Bobby McCree III
(Rock Hill, S.C.) — The city of Rock Hill has restricted public access to the Catawba River five times in 2018, because of high water levels and potentially dangerous water flow.
Officials temporarily closed canoe and kayak launches at Riverwalk and River Park, for a period of time, on April 25, May 31, Sept. 12, Oct. 12 and Nov. 14.
The closings were due to the weather and the levels of precipitation this year, according to Laurie Helms, marketing coordinator for Rock Hill’s office of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
Brandon Jones, director of technical programs at the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, a non-profit waterway advocate group, said there are specific water flow rates the city looks at to determine if the river is safe.
On two occasions this year, the end of April and the first part of June, Rock Hill saw water discharge rates on the Catawba River over 25,000 cubic feet per second, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which was well above normal.
In mid-September, mid-October and mid-November there were discharge rates approaching or over 15,000 cubic feet per second.
“Over 3,500 (cubic feet per second) is going to be your peak recreational flow. That is the best where you can float down (the river), you can tube. You’re not bumping on a whole bunch of rocks. The upper limits are going to be about 5,000 and anything above that is pushing it,” said Jones.
A number of Rock Hill residents said they were surprised to learn access had been closed so often.
“It’s good to keep people from harm’s way, but five times is a little spooky,” said Anthony Nardis, who works for DHL Supply Chain in Rock Hill. “It’s surprising to see the weather be a huge cause for the river restrictions.”
“It’s kind of a shock, but it’s also for safety reasons. I would understand because of the fact that people have tried drowning because of the high waters. It’s being very cautious,” said Stephen Ballenger, a Rock Hill native who works for Duke Energy.
A number of people who use the Catawba River on a regular basis said they understood the need for safety.
“It is logical to close public access because the city has a concern for people,” said John Pickitt, who often kayaks on the river with his wife. “It does not matter how many times the river is restricted. Safety measures come first and foremost.”
“Due to the rain we’ve had this year it’s probably not unusual,” said Monte Reid, who works near the river. “Normally you can see rocks, you can see stuff in the water, but it’s pretty swift now. They would have to come to rescue you if you get trapped.”
“Unfortunately, I think it’s necessary when Mother Nature provides us with inclement weather. This city is responsible for closing the river during those times for safety purposes,” said Leslie Martin, who works at the Grapevine Wine Shop at Riverwalk.
Others said they were disappointed to hear about the closings.
“There is a lot you can do here so it’s a surprise to hear they would close such a beautiful location. I can’t believe it,” said Mike Van Luvender, who regularly takes walks by the river.
“I know this year we had (Hurricanes) Florence and Michael and those were bad and it can be dangerous with the water, but it’s temporary. That is not a year-round thing,” he said. “If I see a closed sign, I’d be disappointed because I like being here.”
“I just saw (a closed sign) a few minutes ago for the first time on this end. You would think they would put it where you would start and not where you end. The dam is completely open. They have no sign saying anything,” said Jared Hunt, who often kayaks on the river.
“Everything is built around the river and so to close and take away that major resource in the development of the river robs it of its substance.”
Despite the closings, a number of people expressed an appreciation for the river.
“The Catawba offers a lot; a great outdoor adventure,” Nardis said. “It’s good for the area. Anytime you got a body of water like that it gives you refreshing recreational activities to partake in, which is what gives Rock Hill its glow.”
“For me it’s perfect. There’s just enough traffic to where there are enough people to have a good time, but it’s never too congested,” said Jesse Woods, who kayaks on the river. “If in later years the river attracts more foot traffic to Rock Hill, then we will need more access points.”
“It provides a lot of economic development just as you see behind you regarding all the apartments, the businesses,” Ballenger said. “It just attracts everybody to this area because of the beauty of nature and also the river itself.”