Seven times a year Duke Energy opens up the spill gates at the Glenville Dam and releases a deluge of water into the West Fork of the Tuckasegee River to the delight of area paddlers.
Pictured below is the Aug. 22, 2020 Glenville Dam recreational release at High Falls in Glenville.
Paddlers and spectators gather at the base High Falls (a.k.a. Cullowhee Falls) in Glenville on release day to watch the falls transform from a trickle into a raging waterfall. The release gives paddlers a six-mile stretch of river with class III and IV rapids that kayakers like Andrew Sherling ride whenever they get a chance.
“Kayaking the West Fork of the Tuckasegee River on release day is awesome because of the continuous class 3 and 4-plus rapids that are found along this stretch,” said Sherling. “Not to mention how beautiful the waterfall is at the put-in. It is probably the most thrilling and captivating put-ins in the Southeast.
Kayakers put-in at High Falls and take-out at the Thorpe Powerhouse along Highway 107 in Tuckasegee. Sherling has been kayaking for over 6 years and said release day is popular in the paddling community and is grateful Duke Energy schedules recreational releases.
“Myself, along with the whitewater kayaking community are very appreciative of Duke Energy working with American Whitewater’s Kevin Colburn to schedule recreational releases on this stretch of river,” said Sherling.
Duke Energy’s recreation flow releases are a result of a stakeholder agreement for the federal licenses issued in 2011 for the hydroelectric projects in that region, said Alan Stuart, Senior Project Manager of Water Strategy, Hydro Licensing, and Lake Services at Duke Energy.
In 2003, 17 stakeholders, including Duke Energy, who comprised the Tuckasegee Cooperative Stakeholder Team, entered into a settlement agreement identifying key operational and management strategies for the East and West Fork Hydroelectric Projects.
This agreement was subsequently incorporated into the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission-issued licenses. Under the agreement, Duke Energy shall provide recreational flows from the Glenville Dam into the West Fork on one spring Saturday and one spring Sunday between April 1-30 and on five weekend days between May 1 – September 30. The target flow for these releases is 250 cubic feet per second from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Stuart said the spill gates on the Glenville Dam are opened up to create the recreational releases and are intended for whitewater paddlers.
“The annual release dates are determined during a planning meeting with recreation stakeholders held each fall,” said Stuart. “Once determined, flow release calendars are posted to the Duke Energy lakes website.”
See 2020 release dates HERE.
The 2021 recreational flow release schedule for the West Fork, as well as other flows from the West Fork and East Fork Projects, will be available on the Duke Energy’s website in mid-January 2021.
Only experienced paddlers should run the river on release day.
High Falls is a short hike off Pine Creek Road in Glenville, N.C. Hiking down the path puts visitors at the base of an approx. 150-foot waterfall cascading down the two-tiered cliffs of the Tuckasegee Gorge.
The view is incredible and well-worth the effort to get there. The trail from the top of High Falls is less than a mile with an elevation change of over 600 feet. Please note, the hike out is strenuous. The trail is listed as “moderate” on several trail sites online, but it’s a steep one.
There are signs throughout the hike warning of hazards related to rocks, steep slopes and cliffs, and that death or injury are possible. This is unnerving, especially to families who want to bring their kids.
Take your time moving down the path, the rocks are slippery from the falls no matter what the weather may be like and stay on the marked trail. The trail has two tiers of falls and hikers sometimes veer from the path to play on the second tier, this is illegal and ill-advised.
When visitors get to the base of the falls, there are two scenarios hikers stumble upon. Most of the time the falls are a gorgeous cascading trickle, but seven times a year Duke Energy releases a recreational flow from the Glenville Dam. This is high water and visitors should exercise extreme caution.
If there is no scheduled release, the water level will be low and there are plenty of rocks to climb around and explore the West Fork Tuckasegee River. There is also a swimming hole at the base of the falls, but again there is an emphasis on exercising caution.
Rocks litter the riverbed and in the summer months snakes are prevalent, so watch where you step and leave the wildlife alone.
High Falls is located by taking Highway 107 from Cashiers to Pine Creek Road (can only turn left), take that approx. 2 miles to Pines Recreation Area on your left. The parking lot for High Falls trailhead is on the right.
Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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High Falls on Release Day
High Falls on a dry day