One of the last large undeveloped tracts on Lake Norman will become a public park, the Catawba Lands Conservancy said Wednesday.
The Charlotte-based conservancy and Catawba County will use a $2.6 million grant from the state Clean Water Management Trust Fund, awarded Monday, to buy 589 acres from land developer Crescent Resources.
The property wraps around the Mountain Creek tributary and lake cove in southeastern Catawba County. In a region that's losing 56 acres of raw land a day to development, the site is a rarity: waterfront and wild.
“I feel it definitely would have been developed,” said Mary George, Catawba County's assistant planning director. “It was Crescent property (and) either they would develop it or they would market it to someone who would develop it.”
For residents of Catawba, Lincoln and Iredell counties, the purchase will preserve a slice of nature on a lake that's dominated by houses, boat slips and marinas. Only Lake Norman State Park, at 1,928 acres, will be larger.
The county will turn the property into a recreation park with hiking trails, overlooks and canoe launches. Its mix of forests, wetlands and ponds will serve as an outdoor laboratory for local schools and universities.
The project “presented a unique opportunity for land protection on a major scale, including water-quality protection in one of the most rapidly urbanizing watersheds in the state,” said the conservancy's executive director, Dave Cable.
The deal is one of the largest in the conservancy's 17-year history, increasing the acreage it has protected by nearly 10 percent to 8,214 acres.
The deal took five years to complete. There were “a lot of different hands in making this happen,” George said.
It began with negotiations over renewal terms of Duke's Catawba River hydroelectric license. As part of those talks, Duke donated some land and agreed to make other tracts available for sale to local governments. Among them was the Mountain Creek property.
To match the $2.6 million state grant, Duke agreed to a $1.4 million discount on the sale price, and Catawba County contributed $150,000.
Crescent, which is partly owned by Duke Energy, also donated a protective easement on a separate 130 acres on Terrapin Creek, about four miles north of Mountain Creek. That tract, valued at $1.6 million, won't be open to the public.
Together, the tracts will protect more than 10 miles of stream and lake shoreline.