Legislation was signed into law by Governor McCrory this summer that makes the Fonta Flora Loop Trail in Burke County the latest addition to North Carolina’s State Park System (which celebrates its centennial this year).
The Fonta Flora Loop Trail (formerly the Lake James Loop Trail) will encircle Lake James with a continuous 26-mile greenway and state-of-the-art hiking, recreational and nature trail when it is completed over the next few years. Much of the trail is completed already and the rest of the plan is scheduled for completion through 2018.
Lake James is located in the vicinity of Linville and Nebo, in the southern foothills of the Pisgah National Forest (also home to the picturesque town of Little Switzerland), lying 50 miles east of Asheville off I-40. The property is currently the site of Lake James Park, known for its various nature attractions and lakefront getaway vacation lodging. The lake has been part of the State Park System since 1987 and offers swimming, picnicking, canoeing, hiking and mountain biking trails, nature observation and other leisure and outdoor activities to the public.
The History of Lake James
Lake James is actually a large man-made chain of lakes that in an earlier time used to be a sleepy mountain community called Fonta Flora, when there was no lake. Like a scene from the movie O Brother Where Art Thou, the town of Fonta Flora and environs were completely flooded starting in 1916 to make way for hydroelectric power generation.
It all began 100 years ago when the Southern Power Company constructed dams around the regional watershed to generate electricity for the Catawba Valley. The lake, as we now know it, with its surface area of approximately 6,812 acres, took 7 years to fill naturally, from 1916 to 1923. Its rising waters eventually displaced a community of nearly a hundred sharecroppers as the valley slowly became a lake.
The hydroelectric plants that generated electricity were primarily intended to power the local tobacco and textile industries, but soon they brought the wonder of electricity to the homes of workers who lived near the factories. As this emerging technology became accepted and adopted rather than feared and resisted, the demand for electricity exploded, and so did the productivity it fueled. Inside of just two decades the company began supplying electricity to more than 300 cotton mills and various other factories, towns and small businesses, and even a streetcar system in Charlotte.1
The Southern Power Company was founded in 1905 by North Carolina tobacco tycoon James Buchanan Duke (1856–1925). As the company grew and increased its services, it eventually became today’s Duke Energy Corporation. The energy company now employs 28,000 people and serves 7.3 million retail electric customers, representing a population of about 23 million people in six states.2
James Lake remains a key part of Duke Power’s regional hydroelectric project called the Catawba-Wateree Hydro Project. The Project comprises 13 hydropower stations and 11 reservoirs, including James Duke’s namesake James Lake, Rhodhiss, Hickory, Lookout Shoals, Norman, Mountain Island, Wylie, Fishing Creek, Great Falls, Rocky Creek, and Wateree lakes. It spans over 200 river miles and encompasses around 1,700 miles of shoreline within nine counties in North Carolina and five counties in South Carolina and provides 841 megawatts of renewable hydropower and cooling water to more than 8,100 megawatts of fossil and nuclear generation.
The Flora Fonta Loop Trail will benefit from the ongoing operation, maintenance, conservation and funding that is will receive as a part of the State Park System. The North Carolina State Parks System exists for the enjoyment, education, health and inspiration of citizens and visitors. (more…)