A narrow channel of the Catawba is the new rush hour on the river – where boats and kayaks jockey around each other, and regular visitors fear someone will get hurt in a crash.
The area between the National Whitewater Center (on the Charlotte side) and Tailrace Marina (on the Mt. Holly side) has become popular place for kayakers to paddle, sit, and even sunbathe.
An island splits the channel just north of I-85. One side of the island, kayakers fill the channel on any sunny afternoon and many weekends. Boats usually avoid the kayakers by taking the channel on the other side of the island, near the marina – but kayakers rent vessels there, too, and mix with the boats passing through.
“It's becoming so congested down there it's hard for people on pontoon boats and bass boats to get through,” said boater Matt Williams, who lives north of the area and boats frequently around it.
“They're actually sunbathing and stopping in the middle of the lake,” said Williams. “It's just kind of an accident waiting to happen.”
Ken Cotte, the manager of Tailrace Marina, agrees the congestion can be a problem.
“I see a large number of kayaks out here with a large number of boats sometimes,” said Cotte, “and people going fast and not paying attention to what they're doing.”
He believes a no-wake or slow-speed zone may be the answer around the marina – a half-mile from the north end of the marina to the southern tip of the island.
“Would you rather go no wake, or would you rather run somebody over and have to live with that the rest of your life?” asked Cotte.
Williams isn’t so sure.
“I don't think they should restrict the rights of every boater to slow down and stop for kayakers,” he said. He prefers dividing the channel to allow kayakers to paddle on one side, and boaters to pass on the other.
Both will take their ideas to the Lake Wylie Marine Commission next Monday. With summer coming, they know the river will be busy and they want to work out a compromise – rather than think about the alternative.
“When it's busy, yes there's a real chance of somebody getting killed,” said Cotte.
The meeting is Monday, May 19, at 7 p.m., at Good Samaritan United Methodist Church at 5220 Crowder's Cove Lane in Lake Wyle.