Families from across the Charlotte area headed to Ramsey Creek Park on Lake Norman Saturday for the opening of the first swimming beach at a Mecklenburg County-run park since the late 1970s.
So many families showed up that Park Manager Chris Hunter estimated 150 to 200 cars had to be turned around. But workers first urged them to shop at local businesses and check back in an hour, when spaces would free up.
“I don’t think I would say I was surprised,” Hunter said. “It’s the first beach in 30 years, and it’s Memorial Day weekend.”
Workers began turning cars around at 11:15 a.m., an hour and 15 minutes after the beach opened. Many parked in business lots on West Catawba Avenue and walked with their picnic baskets, sand pails and beach balls the third of a mile down Nantz Road to the park.
Dennis and Sandra Lalla, married 50 years, arrived well before the parking crunch with their children and grandchildren from Steele Creek and a spread that featured Sandra’s homemade pelau, a dish from their native Trinidad and Tobago. The kids had fun burying the Lallas’ grown son, Jeremy, up to his neck in sand.
Shonta Hope, 27, was so eager to get to a swimming beach with her five children that she drove them last weekend to Jetton Park, also in Cornelius, from their home on Beatties Ford Road in Charlotte, only to learn it didn’t allow swimming.
The county banned swimming at its parks after several drownings in the late 1970s, but Bill Russell, president and CEO of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, pushed for its return since the late 1990s.
Mecklenburg County commissioners voted unanimously in 2009 to lift the ban. But plans were curtailed by severe budget cuts to the Park and Recreation Department because of the recession. The only other public swimming beach on Lake Norman is at Lake Norman State Park, off Interstate 77, Exit 42, in Troutman.
Hope was glad to learn of the Ramsey Creek beach but thought it would be larger – it’s 0.34 acres – and said she’ll have to bring rubber water shoes next time because you walk on stones, not sand, in the water. Waves and boat wake washed the sand away, forcing the county to put in the more stable stones.
Florida native Stephanie Weinert, who lives in Plaza Midwood, found the size of the beach perfect for families like hers with small children. She and husband, Peter, also liked the roof-covered picnic tables and the new restrooms. Also, Stephanie said, “I love that there are lifeguards here.”
Want to go?
Address: 18441 Nantz Road, Cornelius.
Summer hours: 10 a.m.-7:30 p.m.
Admission: Free to the beach. Park admission in summer is $3 per vehicle for Mecklenburg County residents and $5 per vehicle for nonresidents. The per-vehicle cost to seniors is $2 for county residents and $3 for nonresidents. Season passes are $52 for county residents, $77 for nonresidents and $32 for seniors and people with disabilities who live in the county and $40 for those who don’t.