PILOT MOUNTAIN — With the summer recreation season gearing up, a new public access point for fishing and canoeing/kayaking has been made available at a key spot along the Ararat River in Surry County.
It is located off N.C. 268 at the point where that roadway crosses the river, which is adjacent to a county recycling and trash center, halfway between Pilot Mountain and Level Cross.
The river access site was constructed with a $72,712 grant awarded to Surry County Parks and Recreation in late 2016 by Duke Energy through its Water Resources Fund.
That grant, which required no local matching funds, is part of a $10 million commitment by the electrical provider to help regional non-profit entities protect and improve the environment, including waterways used year-round across the Carolinas.
Officials said the new site built on the Ararat is one of 13 needed river accesses in Surry County to provide greater public connectivity to waterways. Steps leading to the river accounted for much of the $72,712 expense.
That access point has special significance because it is technically now the only one available to the public along the Ararat between Tharrington Park in Mount Airy and the Yadkin River.
“Before this there was no official river access all the way down to the Yadkin River,” Surry Parks and Recreation spokesman Bradley Key explained Friday regarding the first county-owned river access along the Ararat. It is 15 miles upstream from the Pilot Mountain State Park river access located in East Bend.
Key added that he knows of persons engaging in paddling activities who have put in at Tharrington Park and floated down the river to the Radar Road area in the Ararat community, then relied on exit points on private property.
The “official” access exists to serve the public, including offering a safe place to park vehicles. Surry Parks and Recreation personnel do want to emphasize that use of the new facility is limited to fishing and canoe/kayak/tube access, and not for “hanging out, or loitering or whatever,” Key said.
“This is a big piece on the blueway river trail,” he said of its presence among the various recreational waterways in the county.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony and grand opening for the new river access was held earlier this month.
Guest speakers for the event included county Commissioners Van Tucker, Larry Johnson and Gary Tilley; Regional Fisheries Biologist Kin Hodges; Monty Hamby, former parks and recreation director from Wilkes County and founder of the Yadkin River Trail; and Jimmy Flythe, director of government and community relations for Duke Energy’s Western Region.
Also in attendance were representatives of the Greater Mount Airy and Yadkin Valley chambers of commerce; County Manager Chris Knopf; Assistant County Manager of Operations Sandra Snow; and Joanne Cheatham, the owner/president of Carolina Environmental Inc.
“This project expanded our blueway infrastructure in Surry County, and we thank Duke Energy for its support and are excited to have partnered with them, and look forward to continued partnership in the development of these accesses,” Daniel White, Surry County parks and recreation director, said in a statement.
The local recreation department is one of 12 organizations across North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia to collectively receive $777,879 from Duke Energy’s Water Resources Fund.
Recipients are selected by an independent body that includes five environmental experts and two Duke Energy employees. Selected projects are chosen based on several factors, including whether a project is science-based and research-supported.
“Duke Energy is closely connected to the rivers and waterways that power our regional economies,” Shawn Heath, the president of the Duke Energy Foundation, a philanthropic arm of the company, said in a statement.
“These waterways are valued resources we strive to protect and restore. We look forward to our partnership with Surry County and the impact this grant will have in the region.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.