fields, tennis and basketball courts, as well as covered picnic areas.

Freedom Park, just south of Uptown, is a particularly popular destination, with a seven-acre lake, outdoor shelters with grills, multiple athletic fields and an amphitheater.

There are also plenty of options for mountain bike enthusiasts, including the 140-acre Renaissance Park in southwest Charlotte, which has about six miles of windy single track. At Jetton Park just north of Charlotte in Cornelius there’s a 1.3-mile paved biking trail, and across the street is a dirt trail that loops through about 19 heavily wooded acres.

If you prefer water to land, check out McDowell Nature Preserve at Lake Wylie and Latta Plantation Nature Preserve at Mountain Island Lake, both of which have public launch sites for canoe and kayaks.

Charlotte also has 33 miles of greenways, many of which run through the city’s parks. These wide, scenic trails — ideal for walking, biking or just pushing a baby stroller — act as natural buffers and wildlife habitats.

Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation recently unveiled the new Little Sugar Creek Greenway. Located near uptown, the greenway winds alongside a restored stream and features a large fountain, clock tower, eye-catching public art and beautifully landscaped flowerbeds.

For details about Charlotte parks and greenways, go to www.parkandrec.com.

U.S. National Whitewater Center

This oasis for outdoor sports enthusiasts is situated on more than 300 acres along the Catawba River and has the largest multi-channel, man-made river in the world. Seven massive, 750-horsepower pumps control the whitewater, which ranges from gentle Class II rapids — perfect for beginners — to roaring Class IV rapids, including a thrilling seven-foot drop deemed the Big Kahuna.

There are also two rock climbing walls, a ropes challenge course, and 11 miles of mountain biking trails. And in its newest adrenaline-pumping feature, the center recently opened the Mega Jump. Here, willing participants step into a harness and launch themselves off a 40-foot tower and free-fall before an innovative fan system gently deposits them to the ground.

After you catch your breath, you can relax and get a bite to eat at the River’s Edge Bar and Grill, which boasts an outdoor terrace and provides a great view of the river. There’s also a retail store with all the latest high-tech gear.

Crowders Mountain

For a whole new perspective on local outdoor recreation, check out Crowders Mountain State Park. Located in Gaston County about 25 miles west of Charlotte — on clear days you can see the city’s skyline — the mountain has nearly a dozen hiking trails and features sheer vertical cliffs ranging from 100 to 150 feet in height.

One of the most direct ways to reach the mountain’s summit is Backside Trail, which has 334 vertical steps. The strenuous climb is well worth it, once you reach the top and take in the fantastic vistas from 1,625 feet.

Crowders Mountain is also noted for its picturesque hardwood forests and variety of plant life, including dogwoods, ferns and rhododendron. It all provides a rich habitat for abundant wildlife, from deer and wild turkey to foxes and hawks.

There are backcountry campsites about one mile from the Visitors Center, most of which have grills and fire circles. There’s also a shady picnic area with 28 tables, eight grills, drinking water and restrooms.

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