By: Katie Hall, Public Information Officer, North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation
Thirty years ago, McDowell and Burke counties joined together to have a state park created on Lake James. In a team effort between both chambers of commerce and county commissions, the counties lobbied their state representatives for funding for a park. The park was dedicated in 1987. The original Catawba River Area that features Fox Den Loop, walk-in tent camping sites and Sandy Cliff Overlook is now complemented by the larger Paddy’s Creek area, which hosts the Long Arm Peninsula with boat-in camping, drive-in tent camping area, a large day-use area, beach and bathhouse, and several trails.
On Oct. 5, the community came together to celebrate three decades of the park. Elected and appointed local, state and federal government officials attended alongside volunteers, staff, supporters, and business leaders. Park Superintendent Nora Coffey hosted tours of both the Catawba and Paddy’s Creek sides of the property.
Nearly 50 guests gathered at Paddy’s Creek picnic area for the bar-b-que lunch and a program from state and local officials and Friends of Lake James State Park. Bob Hunter, vice president of Friends of Lake James State Park, spoke about the outstanding partnership between Burke and McDowell Counties that made the park possible. Hunter, who served in the legislature at the time, was instrumental in passing the authorizing legislation as well as the State Parks Act during the 1987 session. Eric Jenkins, president of Friends of Lake James State Park, spoke about the important Paddy’s Creek acquisition in 2004, which added nearly 3,000 acres to Lake James State Park. That acquisition expanded the park to six times its former size and allowed the conservation of more than 30 miles of shoreline on the 6,500-acre lake in Burke and McDowell counties.
State Parks Director Mike Murphy talked about the State Parks Act, established the same year as the authorization of Lake James State Park, and the funding allotted to the new park upon its authorization that allowed it to be operational far faster than its predecessors in the system. He also thanked everyone who has supported the park through the years, many of whom were in attendance. “Lake James State Park is a special place. When I walk in here, I feel like I am home. So many local community citizens came together to establish this incredible state park, and we are all very thankful for their efforts,” he said.
Park Superintendent Nora Coffey looked ahead to plans for the future of the park. A new visitor center for welcoming and educating visitors and the much anticipated Cove Bridge are on the horizon. Connecting Paddy’s Creek and Long Arm Peninsulas, the 238-foot Cove Bridge will provide continuity between the peninsulas for recreation and emergency response. It will be a centerpiece for the lovely Fonta Flora State Trail, which loops through the park and is 16 miles long thus far. A new 6,500 square foot visitor center will serve as the main park office and will host an exhibit hall, a classroom, restrooms, retail space, and an outdoor amphitheater for large groups. A new parking area will support the visitor’s center and access to the mountain bike trails and the Fonta Flora State Trail. The Over Mountain Victory National Historic Trail is routed adjacent to the park, providing even more recreational opportunities nearby.
About Lake James State Park
About Lake James State Park
Lake James State Park rests on the edge of the expansive Pisgah National Forest and weaves along peninsulas on beautiful Lake James. The park stretches through both Burke and McDowell Counties with headquarters in Nebo, N.C. It hosts a thriving ecosystem with foxes, rabbit, muskrat, mink, pileated woodpeckers, hawks, owls, salamanders, and newts, and so much more.
This park sets itself apart with its mountain scenery and stunning clear waters. Celebrated flora of the North Carolina Mountains including pink lady slipper, Jack-in-the-pulpit, passion flower, Indian pipe and cardinal flower grace the banks of the park. Mountain laurel, rhododendron and flame azalea are also abundant in the hilly terrain. Beautiful lakeside campsites abound to enjoy all the park has to offer.
Make sure you make it out to Lake James State Park in the next couple of weeks to catch the leaves changing. We’ll see you there!