Rowan County works to enhance its section of High Rock Lake

Published 12:10 am Sunday, June 23, 2019

By Samuel Motley 

SALISBURY — People want a high quality of life and the lake can help provide that, says Mikey Wetzel, owner of downtown Salisbury’s Go Burrito, who helped organize a music event today on High Rock Lake.

Discussion around the lake and its use popped up during last week’s Rowan County commissioners meeting — in which commissioners approved the music event put forth by Wetzel. The event is set to take place 1 p.m. Sunday at the so-called Goat Island and will feature Darrell Harwood, a local country music entertainer.

And Sunday’s event will be the first of its kind for High Rock Lake (the second largest lake in North Carolina), said Rowan County commissioners Chairman Greg Edds during an interview with the Post. The event is a trial — a possible way to move to make the lake an “asset.”

The event and the discussion around it touched on a long-standing sentiment. In doing so, it begged the question: What is being done to ensure that the Rowan side of High Rock Lake is being realized as an asset?

The answer, in short, is a set of ongoing projects, both private and public, which will serve as the bedrock for future projects, growth and recognition of the lake as a Rowan cultural amenity, Edds said.

These projects include the likely introductions of a new buoy-based navigation system throughout the lake, a new lakeside development, rebranding efforts and continued efforts to create a new Interstate 85 exit near East Spencer, which could give more direct access to the lake.

While these steps might be viewed as small, each is part of a larger picture, Edds said.

To illustrate this sentiment, Edds used the example of the new Lighthouse Landing development.

Development along the lake like Lighthouse Landing, on the lake, is an important step, Edds said. By building more houses, like those in Lighthouse Landing, you also build an audience of people who will want businesses and amenities along the lake.

Having this audience attracts investors, Edds said. Investors won’t show up until there are more people who are interested in having businesses along the lake, Edds said.

New development could entice more development, Edds said.

President of High Rock Lake Association, Lee Snow, echoed parts of Edds’ sentiment during an interview with the Post, saying he and the association would like to see more lakefront businesses pop-up. But, it will be difficult until people in the community want to support it, he said.

Currently, there is not a lot of business along the lake on the Rowan County side, said High Rock Lake property owner Cindy Hart.

The only place you can get gas for boats along the Rowan side of the lake is at Tamarac Marina, Hart said. And the only places to eat are Tamarac Marina, Lakeview Family Restaurant and TJ’s High Rock Lake Restaurant and Lounge, she added.

That being said, Hart said she wants to see balanced growth — meaning the lake keeps its calmness during the week while seeing some “measured” increase in lake activity on the weekend, she said.

But, High Rock Lake should not become Lake Norman, she said.

Hart also spoke to the importance of features on the lake, such as the expected addition of a new navigation system. People, who have injuries on the lake and don’t know where they are, have a very difficult time describing their location to rescue and emergency services, she added.

And, Edds said, this is a feature geared to help those visiting the lake.

The county is currently waiting to see if funding from the state has been approved for the navigation system, Edds said. The project is something the county is committed to, he said. He said that the county had also been working with Davidson County on the project.

The High Rock Lake Association, which acts as an advocate and watchdog for lake users, has also been pushing for the project, Snow said.

Future projects

Many of the voices and stakeholders who are involved with the lake and willing to talk about it came independently to a consensus on what the direction the lake should take — it needs more Rowan public accesses where people can easily put their boats in the water.

The only real public access on the lake on the Rowan side is at Dutch Second Creek Landing, said Larry Jones, former president of the High Rock Lake Association.

Creating more accessibility to the water is key, said Rowan County Commissioner Craig Pierce. It would be nice to see more of these accesses for the public, Pierce added.

The county also has been looking to work with Cube Hydro Carolinas — which owns dams on the Yadkin River and manages lake levels — about potentially getting a new facility along the lake with lake access.

Specifically, it would be nice to see something like the Pebble Beach, a beach and recreational access to High Rock Lake, Pierce said. In addition to access, a roped off beach area would be great for families and kids to enjoy the lake, Pierce said.

The county also is looking to work out a deal with Cube Hydro about land along the lake, Edds said. If working out the arrangement for land falls through, the county will look to “broker a deal,” Edds said. But, decisions on the project have not been made, he said.

Jones confirmed, saying Cube Hydro, when acquiring the High Rock Lake dams from Alcoa, assumed obligations, which are outlined in the finalized federal relicensing agreement.

In the agreement, Cube Hydro is obligated to provide a recreational facility within 10 years on the Rowan side of the lake, Jones said. Cube Hydro appears to be waiting for the final year before it provides the facility, he said.

But waiting until 2026 would be a long time, Edds added.


Those who spoke to the Post said Davidson County has paid more attention to its side of the lake. And Edds said that Rowan should do more.

Jones echoed that sentiment.

Davidson County had been working with Cube Hydro to get features along the lake — such as beach access — for years, Edds said.

And the effects of Davidson County’s efforts have been marked. In addition to pushing for projects, such as public access, Jones said that  Davidson County legislators had been more proactive in the ’70s and ’80s — working to provide water and sewer to those on the lake, he said.

This infrastructure led to more growth on the Davidson side, he said.

However, there’s more to this than just county inaction, Pierce said. The Rowan side does not see some of the benefits of the lake, he said. Rowan’s side is smaller than Davidson’s and a good portion of Rowan’s side is not nearly as deep as areas in the Davidson side, he said.

The Rowan side of the lake is “the Yadkin River and its backwaters,” Pierce said.

Still, to say Davidson’s side as a whole has deeper waters “is a mischaracterization,” Jones said, and “not germane to the discussion” about the lake’s development.

The water levels on each side of the lake equal out, Jones said. The reason Davidson’s side is more developed is from the action officials had taken — or the lack thereof in Rowan’s case, he said.

Local efforts

But there have been some local efforts to improve the Rowan side of High Rock.

• Jones said that in July 2018, while he was still president of the High Rock Lake Association, the association was able to work with the N.C. Department of Insurance — specifically NCDOI Commissioner Mike Causey — to revise part of the state’s building code.

The revisions, Jones said, make it easier for pier owners to build and work on private piers.

•  The county is lobbying for an I-85 interchange at McCanless Road and Correll Street — between Exits 76 and 79, Edds said.

The interchange would give more direct access to the developments on High Rock Lake via Bringle Ferry Road.

Edds said this project has its preliminary design and has already been submitted through the Cabarrus-Rowan Metropolitan Planning Organization, responsible for prioritizing and submitting transportation projects to the N.C. Department of Transportation.

Still, Edds made it clear that the county has “to follow the NCDOT process.”

• And marketing of the lake as well the entire county is ongoing, Edds said. People don’t know that the lake, along with many of its cultural amenities, is there, Edds said.

Contact reporter Samuel Motley at 704-797-4264.