Mountain Island Lake – NC
elevation – 644 ft.
Water Clarity – 7 to 9
Natural Quality – 7 to 9
perception – weekday
The water of Mountain Island Lake near Charlotte originates from the steep mountains of North Carolina, Lake James near Marion is the first of numerous lakes along the Catawba River Basin that have been dammed and utilized for recreation and hydro-power. The water from Mountain Island Lake which is not used for public service within the city of Charlotte continues its flow into South Carolina combining with the Santee river and spilling into the Atlantic Ocean.
The folks of North Carolina, especially the western part are so fortunate with the high quality of water that passes through our landscape – we may even be spoiled and not realize it.
With a several day visit to Charlotte this lake was only 20 miles away, so Why not?! I have found too that along with the places and experiences that I have enjoyed over the past several years – my spirits seem to be the highest when the kayak is on the roof – something about it just feels right! heck, it almost makes me want to just leave it there.
The lake was just off of hwy-16 north of Charlotte – even with all the doggone people out there jostling for position in the morning traffic – there was peace and patience inside this little truck.
There were two parking areas at the Riverbend ramp, the main lot for vehicles with trailers only – a sign stated that single vehicles were ‘subject’ to being towed. With weekday traffic light and only a few spots with boat trailers (12 out of 100 spaces) taken, I would chance it and park in the larger and most convenient lot – for the most part this was the only mental ‘baggage’ that I carried for the day – the small concern for my vehicle being towed. The key word to me was ‘subject,’ interpreted as when conditions/weekends were busy and crowded, cars in the trailer parking area would ‘lose.’
Again while enroute I considered all of the factors of how to approach/paddle a particular lake, wind/shade/size/time/goals/and more – being able to take a few pictures along the way is good too (my ‘notes’) so having the sun at your back going and coming would be a plus, not today (stupidity in camera setting was my issue on this date). One of those goal defaults for me has always been with the ‘headwaters,’ paddle the distance and then work slowly back. One last factor for this day was with having a return time (doggone-it), so my half-way time would also be a factor for the ‘turn-around’ point, if needed (and then sometimes, none of these factors matter at all).
Duck Cove or 2 pm would be my paddle objectives for the day, whichever came first. It was 930 am and the sun was already beating down, so after a short paddle I found some shade and made a soak and calibration adjustment before continuing along the left bank.
I also wondered about the signs at the landing stating NO swimming or wading, Could these be waters like Lake Julians?
Early on some out of place boulders led me to think of the glacial movement ‘eons ago, this came into conversation later in the day.
There was peace on the water and it was easy to sense the elongated surface area of the lake, at @3200 acres there was plenty more to see than in just one-day. Along this particular area I crossed under the first (of four) power transmission lines from the plant – osprey nest included.
Not sure what my expectations were for this lake’s ‘water clarity,’ but after noticing the water quality in a couple of the rivers west of Charlotte it wasn’t a high one – ‘natural quality’ was important too and at this point I was giving them both a ‘7,’ this personal mark only improved throughout the day.
I’ll give my camera setting a ‘2’ for this trip – one of my worst thoughts has always been to return home with useless pictures – that fear was close to happening on this trip.
The Latta Plantation park runs along its eastern border, this is an area that has been preserved for folks to visit and view the ‘plantation life-style’ of the early 1800’s in North Carolina. While making another stop to cool I noticed the worn hiking trails that ran along the shore line, I presumed the riverside portion of the park gets well used.
Being used-to the more abundant boulders of NC’s western lakes, the large rocks and boulders of Mountain Island Lake seemed fewer and more ‘occasional,’ again leaving that ‘glacial residue’ impression. The boulders here resembled and showed the same stress cracks and breakage as those from the more mountainous region of the Carolina’s (time/weather/ice, etc).
Along the way there are many coves, ideal for paddling and exploring.
I like to see the older homes too, hiding under the shade of the large oaks.
It was near this area that I met Pattie, it was a short but very comfortable ‘chat’ as she continued to ‘manicure’ the yard. Pattie was articulate and well spoken, full of simple optimism and ‘happy’ with her presence in life. A paddler also, she had an insight to what ‘life’s route’ is about – much about the simple things, much of it about the ‘quest’ – wander-lust, and correct too from all that I have found so far. In conversation about landscape she brought up the same glacial movement of boulders that had crossed my mind earlier, she also mentioned her desire to paddle to the ocean.
Paddling to the ocean is simply about ‘doing it,’ it can/has ‘and will be done – there is a simple and very humble mindset that looks beyond the “primitive camping or potential portaging” and simply lives within the opportunity.
Further down the lakes wooded shoreline was more protected habitat.
Just before this point I heard (and saw) a young deer frolicking and splashing in the grasses along the shore – drifting closer a young spike was clearly (enlarge right) staring back – it wasn’t the first or last family of deer for the day.
With another stop to cool there were several varieties of fish clearly visible, mostly large bluish carp-like (pretty sure that they were carp) – natural quality plus. The only thing that prevented a higher natural rating was the constant noise pollution, with a major city nearby and a thousand airliners taking off and landing each day, well – it had everything else (in its own way) for a 10.
Continuing upriver, Gastonia’s Police dive-recovery team were doing some ‘work’ near a volleyball net that was set in the water. While FD training a few years back in Charlotte, I recall some small talk about the weekend congregations around this ‘sand-bar.’
beyond the volley ball net the ‘sand-bar’ turned out to be mostly a large shallow ‘flat’ and the water at this point was crystal clear, almost as nice as the Silver’s – nice.
Crossing under the third set of power lines and behind the power plant it was now 12:30, three hours from the hwy-16 landing.
After passing under the fourth set of power lines (and who knows how many landing aircraft) I noticed what appeared to be a small inside route along the river ahead – so I took it.
As I left the cove and paddled along the shore, Wilbur and Jeff idled up beside me – trolling. Conversation was easy as I paddled at a simple, easy rate and we covered some distance. Jeff is a canoe enthusiast, and we spoke a little of the technology advances within the newer construction, Wilbur – well, on this day he was a ‘feet-up’ enthusiast – good folks.
making it back to the ‘flats’ area it was once again time to ‘cool’
this yellow finch ‘flitted’ about the tree where I stopped.
All day I had noticed the fresh water mussel shells, throughout the flats the shells were ‘pooled’ in the scars made from power boats dragging the bottom. Fresh water mussels are natural and sometimes confused with Zebra mussels which are an invasive species that migrate as ‘hitch-hikers’ on the bottoms of power-boats. Indications of fresh water mussels were noted on the top of the Catawba river basin at Lake James the first of this lake chain and most other lakes of our region (Tugalo).
Returning past the volleyball net a couple were enjoying the shallow water with their dog – reminding me of the other large pets I had seen through the day in other craft – yes, lets take our dog to enjoy the natural habitat! (sarcasm). I suppose with the airliners above, maybe the wildlife can adapt to this competition, and their land-mines too!
Water clarity 9
The shoreline offered sandy and shady areas to stop, there were some exposed tree roots – but nothing remotely expressive as the Suwannee’s.
I did notice several tar-like spots along the river through the day, it seemed to be a dirty-natural sandy substance and being in North Carolina made me wonder if this might be the origin of how UNC got their nickname.. the ‘tar-heels’ – will research this more.
One of several Osprey nests, I did see an Osprey early which to me was a good sign.
Back to the hwy-16 bridge, it was 4:30 – a leisurely 7-hour paddle day.
I was not disappointed at all with what I found at Mountain Island Lake, I was impressed. The noise pollution sucked, but for a convenient place to paddle it has high qualities for multiple paddles and visits. The water was great, there were Osprey’s, Herons, fish, families of deer, otters, and likely other animals and habitat that I completely missed – I did find what I was looking for –
and returned to this…….