Sunday, September 27, 2009

Hiking, biking and ziplining

Whether you like hiking, biking or zipping through the air praying you won't die, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area has an outdoor facility to fit your needs and often your budget.

This area caters to outdoor enthusiasts because of amenities at places such as the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation's extensive facilities and the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Then there are natural attractions such as the surrounding mountains and lakes that provide ample reasons to go outside and play.

Andy Phin, co-founder of Charlotte Outdoor Association, helps outdoor enthusiasts and newbies take advantage of the outdoor opportunities. The group sponsors dozens of outdoor events each week from hiking to canoeing. He said the region's mild weather makes it easy to stay active outdoors all year.

"We have so many greenways and parks," said Andy Phin, co-founder of the Charlotte Outdoor Adventures (CHOA). "I love to do all of the kayaking."

CHOA sponsors kayaking trips, but the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation also offers kayaking excursions.

The best resource for information about Park and Rec programs is on the comprehensive Web site With about 210 facilities and 30 area recreation centers, the county's park system offers the widest variety of outdoor activities for the region. Along with its diverse selection of activities and facilities, the best thing about Park and Rec programs is most are affordable or free.

One of the most popular park system attractions is the greenway system. A greenway is a 10-foot-wide paved trail that winds through vegetation and sometimes past creeks. The trails are popular among bikers, joggers and walkers. There are 33 miles of developed and 147 miles of undeveloped greenways in Mecklenburg County.

For the competitive outdoor person, Park and Rec's athletic facilities and recreation centers offer a variety of organized sports from basketball to flag football. The system also has five golf courses, and more than 100 tennis courts. Another system attraction is disc golf, which involves throwing discs at a target. The county has about a dozen courses in various parks. Most offer 18 playing holes.

Ginny Guedes, 29, and her friend Chris Lewis, 28, both of Cornelius, play nearly every day. Guedes likes playing at Hornets Nest Park because it's convenient and challenges her.

"Charlotte is really a mecca for disc golf," Guedes said. "People just don't realize how lucky we are."

If land isn't your thing, there are a variety of water sports available in the region. Water activities range from kid-filled water parks to neighborhood pools. Fresh water enthusiasts will enjoy kayaking or canoeing on area lakes such as Lake Wylie or Mountain Island Lake.

Those who enjoy the thrill of navigating rapids can test their skills at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. It's a non-profit outdoor recreation facility that has whitewater rafting, canoeing and kayaking. The man-made pond boasts Class II to IV rapids. Paddlers can bring their canoes and kayaks or rent equipment. The three-year-old center sits on 307 acres near the Catawba River off Interstate 85 South.

To challenge experienced paddlers, the center increases the water volume coming down the channels on Wednesday evenings, said executive director Jeff Wise. This makes the rapids even more powerful.

"We're always looking for new things that are exciting," he said.
Another adrenaline rush is the center's new ziplines. They're 32 feet above land. Riders zoom from the back of the top competition channel, over the bottom pond, up the wilderness channel and ends at the island.

Wise said the ziplines have been extremely popular.

"People are not as intimidated by the zipline," Wise said. "Zipline is more like a ride, get clipped in and you just go."

The center also features hiking and mountain biking trails, and extensive climbing walls. The walls cover about 5,500 square feet of varied surfaces. There are more than 40 roped climbs for climbers of all skill levels.

"The facility is really a lifestyle center," Wise said.

And, Charlotte is a lifestyle city where residents can work, live and play – indoors or outdoors. Mecklenburg County Park and Rec has about 210 facilities and 30 area recreation centers with everything from kayaking to tennis. In September, Park and Rec publishes its bi-annual activity guide Get Going, which is also available online. Park and Rec has a comprehensive Web site that allows users to search and register for events.

The U.S. National Whitewater Center provides a full day of fun for everyone from paddling rapids to biking the trails. The center offers lessons for various activities and hosts scheduled events and competitions. 704-391-3900. 5000 Whitewater Center Parkway Inner Peaks Climbing Center boasts 8,000 square feet of climbing wall that reach 25 feet high. Advanced climbers use it as a training facility, but the facility also offers options for novices and kids. 704-844-6677. 9535 Monroe Road, Ste 170.

Crowders Mountain State Park is just across the border in Gaston County. It has more than 15 miles of trails for the casual and advanced hiker. The park also has primitive – extremely primitive – camping. For climbers, the park has 150 routes. Located off Interstate 85 South Exit 13, in Kings Mountain.

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