Monday, June 26, 2006

Want to visit Whitewater Center?

The U.S. National Whitewater Center has the potential to become a standout tourist attraction in the region - “something that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the entire world,” director Jeff Wise said at a media preview I attended last Thursday.

But if you are one of those those who are eager to visit if it opens as scheduled in the next few weeks, be warned: it’s very much a work in progress.

After the preview, I had to go home and change shoes because so many of the pathways were still red dirt - that's scheduled to improve before opening, but shoes that can take a beating will still be advisable. The parking lot is dusty gravel (though I did see a truck spraying what appeared to be water to keep dust down).

The climbing walls aren’t scheduled to be up until late summer. Any shelter on the grounds will be temporary, as the indoor center is still months away from completion. And the temporary access road to the center was extremely bumpy and pothole-filled - it's slated for some unspecified improvements, but it's probably wise to continue taking those "slow down" signs at face value.

Once the water starts flowing, the center will first appeal to hardcore paddlers. Regular tourists might want to wait a bit.


The whitewater center is bringing an influx of newcomers who are buying and renting homes just to be near it.

Among them is Chris Hipgrave, the Olympic high performance director for USA Canoe/Kayak, the affiliate of the U.S. Olympic Committee that moved its headquarters to Charlotte in 2003 in anticipation of the center’s opening.

Hipgrave moved to Gaston County a year ago from Bryson City, where he was living to be near the Nantahala River. “Normally, whitewater paddlers live in the middle of nowhere – that’s where the rivers are,” he said.

He says up to 40 athletes and coaches will move here this summer. Center director Jeff Wise estimates thousands more enthusiasts will factor it into their decisions to move here – he’s heard of an Ohio dentist and paddler who wants to open a practice in Belmont, for example. “You base where you want to live on your lifestyle,” Wise said.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't wait for the park to open. The attraction and growth is great for the area. A children's water park section would nice touch. I hope the parking lot gets paved.

1:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to it opening up!

9:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been waiting for the US National White Water Center to open for more than 5 YEARS!

I have to disagree with the above comment about the children's water park though. I think that would take away a lot from the park -- adventure trails, white water and climbing walls are not for children.

Take them to Carowinds or the Harris YMCA for a water park. As they grow up, they'll have something bigger and better to look forward to at the White Water Center.

9:46 PM  

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