Spirit of Rowan 2022: High Rock Lake vital part of Rowan County

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 27, 2022

High Rock lake is an iconic part of Rowan and Davidson counties for recreation, economic development and manufacturing.

The reservoir was created in 1929 as part of a dam project of the aluminum manufacturer Alcoa. Land purchases began about a decade earlier and when it was constructed it was the largest reservoir in North Carolina. It was named for nearby High Rock Mountain.

It is one of a series of dam projects built to supply electricity to the Alcoa’s smeltery in Badin, which closed in 2007.

Alcoa held on to its hydroelectric project on the Yadkin River until 2016, when it was sold to Cube Hydro, which was later acquired by Canadian firm Ontario Power Generation. High Rock Dam currently operates under Eagle Creek Renewable Energy, a subsidiary of OPG.

Norman Ribelin has been a contract surveyor for the project since 2005. He said he measures the dams every year to make sure they are not moving.

Ribelin said engineering requirements for the dam are federally regulated because the Yadkin flows beyond state boundaries.

“They require a certain amount of monitoring to establish the stability of the structures,” Ribelin said.

Functionally, Ribelin said High Rock is also the first lake in a system and serves as a sediment trap.

Ribelin said much of the original equipment at the dam had been in use until recently, but in 2019 Eagle Creek installed some upgrades aimed at improving the environmental impact of the dam.

The company added an aerating turbine and valve to the dam to improve the dissolved oxygen level of water passing through the dam, which improves conditions for wildlife in the water. A federal laboratory also tested a new water quality monitoring system.

There is more to the lake than the engineering and industrial efforts that created it in the first place. The Rowan County Economic Development Commission says the 15,180-acre lake has 365 miles of shoreline.

The lake has become a hub for recreation and real estate. It is known for its quality fishing and homes now dot the shore of High Rock and it hosts events throughout the year.

Notably, it hosts the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce’s annual Dragon Boat Festival. The free admission event brought out 25 teams to compete in 2021.

The lake has also hosted the Bassmaster Classic several times. The major tournament has rotated through venues since its inception in 1971.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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