Mecklenburg County park officials plan further tweaks to the swimming beach on Lake Norman, which opened over the Memorial Day weekend to snarled traffic and the howls of park neighbors.
Visitors surged to Ramsey Creek Park in Cornelius when its new beach became the first run by a county park since the late 1970s. Despite its size, Lake Norman offers few places to swim for members of the public who don’t own lakefront property or boats.
But residents of quiet Nantz Road, which leads to the park, quickly tired of cars cramming their streets and driveways. They said long-promised traffic control measures had not been installed before the opening.
“There were people who were afraid for their children because hundreds of people were coming down a dead-end street,” at-large county commissioner Pat Cotham said at a Tuesday night meeting. “But I’m really glad the county stepped up.”
Park officials came up with a plan to control traffic and attendance, including fee increases and a free weekend shuttle service. They partnered with Cornelius police, installed more signs and fashioned a temporary sidewalk to keep visitors out of the road.
No calls to police about traffic problems were received after June 13, when the shuttle service began, parks officials told commissioners. Nearly 4,200 visitors used the shuttles over the rest of the summer.
“We now know what we didn't know this year,” park superintendent Greg Clemmer said.
Next year, beach-goers will see more concession stands, bilingual signage and a “soft opening” a week before the official Memorial Day start.
The beach drew more than 68,000 swimmers this year. It can accommodate 500 visitors at a time, but peaked at an average of 179 on weekend afternoons. Attendance waned over the summer, from 8,430 visitors over the July 4 holiday to 3,198 on Labor Day weekend.
Operating costs outweighed revenues by $140,000, but park officials noted that the 46 percent cost recovery was more than twice what had been expected.
“I’m grateful that some 68,000 people got an opportunity to go to the beach that they might not have gotten otherwise,” commissioner George Dunlap said.