Ridin’ the Rapids

Charlotte IS a world-class city!

When did this happen? I believe the October 2006 opening of the U.S. National Whitewater Center, located in Mecklenburg County’s Tuskaseegee Ford Park, has definitely put us on the map. This environmentally-friendly outdoor center is easily reachable from downtown Charlotte in 10-15 minutes — it’s literally in our own back yard!

On-site is the world’s only multi-channel recirculating white-water river. This man-made, high tech river contains 4,000 linear feet of class II-IV white-water rapids. Encompassing 300 acres of woodlands along the Catawba River, the Center also houses the U.S. Canoe and Kayak headquarters and was recently the site for the U.S. Olympic trials in canoeing and kayaking. It is all this, yet it is so much more.

All ages and all “pocketbooks” will find something to do here. One of the most appealing aspects of the U.S. National Whitewater Center is that it offers many activities at no charge.

Visiting the center is free. There are 11 miles of hiking and mountain bike trails available for public use. The 0.8 mile walk around the white-water rapids is perfect for a family stroll — this is definitely a family- and pet-friendly place. Many people had leashed dogs with them the day that we visited. The best free activity is watching all of the action. Even if you’re not up for your own adventure, it sure is exciting to watch while others do it. You could easily fill a day sitting in the comfortable Adirondack chairs just watching everyone rafting, kayaking and climbing.

A Family Visit
The day we visited the Center, our group of seven consisted of ages 5-75. We came to see if there truly was something there for everyone. The main thing that we had in common was a readiness to enjoy a rip-roaring good time.

We arrived hungry and ready for lunch. The Eddy is a delightful restaurant that easily met the varied appetites of our group. The extensive menu has interesting adult choices and a great kids’ menu as well. The french fries were an especially big hit. The food was excellent and reasonably priced. Seven of us ate lunch for $54.

A member of our group is a “lady who lunches” and even she said it was the best lunch she’d had in a long time. High marks from a tough critic! The terrace, with a fabulous view of the white-water rapids, is a wonderful place to enjoy a meal and watch the excitement below.

What is the white-water rafting experience like? “Exciting!,” “Fun!,” and “Realistic!” were the comments from our group. The pre-trip safety talk prepared us for our adventure. Each 6-man raft carries a well-trained guide to maneuver the rapids. The circular layout of the course, which has a drop of 21 vertical feet, begins and ends with two ponds connected by seven huge, custom-built turbo pumps that generate the never-ending flow of the “river.”

A 60-second conveyor belt ride returns the rafters from the bottom basin back up to the top after a run on the river. One channel has Class II-III rapids and has a number of technical challenges. The other channel has Class IV rapids — a much faster ride with more obvious drops.

The guides made sure we got a good taste of both of these equally exciting rapids. The two-hour experience was very similar to other white-water rafting trips I’ve been on — albeit without a conveyor belt. It was definitely an exhilarating experience!

Beyond White-Water
White-water kayaking is available for those interested in taking the adventure up a notch. Lessons are available for all skill levels. My two sons (ages 12 and 13) had an hour-and-a-half kayak lesson and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Their teacher was patient and reassuring — a necessary skill when teaching someone to right an upside-down kayak!

“Flat-water” canoeing is available if calmer waters are more your speed. The Center has 1.3 miles of Catawba River waterfront property to enjoy. You can bring your own non-motorized boat or sign up for a two-hour guided trip, which is open to all ages.

The climbing center has one of the largest outdoor climbing facilities in the United States. It has 5,700 square feet of climbing surface and more than 40 roped climbs. Trained guides are able to tie all ages and skill levels into a series of appropriate routes up the climbing wall. Harnesses and ropes are used to ensure safety. It is a rigorous workout but the guides facilitate climbs that are skill appropriate and successful.

The 11-mile mountain bike trail challenges riders at all skill levels. If you are planning to use the riding trails, bring your own bike. Currently, there are no bike rentals at the Center. The hiking/running trails wind throughout the woods and waterfront. The trails are beautifully maintained and fun to explore.

Spectator Sports
It was a great to participate in all the different activities but it was also exciting to watch world-class athletes in training. The Center has done an amazing job of creating an environment that meets the needs of everyone. Weekend warriors paddle right beside people who smilingly say, “This is my day job.”

If you need some “adult time” without the kids, the terrace is a great place for an early evening cocktail. A full-service bar is discretely tucked beside the restaurant. The scenery is gorgeous and it’s a wonderful place to enjoy the outdoors. I’ve already recommended this outing to a number of friends. It certainly is a different and fun “date night” for Mom and Dad! Overhead lighting allows boaters to paddle into the night, so there is still a lot of activity going on after the sun sets.

We are a lucky city indeed that this fabulous center chose us for its home. There truly is something here for everyone. The activities are exciting, adventurous and fun. The center exudes a love for the environment and the outdoors that is contagious. If you go once, you will find yourself falling more in love with the outdoors and all that it offers. More than likely, you’ll also be planning your next visit before you leave. Will we be going back? Each member or our group had the same resounding answer, “You betcha!”

What to Know Before You Go
The Web site for the Center (http://www.usnwc.org/) is user friendly and full of information. Although all of the water sports and the climbing center accept “walk ups,” it is recommended that you make reservations in advance. Protective gear is included in the prices and additional gear is available for rental.

If you are participating in water sports, be sure to bring a change of clothes and a towel. The locker rooms have bathrooms, changing areas and showers. Lockers are available to store your gear. If you have a special need, the management team is happy to assist you.