The push is on for better lake access

Chamber president leads the effort to overturn swimming ban at Lake Norman.

07/20/2008 12:00 AM

07/19/2008 9:44 PM

I've always found it odd that you can't just hop out of your car in your swimming trunks and dip into Lake Norman.

Turns out many others are confounded, too, including countless out-of-town drivers who walk into the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce dressed in bathing suits and asking where they can swim.

Unless you have a boat or lakeside home, or unless you haul yourself to Lake Norman State Park off Interstate 77 Exit 42 in Troutman, it's impossible.

Enough is enough, said Bill Russell, president of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.

“There are lakes and streams all over America you can walk into, and not to be able to at North Carolina's largest lake is ludicrous,” he said.

Manmade Lake Norman has 520 total miles of shore in Catawba, Iredell, Lincoln and Mecklenburg counties.

But Mecklenburg County bans swimming off its Lake Norman parks, including Jetton and Ramsey Creek, and much of the shoreline everywhere is graced with spectacular homes.

Russell said Mecklenburg prohibited swimming at the parks because of liability concerns. He hopes enough people will help him persuade commissioners to overturn the ban.

“We're not trying to put county commissioners under the bus,” Russell said. “We're trying to get them on the bus.”

I called Russell after he sent a letter to editors of the Observer and other papers.

He mentioned how at least 200 children with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte enjoy the lake one day each year as part of Business Today publisher Dave Yochum's Big Day at the Lake event.

Lake residents take the boys and girls on their boats and let them swim and fish parts of the lake. The 2008 version was scheduled for Saturday.

“The shame is for the other 364 days of the year, the region's greatest recreational asset is largely off limits to a huge segment of our population,” Russell wrote. “Not since the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s has one demographic of the population been denied the privileges afforded others.”

Russell said Lake Norman State Park is a nice amenity with trails, picnic shelters and a public swimming area.

The shame, he said, is that Jetton Park in Cornelius, with its beachfront, was designed for public access before the threat of liability arose, he said.

“This is a great injustice to thousands of families and residents who are denied the privileges of swimming at Lake Norman because of one simple demographic – household income,” Russell wrote. “The issue of public access at Lake Norman is not a racial issue, but it is one of fairness, and we should do something about it.”

I'm excited that Russell is helping lead the movement for better lake access. All we need are more people to take the plunge with him.

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