Visitors to the U.S. National Whitewater Center found smaller holiday crowds and no whitewater activities Sunday, after the center temporarily closed its channels following an Ohio teen’s death because of a rare brain-eating amoeba last month.
Even as the center scheduled Fourth of July celebrations with activities like an adventure race, a cornhole tournament and live music, crowds Sunday were thinner than previous holiday weekends.
The whitewater course was mostly drained of water and the center has said it plans to clean all concrete and rock surfaces in the channels. The center has said that it will work with the Centers for Disease Control and public health officials to find ways to improve water quality and reduce risk of Naegleria fowleri, the amoeba responsible for the Ohio woman’s death.
Land-based activities like rope courses, zip lines, hiking and mountain biking were open to the public Sunday. Visitors could also paddle-board and kayak on the flat-water section of the park on the Catawba River.
Guests were largely aware of the recent shutdown.
Olivia Riffle of University City said she heard on the radio about the death from the amoeba. Riffle said she was surprised by the lack of crowds in the center, considering it was a holiday weekend.
“About a quarter of what I’d expect,” she said.
Debbie Valis, who was mountain biking, said she was so surprised by how few visitors there were that she took pictures of the empty trails and roads.
“I come twice a week in the summer but I almost didn’t come today because I thought it was closed,” said Valis, who lives in Cotswold. “There was almost no traffic on the way here.”
Adam Wooster and his girlfriend Jessica Casetta, both of South End, knew the amoeba lives in warm freshwater, but that didn’t stop the couple from kayaking. “People get bitten by sharks,” said Wooster, “but the beaches are all full.”
Matt Hamilton of Davidson, a regular at the center, tackled an obstacle course near one of the many trails at the center.
Hamilton approved of shutting down the whitewater section. “It was the right thing to do,” he said. “But I hope they fix the problem and restore the public’s confidence as soon as possible.”
The Center’s fourth of July celebrations continue Monday, with rock n’roll music and fireworks.