When I moved to the far southwestern corner of Mecklenburg County back in the 1990s, it always took a minute to explain to my co-workers where I lived.I’d say “Steele Creek.”“Where’s that?” they’d ask.Near Lake Wylie, I’d add. Some would still look confused. I’d pull out the kicker: It’s down near Carowinds.That usually did the trick.These days, it takes a lot less explaining. The Steele Creek area, once distinguished mainly by farmland, business parks and nearby Charlotte Douglas International Airport, has come a long way toward catching up with more heavily developed parts of Charlotte. You can see find the occasional grazing horse or cow, but they’ve been far outpaced by new subdivisions and residential development that’s been on the upswing in recent decades. South Tryon Street, the main drag through the area, has gone from a quiet two-lane strip to a bustling four-lane thoroughfare lined with condo complexes and new neighborhoods. Area schools seem to be busting at the seams.Near Lake Wylie, sprawling upper-income developments like the Palisades and the Sanctuary have taken root, with more on the way. In June, the City Council approved a plan to put more than 500 more new homes close to the lake.It’s been a slow but steady transformation for Steele Creek, an area that some historians say was first settled by Scots-Irish immigrants who followed wagon roads south from Philadelphia in the late 1600s and early 1700s.Things seemed to start changing in the 1980s, as Mecklenburg officials encouraged development in the area to relieve growth pressures on the faster-growing southeast Charlotte neighborhoods.Today, the big field on South Tryon where they used to sell Christmas trees has been transformed into the Rivergate shopping center, perhaps the most popular retail anchor of the area. It houses all the usual big-box suspects – SuperTarget, Home Depot, Best Buy – along with restaurants such as City Tavern.It’s gotten to the point where Steele Creek, like virtually everywhere else in Charlotte, is feeling the strain of overcrowding. Once-quiet two-lane roads like N.C. 160 (Steele Creek Road) get backed up for miles during bad rush-hour sessions. Even South Tryon, with four lanes, gets to be headache-inducing.Growth does have its good points, though.Rivergate is one of my family’s favorite destinations. Sometimes we’ll go for dinner, stop by the ice cream shop for dessert and hang out at the water fountain in its central plaza, enjoying the scene.I can pick from about four Starbucks coffee shops within a three-minute drive from my house. There’s a popular YMCA branch for workouts. And the Steele Creek Athletic Association, a community group that runs youth sports leagues at a sprawling complex of ball fields, seems to be thriving.I miss the feeling of living in the “undiscovered” part of the county; but even with the headaches of heavier traffic, I think I like today’s Steele Creek better.
Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012
Big-box stores, big traffic, but big heart
‘Must’ list 1. Steele Creek Presbyterian Church (7407 Steele Creek Road), founded in the 1760s, was one of the first seven churches in the county established by Scots-Irish settlers. www.steelecreekpres.org. 2. Byrum’s General Store (8510 Steele Creek Road), a longtime community fixture, was built in 1890 and is rural Mecklenburg’s oldest surviving commercial building. 704-588-0434. 3. Carowinds (14523 Carowinds Blvd.), the region’s biggest amusement park, straddles the N.C.-S.C. border and features the Intimidator – the Southeast’s tallest, fastest and longest roller coaster. www.carowinds.com. 4. McDowell Nature Preserve (15222 York Road) is a county-owned park. It offers 1,108 acres of peace and quiet. Visitors can camp, hike, fish or rent canoes for use on Lake Wylie. 704-588-5224.
Eric is an assistant metro editor at the Observer.
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