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Blueway on the Rocky River in southern Cabarrus could boost county’s ecotourism traffic

According to a recent report by outdoorfoundation.org, the number of people who kayak recreationally rose by 27 percent in 2011 and nearly 32 percent in the past three years.

That’s potentially good news for Cabarrus County’s budding ecotourism industry, as multiple partners throughout the area prepare to open the area’s first canoe/kayak launch point on the Rocky River in Midland.

The launch is the first entry point for a planned 59.3-mile recreational waterway, known as a blueway, that’s part of the Carolina Thread Trail. It was built by the 2013 class of Leadership Cabarrus at 9005 Mount Pleasant Road on the Pharr Farm Preserve in Midland.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the launch was May 2. It’s scheduled to open to the public at the end of July, possibly sooner.

Business and community leaders used donated supplies and grants from Duke Energy to build the launch, which stretches 20 feet down the riverbank. Thread Trail organizers are planning for the blueway to flow from a proposed put-in point off Flowe’s Store Road to the junction of the Rocky and Pee Dee Rivers.

The Thread Trail is a regional network of walking/biking trails that eventually will connect 15 counties and more than 2.3 million people in the Charlotte region. It also includes blueways, or navigable streams and rivers people can paddle recreationally.

Dene Dawson, program manager at Habitat for Humanity Cabarrus County, helped coordinate construction of the Cabarrus launch site.

“Our group’s interest from the very beginning was focused on personal health,” he said. “The Thread Trail was a great (project for us), given one of its goals is to get people outside and moving. The canoe launch is unique, as it’s the first in Cabarrus County.”

Dawson, who also is a leader in Boy Scouts, thinks many similar groups will take advantage of blueway.

“The project also has an economic benefit as ecotourism continues to rise,” said Dawson.

Donna Carpenter, president and CEO of the Cabarrus County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the blueway will provide another avenue for visitors to explore the county.

“This resource provides the potential for many new events in our area, and it allows us to showcase the natural beauty of this destination,” she said.

The Midland portion of the blueway will be about 5 miles. The site also will have a 1.75-mile walking and biking trail and, eventually, two other put-in sites downstream.

Money for the land, parking area and ground trail was donated by the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Catawba Lands Conservancy and the Carolina Thread Trail.

Travis Morehead, the Carolina Thread Trail community coordinator for the Catawba Lands Conservancy, said the Rocky River blueway plan was adopted by all Cabarrus communities and the county commissioners.

“This project was selected as the start point because of the town of Midland’s commitment to conservation and the availability of the land,” said Morehead.

Blueways are faster and cheaper to build because the trail – the stream – is already in place, said Morehead. It just takes communities and volunteers to step up to help build and fund access points.

“Most major sporting good retailers are carrying some type of canoe or kayak, so folks are wanting to get out on the water more,” said Morehead. “In the case of the Rocky River, because of its relatively narrow width and depth, motorized boating doesn’t happen. This leaves a 59-mile stretch of river relatively untouched and great for paddling.”

More land portions of the Thread Trail are expected to open throughout Cabarrus later this year and early next year, said Morehead. Two miles of trail will open June 1 at the Buffalo Creek Preserve in Mount Pleasant, and in early 2014, the city of Concord will open 1.5 miles at the Moss Creek subdivision in northwestern Cabarrus.

Morehead and a coworker have already paddled the Rocky River from Weddington Road, near Concord Mills, to N.C. 24/27 in Locust.

“Locals have told me two things about the river,” said Morehead. “The first is ‘They don’t call it the Rocky River for nothing.’ And (the second): The river rises and falls pretty quickly.”

More experienced paddlers are be drawn to rugged rapids after a heavy rain, while families and those with less experience may prefer a calmer ride after water levels subside.

Anson County also was awarded a Carolina Thread Trail grant to construct a launch point at Plank Road there. And the city of Norwood in Stanly County is considering applying for funding from the Carolina Thread Trail to do the same.

“It would seem that the region is certainly coming together around this idea and working to get residents and visitors out on the water,” said Morehead.

Johnson: 704-786-2185
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