Lake Norman & Mooresville

Lake access gets an ally

Mecklenburg County commissioner Karen Bentley said she advocates the push by Lake Norman town and business leaders to lift the ban on swimming at county-owned parks, pending a study by the county's Park and Recreation Department.

“You have my support,” Bentley, of Huntersville, told 25 Lake Norman business and political leaders on Friday at a forum on lake access. “And barring any surprise from the study, I'm very hopeful we'll have more access.”

The department recently began researching what it would need to do to reverse the 30-year-old ban on swimming at the county's public parks on Lake Norman, Lake Wylie and Mountain Island Lake.

Park and Recreation officials expect to make a recommendation to the commissioners later this year or in early 2009, after completing a study of the issue, said Greg Jackson, a Park and Recreation division director.

Commissioners would have to approve lifting the ban, as would Duke Energy, which controls the lakes under federal license. The county barred swimming at its parks in 1977, after three adults and a child drowned at McDowell Park on Lake Wylie.

Cornelius Mayor Jeff Tarte on Friday formed a lake access committee to work with county officials on the issue. Concerned residents are welcome to join the committee, he said.

“Access to water is almost a civil-rights issue,” Tarte told Friday's gathering at the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce. “… We need to figure out a way to give the access back to the folks who want to use the lake” but who don't have the income to afford boats or lakeside homes.

Sally Ashworth of Visit Lake Norman said people stop in her office off Interstate 77 Exit 28 in Cornelius to ask where they can swim. She has to direct them to the only public swimming beach on Lake Norman, about 20 miles to the north in Lake Norman State Park, off I-77 Troutman Exit 42.

“We're taking those tourism dollars out of our county,” she said