Catawba River Attractions Get Makeover
Since itsestablishment in 1987, Lake James State Park Catawba River Area has welcomed its share of visitors. Most folks started calling it the “Old Park,” once the Paddy’s Creek Area opened more than eight years ago. The CRA may be old, but it’s not forgotten. With 20 walkin camp sites, a covered picnic shelter and picnic sites, two courtesy boat docks, a fishing pier, information and gift shop, public restrooms and 4-1/2 miles of hiking trails, there’s still plenty to see and do at the McDowell County side of the park.
In order to keep up with the times, the park’s maintenance staff took on the task of renovating and replacing some of the most-used infrastructure at the CRA. During the fall, the observation decks at both the Sandy Cliff and Lake Channel overlooks were rebuilt and relocated so that they may be enjoyed for another three decades. The handicapped-accessible fishing pier on the Fox Den Loop trail also received a makeover.
The jobs were a perfect opportunity to enlist the help of the North Carolina Forest Service’s Young Offenders Forest Conservation Program. More commonly known as B.R.I.D.G.E. (Building, Rehabilitating, Instructing, Developing, Employing), the program has been in place since 1987 (the same year the park was established) to teach inmates convicted of non-serious crimes, between the ages of 18 and 25, skills in forest management, wildland firefighting, landscaping and a host of other experiences that can help in the job market. While the national rate of young offenders returning to prison for crimes committed after their initial release is 35-percent, the N.C. Forest Service B.R.I.D.G.E. program graduates boast a return rate of just 12-percent.
B.R.I.D.G.E. crews based in Morganton assist state parks throughout the western region throughout the year and Lake James typically has a crew for a week, 10 months out of the year. To complete the recent projects the park utilized the talents of program’s carpentry shop.
The CRA upgrades are just part of an ongoing process to keep facilities up to the task of withstanding the evergrowing annual visitation numbers. In 2016, the bathhouse at the walk-in campground was renovated. The park hopes to break ground on a new visitors’ center at the Paddy’s Creek Area in 2019.