Somehow the universe, or a better-paying job, has landed you in Charlotte. To orient you:
This part of North Carolina is called the Piedmont, a gentle slope from the mountains to the flat coastal plain.
Real mountains, the Blue Ridge, are about two hours north or west. They are among the oldest in the world and look it, with rounded shoulders worn from hundreds of millions of years of erosion. Still, Mount Mitchell is the highest peak in the East at 6,684 feet.
The closest coast is four hours southeast. Many Charlotteans head toward the gaudy strand of Myrtle Beach, S.C., if only to watch Canadians swim in March. Smaller towns like Sunset Beach, N.C., offer quieter, family-oriented trips. In any case, plot a route around the traffic bottleneck on U.S. 74 in Monroe.
The Outer Banks, narrow ribbons of sand reached by bridges or ferries, are a day’s drive away but worth it. The islands offer history, fishing, birding and miles of uncluttered beaches.
Some wildlife species thrive in the city. Barred owls, with their three-foot wingspans, nest in the graceful old oaks of Myers Park. Deer munch on suburban shrubbery on the city’s periphery. Coyotes munch on unwary cats.
Area lakes are generally clean enough to swim in, but be careful about eating the fish you catch. The flesh of some species holds potentially dangerous levels of toxic chemicals called PCBs, which contaminate many lakes in the Southeast.
The state advises against consumption of striped bass caught in Lake Norman; blue catfish, channel catfish and largemouth bass from Mountain Island Lake; and largemouth bass in Lake Wylie.
Most of Charlotte’s water comes from the Catawba River, which springs from the mountains two hours west up Interstate 40. Duke Energy, the nation’s biggest electric utility and headquartered in Charlotte, is the Catawba’s gatekeeper if not its owner.
For more than a century Duke has labored to control the river by building more than a dozen dams, in the process creating Lake Norman north of Charlotte and Lake Wylie to the south.
For decades, summer in Charlotte meant wheezing children. Ozone, a pollutant that forms in hot, sunny skies from motor vehicle and industrial emissions, makes it harder for people with respiratory conditions to breathe.
That’s getting better. North Carolina cracked down on power plant emissions more than a decade ago, and federal rules reduced tailpipe exhausts.
As a result, Charlotte fell off the American Lung Association’s list of dirty-air cities in 2014 for the first time in 15 years. The state recorded no violations of the federal ozone standard in 2013 or 2014, although levels in Charlotte spiked this June.
Duke owns nuclear power plants on Norman and Wylie. They’re part of a nuclear fleet that generates much of Duke’s electricity in the Carolinas. Coal-fired power plants, marked by their towering smokestacks, are being eased into retirement as plants fueled by cheaper and cleaner natural gas go online.
Duke is rebuilding its public reputation after dumping millions of tons of coal ash into the Dan River, on the Virginia line, two years ago. But the company’s electric rates in the Carolinas are relatively cheap. Statewide, residential rates are 7 percent cheaper than the national average.
Charlotte is a city of creeks – 3,000 miles of them. Because the Catawba is 10 miles west of Charlotte, the city’s uptown waterfront is Little Sugar Creek.
Decades ago, the creek was so polluted the city hung barrels of orange-blossom deodorant over it. Today the creek has been freed from the parking lot that once covered it.
Walkers and bikers flock to the greenway that runs beside the creek, but don’t be tempted to take a sip. Most streams in the county are rated as unhealthy to splash around in.
Staff writer Bruce Henderson covers energy and the environment.
Source: National Weather Service