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Lake Norman Beach Opens Soon, More In The Works

  A new beach is scheduled to open around Memorial Day on Lake Norman in Cornelius. It will be the first public swimming beach in a Mecklenburg County park in about 40 years, and it may not be the last.

Workers are finishing up a new half-acre beach at Ramsey Creek Park that’s tentatively scheduled to open on Memorial Day weekend. Right now, the only other public beach on the lake is at Lake Norman State Park, about 20 miles north in Troutman.

There’s a hitch that could delay the opening - there’s still no traffic light at a key intersection on the road leading to the park. Mecklenburg County parks director Jim Garges says he’s asking NCDOT to speed up installation or let the beach open without the light.

"But if all else fails, and we can’t do it, it'll open later," he says. 

Whenever it opens, local leaders will be celebrating. Bill Russell of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce has lobbied for a decade to bring public swimming back to the lake. He says a public beach would improve the quality of life and help travel and tourism. And it would end what he calls “economic discrimination.”

"If you don’t have waterfront property or some type of personal watercraft or know somebody that does, you simply don’t have access to Lake Norman’s greatest liquid asset, and that is the lake itself," Russell says. 

Mecklenburg County banned swimming at county parks back in the 1970s after a series of drownings. Commissioners were concerned about legal liability.  

Then a decade ago, local leaders and a county commissioner began pushing the county to re-think the ban. Garges took over the park system in 2007 and took up the cause. The breakthrough came in 2012.   

"We made a proposal to county commissioners, they overturned that previous ruling, gave us the ability to have a beach operation. Since that time we’ve been planning and we’re about ready to open," he says. 

Garges is now looking for beach sites in other county parks, on Lake Norman, Mountain Island Lake or Lake Wylie or along the Catawba River.  

"There is just not enough public access in Mecklenburg County and so we’re trying to do the best that we can to get more," Garges says.  

He doesn’t have any specific sites yet, but Duke Energy does. The utility controls development on the lakes and waterways where it has power plants. Duke recreation project manager Christy Churchill says Duke already has a dozen sites picked out. But it could be 8 to 10 years before the next beach opens.  

"As part of our license compliance, we are required to provide free public access and recreation, and enjoyment of all of the waters that we use to generate electricity," she says. 

Meanwhile, the new beach at Lake Norman will have a cost - $5 per car if you’re a county resident, $7  if you’re not. You can walk or bike in for free.