Save Our Lake throws bash at Queen's Landing

When a person reaches age 50, according to Jill Feldmeyer, it’s time to reflect on life’s accomplishments and consider what the future holds in store.

Why should Lake Norman’s 50th birthday be any different, she wondered? 

Feldmeyer, along with her husband, Jim, began the Save Our Lake Organization in 2004. The nonprofit cleans up litter on the lake’s islands, as well as along its murky floor and 520 miles of shoreline. 

“What’s going to happen in the next 50 years if we’re not doing our part, keeping it clean?” she asked. “Will it even be here?”

SOLO is hosting a birthday party for Lake Norman on June 22 at Queen’s Landing to honor the body of water that’s boosted the regional economy and powers many aspects of our lives. 

Duke Energy officially began operating the Cowans Ford Hydro Station in Huntersville on Sept. 30, 1963, a day Tim Gause, district manager for Duke Energy’s Charlotte region, said the company marks as the lake’s birth date.

Named after former Duke Energy President Norman Cocke, Lake Norman is the largest manmade body of freshwater in the state. The company flooded it to fullness that year by building the 7,387-foot-long Cowans Ford Dam.

These days, lake water still powers the generators at the hydro station to form electricity. It also cools the steam that drives the turbines at Marshall Steam Station in Terrell and McGuire Nuclear Station in Huntersville.

The same water residents jet across in speedboats supplies drinking water to Lincoln County as well as Mooresville, Davidson, Huntersville and Charlotte.

Duke manages the lake under the auspices of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Gause said, and is tasked with preserving the water’s cleanliness and usability.

“That’s a big responsibility because we’re balancing the needs of recreation and the environment with the needs of the public who consume water and obviously need the generated energy,” he said. “We couldn’t generate energy for the piedmont without the water we store and maintain at Lake Norman.”

All of these uses blending together interested the Feldmeyers, who participated in Save Our Oceans in Santa Monica, Calif. before moving to N.C. in 1992. They originally began SOLO as a way to help Great Blue Herons whose injured wings made it impossible for them to fly and find food.

When they realized the birds were a federally protected species, SOLO’s mission zeroed in on cleaning the lake.

Feldmeyer became Iredell County’s coordinator for NC Big Sweep, a statewide nonprofit that organizes a biannual May and October cleaning of Lake Norman. Last October, more than 300 volunteers rolled up their sleeves to support the cause.

“Once we pulled up on a lady showing her children how to sink beer bottles in the lake,” Feldmeyer said. “She said, ‘I didn’t know it would do any harm.’ We said, ‘Listen, that’s called littering.’ So I think there’s some education that just needs to get out there.”

Since 2004, Feldmeyer said SOLO has helped remove more than 10 tons of trash from Lake Norman.

SOLO also partners with the Lake Norman Wildlife Conservation, the local chapter of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, to aid interested groups in adopting lake islands and managing their welfare.

According to the Catawba Riverkeeper’s website, in 2010 and 2012, the Southern Environmental Law Center listed the Catawba River as one of the 10 most endangered places in the Southeast due to industrial pollution, increasing residential and commercial development, storm water driving pollutants into the water and the presence of coal ash ponds.

Catawba Riverkeeper Rick Gaskins said that if power plants continue using an increasing amount of water each year, by 2048 there may not be enough water in the Catawba River to meet the region’s drinking and electricity needs.

“What people would see is that the water level would be down well below people’s docks, more like it was in 2007,” he said.

Both Feldmeyer and Gause see the importance of holding a birthday party celebration to engage the community in a conversation about how to care for the lake for the next 50 years.

A variety of booths will be set up at the event by groups like The Blue Ridge Dive Club, Lake Norman Wildlife Conservationists and Davidson College’s “What’s Under Lake Norman?”

Through hands-on activities, children will learn about preventing shoreline erosion and building osprey nesting platforms to replace natural habitats torn down by development. Parents can discover opportunities to help clean up and protect the lake.  

After a blessing along the shore, musical entertainment throughout the afternoon will be provided by The Gospelaires, a Southern gospel group, and Jonathan Dale’s contemporary Christian tunes.

Four acts from the Charlotte Blues Society begin at 7 p.m., and Queen’s Landing will provide hot dogs, hamburgers and drinks for all.   

“We’re just trying to get the word out that we’re here and we’re doing something and we care, so people will join us,” Feldmeyer said. 

Want to go?

Lake Norman’s free 50 Years Festival takes place 2-11 p.m. June 22 at Queen’s Landing, 1459 River Hwy., Mooresville.

Note: An earlier version of this story contained a statement by Catawba Riverkeeper Rick Gaskins saying Duke Energy closed McGuire Nuclear Station in 2007 due to falling water levels. Duke Energy spokeswoman Erin Culbert said the company never shut down McGuire in 2007.