Touring N.C.'s outdoors by wheelchair
Part II the Foothills
For the physically abled, the Foothills of North Carolina is natures’ magical mixture of some of the best of the mountains and the piedmont. It is where mile high mountains meet and converge with the more level and stable landscape of the Catawba and Yadkin River valleys. Fed by cold and oxygenated streams, the waters are home to trout, smallmouth bass and most species in-between. With the largest deviation of elevation of any section in the state, visitors can find an immense variety in not only plant life but the creatures that call them home. From bird watching, fishing and hunting to simply spending time with the sights and sounds of nature wrapped around them, folks of all walks of life have a lot to enjoy within the states foothills. With all its diversity and uniqueness the foothills can still be a challenge for the handicapped, especially for those that need wheelchair appliances to enjoy what so many of us take for granite.
Thanks to the recently released six edition of the NC Department of Health and Human Services’ Guide for People with Disabilities, access to some of the best the state has to offer may be easier that you think.
Recent years have seen a surge in county and city interests in developing a special park known as greenways. While there is no golden blueprint for what makes a greenway, they are usually made up by developing a trail system into what natural areas already exists. This is usually alongside streams. As a result, the developed trails provide a perfect pathway for wheelchairs to access some truly wild natural areas as well as some great fishing. The Catawba and Yadkin River both are home to not only the newest greenways in the state but some of the most beautiful and fishable ones as well. Located in McDowell County just off highway 70 is the new Marion Greenway. With ample parking and ease of access, this paved level pathway wastes little time in putting its visitors into the beautiful river bottom of the Catawba River upstream of Lake James. In addition, the trail includes handicapped accessible fishing piers that provide access to newly designated Delayed Harvest Trout Waters. A short distance from here near the little town of Old Fort is the handicapped accessible Curtis Creek. Designated as Delayed Harvest as well, the stream has two accessible piers, one of which has a paved path along the creeks rocky shoreline that leads out to a pier situated in the middle of the creek. Moving downstream on Catawba River anglers and other nature lovers will the newly expanded Lake James State park with newly developed accessible fishing pier. In addition, at the lakes powerhouse is another accessible pier overlooking hatchery supported trout water. Following the river to Morganton, visitors will find the four mile long Morganton Greenway. Besides a four mile long paved pathway by the river’s edge, there are multiple access points as well as accessible piers. Just south of Morganton off highway 64 are the South Mountains Game Lands. Located beside the Department of Corrections facility is an accessible community fishing pond that is stocked with catfish by the NCWRC. With a little assistance, the area is also accessible for dove hunting. For the wheelchair bound hunters, the Johns River Game Lands just north of Morganton on highway 18/64 may be their ticket to some great dove, deer and wild turkey hunting. Using a lottery type draw, the game lands provide a variety of access options for those that get drawn. Located downstream along the Catawba River from Morganton are several accessible fishing piers and access points. Some of these include; Huffman Bridge, Conley Creek, Tater Hole, Hickory City parks, Wittenburg Access area, River Bend Catawba County Park. Visitors to the South Mountains State Park will also find accessible trout fishing on the Jacobs Fork Creek. Another handicapped accessible trout fishing location in the foothills county of Caldwell is the Boones Fork pond located on USFS property in the Mullberry Community. The small pond is hatchery supported waters and has an accessible pier. In Polk County anglers will also find accessible fishing at Laughter Pond located off NC 108 near Mill Springs. In southwestern Gaston County is the Crowders Mountain State Park. The park has a 9 acre accessible pond with catfish, bass and sunfish. Gaston County is also home to the 80 acre Rankin Lake and 11 acre George Poston Park Pond. Both of these ponds are handicapped accessible. Moving to the north from the Catawba River to the Yadkin River, we find the first of several new greenways with the Yadkin River Greenway with combination trout water and accessible pier in Patterson. Downstream in Wilkes County is the Army Corp Lake W. Kerr Scott with several accessible fishing and camping locations. The town of Wilkesboro has a great system of greenways within its city limits on the Yadkin River as well. Northeast of Wilkes in the county of Surry is the Westwood Park Pond at Tumbling Rock Reservoir. Part of the NCWRC’s community fishing program, the pond is stocked regularly with channel catfish and has both bass and sunfish. The pond is handicapped accessible. Another great greenway is located in the Surry County town of Mt. Airy along the Ararat River. At just over two miles long, the paved greenway parallels the Ararat River which is designated as Delayed Harvest trout waters. The river has several access points as well as accessible locations for fishing. Located in the town of Troutman in Iredell County is LifeSpan’s Blue Sky Nature Center. The center is a certified Wildlife Habitat that provides a natural area that is safe and aesthetically pleasing where wildlife can be observed and protected. This site provides visitors an outdoor experience that includes sensory and horticultural gardens while offering the community at large a model for conservation and preservation. Special features include viewing decks, a picnic area, an amphitheater and a one-fourth a mile hardscape walking trail. Admission is free. Two accessible restrooms located in Building One. Sink faucets have levers. Restrooms are closed when LifeSpan’s offices are closed on weekends and holidays.
Tony Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org