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Why Whitewater Matters - Part 2

by Jill Walker

August 3,2004

As a resident of Charlotte for 24 years, I have witnessed exponential growth, both horizontally and vertically. The chess-like movements of orange cans and cones, followed by the dust and din of construction machinery herald our next new office tower, subdivision, and mall or road expansion.

There’s always been something new. In fact, new is he norm. A luxury to be sure when you consider the alternative. But it does make me wonder, what do we have that is permanent; that our children, when grown and gone might return to find just as they left it?

These thoughts surfaced last week when I returned to my favorite childhood memory on Long Island, Jones Beach State Park. Virtually nothing has changed at Jones Beach. Walking along the boardwalk with a friend I’ve had since first grade, there were times when I literally had to catch my breath as old memories crashed over me, like the enormous waves I couldn’t turn around fast enough to avoid.

Celebrating its 75th anniversary, Jones Beach was the signature project of New York “master builder”, Robert Moses. It is 2,413 acres of totally unspoiled beach and natural area that offers surfing, fishing, two pools, a 14,000 seat outdoor theatre on the water, softball fields, paddle tennis, a band shell for outdoor dancing, and of course, ocean swimming. No honky-tonk, no McDonald’s, no commercialization whatsoever.

There are eight ocean beaches strung along a 6.5 mile sandspit, each with its own substantial brick and stone public beach house. A two-mile expansive boardwalk connects several of these beaches, offering people of all ages and abilities the chance to fill their souls with all the salt air, sea sounds and beach life they need. A short bus ride from the train station enables anyone from anywhere to reach Jones Beach. Sunny summer days transform this natural wonder into a United Nations playground.

More significant than what Moses built though, was when he built it. In the 1920s there were 29 states that had absolutely no state parks. Local support for his idea was slim. Initial referendums were defeated. Undeterred, Moses cobbled together the necessary beachfront land through merciless combat with Long Island land barons. The magic of Robert Moses was that he combined the sensibilities of an artist with the political and economic power to act on them.

Here in Charlotte, thanks to the undeterred spirit of a few visionaries, the tide has turned and washed ashore what will very likely be our own special place, our children’s favorite memory, a whitewater park along the Catawba River. Reclaiming the shores of this river on both sides and providing the general public easy access to a variety of water and land activities will enhance the livability of this region beyond measure.

My only wish as we move forward with the U.S. National Whitewater Center is that we are able to design it for the long haul. That we can create something so simply beautiful, so useful and so accessible that 25 or 30 years from now our children might have that same breathless moment of remembrance.

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