U.S. National Whitewater Center Has Big Plans for Its 10th Year

Rob Glover
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In August, the U.S. National Whitewater Center turns 10 years old. This season, Charlotte’s crown jewel of the outdoor community is hitting a tremendous pre-teen growth spurt. Adding both acreage—the center has nearly doubled in size over the last 1.5 years—and experiences, it can be difficult to keep up with everything that’s new here.

Luckily for us, Eric Osterhus, communications and brand manager for the USNWC, took some time out of 2016 preparations to help us create this mini-guide of everything to look out for this year.

Center Expansion

Even while the river's drained, there is no off season for the USNWC's team.
Even while the river's drained, there is no off season for the USNWC's team. Rob Glover

At the end of 2014, the center purchased 150 acres of mostly forest land adjacent to its original site. In 2015 they purchased an additional 490 acres, pushing the total facility size to 1,100 acres. There is currently no development planned, beyond adding trail mileage.

“The plan right now is to simply preserve it,” Osterhus says. “We want to allow those trees to stand. Knowing they’ll be there for years to come is important to us.”

New Trails

The addition of the 3-mile Parkway Trail brings an all weather option to the center.
The addition of the 3-mile Parkway Trail brings an all weather option to the center. Rob Glover

While the trails for the newly acquired land are in the planning stage, several miles have been added to the existing property recently, bringing the total trail system to roughly 27 miles.

Last year saw the addition of an optional section to the East Main Trail. Located near the entrance road, this moderate, blue-rated singletrack now offers a total of four fast and hilly miles. The trailhead for East Main is located directly behind you as you face the center’s main building.

A more recent addition, the Parkway Trail follows either side of the entrance road and gives the facility its first all-weather biking/hiking/running option. The wider, crushed-stone path can be seen mirroring White Water Parkway with occasional dips into the surrounding woods. A few hills keep it interesting but a low level of technicality warrant its green (easy) designation. The trailhead for the Parkway Trail is very near the Trailhead for East Main.

An Expanded Outfitter’s Store

After months of work, the upsized Outfitter’s Store is open for business.
After months of work, the upsized Outfitter’s Store is open for business. Rob Glover

“It’s a way for the Whitewater Center to become a catalyst for the active outdoor lifestyle,” says Osterhus, explaining the expansion of the USNWC’s retail space. “The Outfitter becomes a place where you come to prepare for those trips either out west to Colorado or to western Carolina.”

Upping the footprint of the Outfitters Store from 1,400 to 5,000 square feet opens opportunities to provide what’s needed for adventures well beyond the boundaries of the USNWC. New additions will include tents, sleeping bags, and other camping gear as well as an increased selection of lifestyle clothing and kayaking gear.

Sticking Around for Food and Drinks

From the beginning, the USNWC has given its guests a reason to stick around after their turn on the trails for craft beer and a variety of food options. Last year’s additions added greater access for guests. The Gear Box, a shipping container-turned-bike rental facility, sits near the back edge of the parking lot and offers a small selection of cold craft beer. Belmont Abbey Island, the smaller sibling to Hawk Island, was retrofitted as home to the immense Pump House Biergarten, a separate draft house, canned beer bar, and food truck.

This year the focus is on increasing the ability to turn out these tasty treats more efficiently. Sitting underneath the well-appointed retail space, the brand new Rivers Edge kitchen has been super-sized to 5,000 square feet. As this is the backbone of food preparation for the entire facility, Osterhus anticipates it will greatly improve the center’s ability to efficiently serve all those hungry paddlers and pedalers.

More Races and Events

The newly minted Hawk Tower looms over construction of the deep water solo site.
The newly minted Hawk Tower looms over construction of the deep water solo site. Rob Glover

One of the most thrilling aspects of the USNWC is the creative range of events held here. From a standard trail 5k to a weekend-long festival of everything outdoors, the center is home to an incredible calendar of opportunities for participants and spectators.

The center’s commitment to long-distance trail races continues this year, and March brings the first New South Trail Marathon and half marathon to the singletrack system. The challenging route takes advantage of some the best trails at the center, covering everything from beginner to advanced terrain.

Has the swim leg kept you from trying a triathlon? In May the USNWC will launch its first Dry Tri—a combo race that includes trail running, mountain biking, and stand-up paddleboarding. Designed for individuals or teams of two or three, the race incorporates many of the best parts of the center.

In preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games, the US Olympic Canoe Slalom Trials will return in April. The best athletes the sport has to offer, including some hometown heroes, will compete for a chance to represent the USA in Rio.

The Tread Nightly race has been a great success in the past—the opportunity to bomb through pitch-black woods by headlamp attracted a full house of runners. This July, the center asks “Why not play two?” and offers the Tread Brightly race the following morning. With the rare opportunity to camp on-site, the Friday/Saturday race combo should be equally popular. Each race offers either a 4-mile or half-marathon option.

More Zip-Line Options

The new zip-line structure towers over the old Mega Zip.
The new zip-line structure towers over the old Mega Zip. Rob Glover

Zip liningat the USNWC gets a complete reboot this year. The freshly minted Hawk Tower—the monolith seen jutting above tree line on Hawk Island—is the launch pad for two adventures.

The first begins with a zip line across the river to the new Figure Eight tower (a 1,600-foot run, the longest ever at the center). From there a seven-element ropes course winds up at the current Mega Zip area where a second zipline returns guests back to Hawk Island. The second adventure is a dual zip, from Hawk Tower direct to the Mega Zip area and then back to the island. Hawk’s tower also will include two new tethered jump platforms at 60- and 100-feet high.

Deep Water Solo Climb

No nets, no ropes, just a wall and a pool. That’s deep water solo climbing. Four walls, each with multiple routes, will rise as high as 40 feet from their base on Hawk’s Island. Below, a 16-foot deep pool will catch climbers once they drop from the top. This will be the first permanent structure of its kind in the country says Osterhaus. The facility should be complete in April, just in time for Tuck Fest .

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