Lake Wylie patrolman retires

Terry Everhart is an oral history of Lake Wylie boating. He’s the floating face of public safety. He’s an ordinance log for what not to do on the water.

And now, he’s done.

Everhart retired Jan. 31 after 28 years and one month with Mecklenburg County and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. He started Lake Wylie patrols in 1990. Last week, he spent personal time clearing a career out of his office at McDowell Nature Preserve. He’s applied for reserves – “basically volunteer police” – to stay connected with his lifelong work.

“I don’t think I could’ve created a job that was better for me,” Everhart said, adding that he has been asked what someone who spends his working hours on a boat does for retirement. “You look at them and say, ‘How do I beat what I had?’ ”

People who like to point out Everhart gets paid for time boating don’t often do it when temperatures reach triple figures. They don’t do it when the lake appears half-frozen, as it did when Everhart made his final runs on the job.

Everhart said his job was difficult for boaters, judges and even police to figure out at times. Most people equate cops and court cases with infractions on the road or crimes on land, he said.

Boating is something different.

“Our job is to encourage people to come out here and use the water, but use it responsibly,” Everhart said.

In his years on Lake Wylie, there were impaired boaters and explosions. There were mock catastrophes. Boats, and even a car, sank. There were fatal wrecks Everhart still has a hard time getting out of his head. There were people and businesses who depend on the water. He can’t imagine forgetting them, either.

“That’s what I’m going to miss,” Everhart said.

Haven Presley at T-Bones on the Lake hosted a retirement party earlier this month with about 125 people.

“He knows everyone on and around the lake, and I doubt you could find even one person with anything negative to say,” Presley said. “He’s just such an affable person that everyone ends up as his friend.”

Everhart saw nearly everything that happened on the lake the past two decades, mostly because he hardly ever left. It wasn’t unusual to get a call two hours after a full shift – the constant on-call hours were the toughest part, he said – when something happened. The reason Everhart is taking retirement more than a year early is all the sick and vacation time he never took.

Everhart took 10 sick days as an officer – five when he was sick and five when his son was born. He gave up vacation days for budget reasons.

“I will come up with something to do,” he said of time off, “and that generally is expensive.”

What he’ll leave behind

About 15 years ago, Everhart’s department put an emphasis on violations for boating while impaired and boating under the influence. Officers brought in two or three cases a night. He remembers the unusual response boaters had a week or two into the effort.

“They hugged the South Carolina bank,” he said.

Citing boaters certainly happened, but Everhart wasn’t trying to set records. Recklessness and major violations got their due, but he more often tried kindness first.

“Treat everybody like you want to be treated until you can’t do it anymore,” he said.

That attitude, that discretion on the water, earned Everhart a welcome place in the Lake Wylie boating community.

“Terry Everhart is part of a vanishing breed in this area,” said Lake Wylie Lakekeeper Ellen Goff, who worked with him through the Lake Wylie Marine Commission and events such as Riversweep. “He grew up around the lake and fell in love with its waters at an early age. His decades of experience and skill set have made him an expert on lake matters.”

Everhart began reporting to the marine commission, a group largely responsible for increased cooperation by the two state and three county agencies patrolling the lake, in 1992. He’s serving his sixth and final year as a commissioner. Commissioners voted him chairman during his second term.

“From the (Fourth of July) boat parade on down the line, everything that happens out there, he’s a figure in it,” said Brad Thomas, who took over for Everhart as chairman. “You look up, and you expect to see him in his uniform.”

In recent years, Everhart even spoke at an international boating safety conference. He wanted to bring home the best of what others around the world were doing and share the safety gains made here.

But most on the water remember him by personal interactions, on his boat or theirs, in uniform, or on his own time.

“Terry spent his career keeping Lake Wylie waters safe, but he still recognized that lake recreation should and could be fun as well,” Presley said. “That’s a fine line to balance, and he did it beautifully.”

The few times Everhart wasn’t easily found near the water came when he was hiding behind a nearby tree. Everhart operated and gave voice to “Splash,” a motorized cartoon-style boat that spouted safety tips and distributed stickers to children. He enjoyed keeping in the background, remote controlling and watching children light up when “Splash” came to life.

The talking boat was a way to promote safety and get a positive response from people without intimidating them or ruining their fun, which is how Everhart hopes his time will be remembered.

“You talk to somebody like you’d want to be talked to the first time,” he said, “they’re more receptive to what you’ve got to say.”