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Children enjoy playing in the water at Ramsey Creek Park's beach.

If Lake Norman, the largest manmade lake in North Carolina (and also known as the “Inland Sea”) has 520 miles of shoreline in four counties, why are there only two beaches accessible for swimming?

First things first: here’s where residents of Mecklenburg and Iredell counties actually can go swimming. Lake Norman State Park in Troutman has been open to the public for swimming for years, but just last year, Ramsey Creek in Cornelius was also developed into a public beach designated for swimming.

Traffic and parking have become sore spots for the new beach, but a free shuttle will operate from the Cornelius Park and Ride lot at 20300 Sefton Park Road to Ramsey Creek Beach on weekends and holidays this summer. The shuttle will run every 15 minutes from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Beachgoers who use the shuttle will have free access to the beach. A park entrance fee will be collected if you choose to drive and park.

The beach will be open daily from May until Labor Day between 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Lifeguards will be on duty during beach hours, according to the Ramsey Creek Park website.

Lake Norman State Park, near Exit 42 off Interstate 77, is open for swimming from April 1 to Oct. 1. A fee of $5 is charged only when a lifeguard is on duty, so be sure to call before venturing out to the park, which closes at 8 p.m.

So why don't we have more beaches?

The lack of access to the lake has long been a point of contention among Lake Norman residents, who cite it as “economic discrimination.” If you don’t own a boat or live on the lake, you can pretty much look at it, but can’t go in. Bill Russell, president of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, has agreed with this line of thinking for more than a decade and championed opening up lake access to more residents.

Liability concerns were the major reason for limiting beach access previously, although it’s hard to find statistics on beach drownings on Lake Norman, despite the fact that there was only one beach previously.

Here comes some good news. In case you didn’t know, recreation plans for two new Lake Norman beaches at Mountain Creek Park and Island Point Access in Catawba County were approved as part of Duke Energy’s Relicensing Agreement for the Catawba-Wateree Project about a year ago.

Development of both beaches will begin in 2020.

Approximately 90 recreational projects along the Catawba River, from Lake James in North Carolina to Lake Wylie in South Carolina, will be under construction in the next 20 years. They include beaches, along with boat launches, picnic facilities, fishing piers, camping areas, RV camping sites, trails, restrooms and parking. These enhancements are the result of commitments made by Duke Energy and 69 other stakeholders in the Comprehensive Relicensing Agreement signed in 2006 and required by the company’s hydroelectric operating license issued in 2015 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Elizabeth Durocher is a freelance writer living in Mooresville.

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