Lake Norman swimming beach on target for summer 2016

Mecklenburg County’s first swimming beach at a county-run park since the 1970s is on track to open in summer 2016 at Ramsey Creek Park on Lake Norman, county park officials said Thursday night.

The half-acre sandy beach will include a 4-foot-deep, half-acre swimming area that will be staffed by lifeguards from dawn to dusk, Memorial Day until Labor Day, officials said in an update on the beach plans at Cornelius Town Hall.

Swimming will be free, and existing Ramsey Creek parking will be used. A fence will separate the beach area from the rest of the park, and police will be on duty at all times, officials said. The park is off Nantz Road, which is off West Catawba Avenue and Interstate 77’s Exit 28.

The county banned swimming at its parks after several drownings in the late 1970s.

County officials have met with all 11 local, state and federal environmental agencies that needed to review the Ramsey Creek Beach plans and have submitted the proposal to Duke Energy, which in turn needs an OK from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, officials said. FERC licenses Duke to manage the lake.

Duke Energy, meanwhile, plans to develop four similar-sized beaches in the coming years on Mountain Island Lake, Lake Wylie, Lake Hickory and at Beatty’s Ford Park on Lake Norman in eastern Lincoln County, Christy Churchill, a Duke project manager, told the gathering.

Work on those beaches will begin once FERC approves Duke’s Catawba-Wateree hydroelectric license renewal. Approval is expected early next year, Churchill said.

Cornelius elected officials and other residents have been frustrated over how long it’s taking the county to start on the Ramsey Creek beach.

“I about fell over dead,” Mayor Chuck Travis told the Observer earlier this year when he and other officials first learned it could take until 2016. “How long does it take to dredge out some stumps and hire lifeguards?”

Lee Jones, director of capital planning for Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation, blamed the recession.

The project first needed money in the county budget, Jones has said.

That finally came last year as part of the $1.7 billion budget Mecklenburg commissioners approved. Ramsey Creek Park received $430,000 to plan and design the beach, apply for permits, and build the beach.

As a result, the county was able to put the swimming area in its list of fiscal year 2014 projects, Jones said. The money is coming from 2008 voter-approved bonds, Jones told Thursday’s meeting.

The county selected Bulla Smith Design Engineering of Charlotte and Houghland Architecture of Charlotte for the project.

Mecklenburg County commissioners agreed to lift the ban on swimming in 2009, after a county study showed where swimming areas could be opened and where they shouldn’t.

Ramsey Creek Park proved best, in part because it has enough parking and its restrooms are near the proposed swimming area, officials said.

(Note: This story was updated Friday, Sept. 19, to correct one of the swimming beach locations.)