Lake Logan is a familiar fixture of any cruise along Haywood County’s stretch of N.C. 215, an 80-acre expanse of water that creates a wide-angle view of sudden contrast to the forested tunnel forming most of the road’s winding path toward the Blue Ridge Parkway.
But for years, it’s been a well-known fact that the inviting-looking lake is off-limits to locals looking to spend a day swimming, fishing or boating.
That’s not true anymore.
As I stood freezing on the dock above 67.3-degree Lake Logan, the main thought running through my head was a question: Why did I put myself up to this?
Wearing only a swimsuit, I was surrounded by a bunch of wetsuit-wearing athletes who were more intense than I would ever be, and here I was, set to swim, bike and run alongside them in the Lake Logan Sprint Triathlon. My stomach growled, either from hunger or nervousness — it was hard to tell — but either way it seemed an affirmation that I should have slept rather than waking up at 4:30 a.m. to come out here and embarrass myself.
The severe drought plaguing Western North Carolina has taken its toll on the local water supply, and residents are being asked to conserve what they can.
It’s been 10 years since the Lake Logan Triathlon made its debut in Haywood County, drawing a field of 162 people to tackle the 1,500-meter swim, 24-mile bike ride and 10K run.
Sunrise was still hours away when the day started at Lake Logan.
With the first starting gun firing at 7 a.m., Aug. 2 the throng of racers participating in the Lake Logan Multisport Festival had to get there early. By 5:30 a.m., N.C. 215 snaking from the Pigeon River Valley in Bethel up the flank of Cold Mountain was clogged with traffic, and one hour later, a mass of competitors, spectators, dogs and children had filled the bridge overlooking Lake Logan.
“For a long time you could see headlights through the trees for quite a ways,” said Chris Shell, one of about 15 Haywood County sheriff’s deputies policing the event.
Removing sediment from Lake Logan would not only benefit its owner, Evergreen Packaging, it could potentially save homes and businesses from flooding, according to a study that was recently completed by McGill Associates.
“If we’re successful, we could lower the lake level, hold the floodwaters, and decrease impact,” said Joel Storrow, president of McGill Associates.
Evergreen Packaging primarily uses the lake to maintain the water flow necessary for its paper mill operations. Lowering the lake level would increase water storage capacity for Evergreen, while simultaneously holding back floodwater that could potentially damage properties located downstream. Increasing the lake’s capacity would therefore remove properties from the floodplain.
Just how many properties would be saved by dredging Lake Logan is dependent on how much sediment is removed. Lowering the lake by 10 feet would remove 15 structures from the flood plain. Dredging 15 feet from the lake would save 23 structures, while lowering Lake Logan 20 feet would save 29 properties.
Evergreen says it is only comfortable with dropping the lake by 10 feet, however, due to fears that filling up a lake that’s 15 or 20 feet deeper during a drought would prove challenging.
McGill has compiled preliminary cost estimates, which show it would take $1.8 million to draw down the lake by 15 feet; $6.8 million to drop the lake 15 feet; and $9.8 million to dredge 20 feet.
Storrow said he plans to pursue funding from the Federal Emergency Management Association, which could potentially provide 75 percent of the cost.
However, the recession means FEMA, like many other agencies, has less funding to dole out in grants.
“This is a very competitive program,” said Storrow. “This isn’t a slam dunk.”
However, because McGill’s study incorporated floodplain mapping from the state and the Army Corp of Engineers, it can back up its claims that dredging the lake would save homes, thereby making its application more competitive.
The study was commissioned after the devastating 2004 floods with state and federal aid funds. The Town of Canton received enough aid to fund 50 percent of the study, while Haywood County and Evergreen provided 25 percent each.
By Michael Beadle
You’ll have to excuse Greg Duff if he greets you out of breath.
If he’s not in the middle of coordinating the upcoming Bele Chere 5K, the Inaugural Lake Logan Triathlon, Jackson County’s Tour de Tuck bike race or the Asheville Citizen-Times Half-Marathon/5K, he’s busy training for his next triathlon.