Lake Wateree: Catawba’s ‘Little Gem’
by Joyce Deaton
With this edition, the Pilot welcomes readers living along a peaceful waterway that’s becoming home to increasing numbers of lake lovers. In the map section, you’ll notice the addition of Lake Wateree – midway between Charlotte and Columbia.
If you haven’t yet been on Lake Wateree, you may want to trailer down for a relaxing day of fishing on this 13,000-acre jewel, last in the Catawba River chain. With 242 miles of shoreline, the long, narrow lake stretches 27 miles with a dam at each end. Created in 1920 by James B. Duke and partners, it’s still owned and managed by Duke Power. Seven boat access areas dot the lake, along with a public boat ramp and refueling dock at the Lake Wateree State Recreation Area on Desportes Island near Winnsboro.
With a tackle shop, park store, nature trail, playground and 72 campsites, the recreation area provides a great way to sample the beauties of the lake. Home to significant populations of crappie, bream, largemouth bass, striped bass and catfish, Lake Wateree hosts several fishing tournaments each year.
“Since it’s not wide enough for rough water, the lake stays pretty quiet,” says Larry Jackson, who with his wife, Kay, owns Lake Wateree Real Estate in Ridgeway. A resident of the area since 1964, he’s lived on the lake since 1980. “It’s great for skiing, pontoons, runabouts and fishing,” he says. “The lake is not heavily developed, so there’s not a lot of traffic.” Camden, Kershaw, Winnsboro and Lancaster are each about a half-hour from the lake, and Columbia and Charlotte are about an hour’s drive.
Jackson has seen Wateree grow from what he calls “a poor man’s lake” with dirt roads, mobile homes, campers and cabins back in the ‘60s to a place where large new homes are now the standard. “You can still find a few of the old cabins and single-wides for sale,” he says. “They go for $150,000 to $400,000. Mid-range homes such as you’d find in most city subdivisions sell for $400,000 to $600,000, and newer brick homes with 4,000 to 5,000 square feet are selling for $600,000 to $1 million.” The average waterfront lot sells for $250,000 to $350,000.
About half of Lake Wateree’s residents live there full time, and about half are weekenders, Jackson says. Development is progressing steadily, but not what he would call a boom. “All the Duke Power land on the lake is zoned for single-family, so there are no condos, and also we don’t have city water and sewer, so I don’t think this area will become overdeveloped,” he explains.
The Lake Wateree Home Owners Association (WHOA) intends to see that it doesn’t.
With about 600 members, the association works aggressively to protect the lake from the environmental damage that can come from unregulated industrial and residential development. An active group of volunteers regularly monitors, assesses and reports on water quality in the lake. With the state of South Carolina, WHOA recently filed suit against North Carolina to prevent Concord and Kannapolis from diverting 10 million gallons of water a day from the Catawba to serve its new residential subdivisions.
“Growth is inevitable, but it can be controlled, and WHOA is very protective of this lake. They want to preserve what we have here,” says Richard Combs, who recently moved to Lake Wateree from Lake Norman to become general manager of Wateree Marina, off state highway 97 in the Beaver Creek area.
After Lake Norman’s bustle, Combs enjoys the quieter lifestyle of Lake Wateree. “It’s 15 or 20 minutes to the nearest grocery store, and you have to drive carefully not to hit a deer,” he says with a smile. “This is like Lake Norman was 25 years ago.”
Combs came to breathe new life into the marina, which had mainly served fishermen. With improvements to the ship’s store and docks, he’s turning it into a more family-friendly destination. Wateree Marina sells five lines of runabouts, fishing boats and pontoons, provides major maintenance services and rents 140 slips on the lake, as well as 200 dry storage spaces.
The only boat dealer on the lake, Combs only sells models up to 25 feet. “We’re trying not to put larger boats on the lake,” he explains. “There are a lot of guys out there with 15- or 16-foot fishing boats that wouldn’t survive a 30- or 40-foot cruiser. As it is now, you can go out on a Sunday afternoon and have a peaceful trip up and down the main channel and not take a pounding. We have a little gem down here.”