Yadkin River: Geography, History, Culture and Recreation

Photography by Cary Kanoy

Photography by Cary Kanoy

As slowly as the Yadkin River flows from the Blue Ridge Mountains through the Piedmont, the utilization of its rich resources has evolved at a pace not unlike the speed at which the river runs. 

Paleo Indian people inhabited the river's area thousands of years ago. In the 1500s, early explorers utilized the area's wide ranging assets and mass Europeansettlements followed in the 1700s. Historically the Yadkin-Pee Dee River Basin has offered many opportunities to explore the natural beauty of North Carolina. The importance of this major river—which runs 203 miles before its name changes to the Pee Dee River—persists to this day, but its significance for the present generation remains a work in progress.

In the early 2oth century, the river’s economic impact was tied to the dams and mills erected to provide energy for the region. Those industries have faded and the river now serves as a water source for agriculture. Though, as many municipal and county governments are finding out, the greatest untapped potential for the river may very well be as a home for outdoor recreation.

The river has always been a kind of

  hidden gem, said Guy Cornman,

  Davidson County Planning Director. 

“I guess it’s always been in the back of our minds—it’s always been there, but at the same time, it’s something we never really have taken advantage of. Now that our [industrial jobs] have disappeared, we’ve had to retool ourselves.”

“We’re discovering the river won’t be the sole answer, but at least it will be something that will help make up some of the loss in jobs and revenue for Davidson County.”

The series of six man-made lakes has represented a bevy of challenges and opportunities for developers and recreation enthusiasts to discover how best to make use of the river’s resources.

Completed in 1927, High Rock was the third of the Yadkin developments to be built of the six. Its value to residents who live along the body of water has never been a secret. Soon, Cornman hopes each lake will provide an opportunity for a much larger group of citizens.

He points to a population base in metropolitan areas along the Inter-state 85 and Interstate 40 corridors as a segment of people that could easily frequent the Yadkin chain lakes region, if given the opportunity. 

Cornman adds, the county is trying to devise ways to serve those individuals and offer improved camping and other outdoor activities along the river.

Many unique areas along the river and its lakes include excellent spots to hike, bike, boat, fish, and paddle. At present, there are five access points for High Rock Lake. The North Carolina Daniel Boone Heritage Canoe Trail (which follows the Yadkin River) provides four access points. Currently there are three access improvement projects underway—0ne at U.S. Highway 64, another at Boone's Cave, and the third at the Wil-Cox Bridge.

Justin Quinlivan, a local river investigator, believes that improving current accesses and creating new ones would benefit and encourage more visitors to come to the area—better visitor access and utilization creates a sense of ownership that results in better care and protection of the waters. 

As Davidson County is home to one of the premier recreational destinations in North Carolina, the second largest river basin in the state, the area will continue to provide sustenance for the region—from the cold-water trout streams to the slower-moving Piedmont streams.

The question for county planners is how will they continue to invest in the region, thus welcoming more visitors and residents to create a sustaining community—the answer now appears close at hand.