The Wamplers, the Tordas and we, parents of a group of “play-date” kids ages 6 to 11, who have been together since pre-school days, had reserved the U.S. Forest Service’s Balsam Lake Lodge for the weekend. Now we had this same idea last year and rented the same Balsam Lake Lodge. Last year a week or so before our reservation date, the Forest Service called to inform us that the dam at Balsam Lake had broken and the lake was dry. So, sadly, we cancelled and had to forego our “last splash” last year.
But the idea lingered through the winter and this April we reserved Balsam Lake Lodge again. My wife and I both had a long Labor Day weekend and I kept encouraging her to load the kids up and take a drive to Balsam Lake to check out the digs. Finally on Labor Day afternoon she acquiesced and we drove up. You probably saw this coming — the lake was dry.
Well, the haranguing with the Forest Service who did not call this year to let us know the lake was dry and who, at first, wanted to charge us a night’s rent is an unpleasant chapter that will be deleted from this narrative.
But we were determined to have our “last splash” this year and a feverish three days of Internet surfing, emails and telephone calls resulted in two nights and three days at Lake Wylie. Lake Wylie is one of 11 lakes along the Catawba River Chain that Duke Energy owns and operates for power production. The lake serves as part of the border between North and South Carolina. Our rental was on the North Carolina side just south of Charlotte.
I am not a fan of power company lakes nor dams on free-flowing rivers. But I know they’re here and know that for the foreseeable future they will be here. And from my time growing up, fishing, swimming and camping at or in naturally-formed lakes in Louisiana, I have to admit I do enjoy spending time at the lake.
Lake Wylie does little to salve my ambivalence towards power company lakes. It is home to the Catawba Nuclear Generating Station and the G. G. Allen Steam Station, a coal-fired electricity generating facility. You could see the tower from the steam station after a couple of turns around the road through the subdivision that led to our rental.
But Lake Wylie is the second oldest lake on the Catawba River Chain, created in 1904. And there is little doubt that after more than 100 years Lake Wylie is a lake — not a river ecosystem. And even though it’s a lake in the shadow of the “Queen City” it’s wooded shoreline and many coves create habitat for an abundance of wildlife. We saw deer and had flyovers from bald eagles and ospreys. Turtles and water snakes came up to the dock to investigate all the splashing. There were kingfishers, great blue herons, green herons, red-shouldered hawks, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, black vultures and fish crows all seen and/or heard from the dock.
And there was a lake — a lake with a double-decker dock. The top level was about 15 feet above water and the perfect launching pad for kids wanting to make a splash. The water was lake water warm, which was a good thing because except for eating and sleeping the kids were in the water the entire stay.
There’s not much like kids and water and wildlife to bring you back to what’s real about this existence. And I truly believe that the more time families spend together outdoors, the stronger that reality gets.