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Lake Norman's shoreline rambles through Mecklenburg, Iredell, Catawba and Lincoln counties. The Catawba River meanders through the Carolinas for 450 miles, becoming the Wateree, the Santee and, finally, the Cooper River just before it flows into the Atlantic Ocean near Charleston.

Twenty years ago, Lake Norman - 25 miles to the north of Charlotte - was primarily a weekend retreat, its shores dotted with tin-roofed boathouses, mobile homes, and fishing cabins.  That began to change, however, with the completion of I-77 in 1976. Suddenly it was possible to live like you were on vacation all year round only a quick 20-minute drive from work, shopping, and entertainment in the big city.

Growth was slow at first. But lured by a friendly, small-town way of life and the unique beauty and recreation that living on the lake offers, former landlubbers began pouring into the area in the 1980s. By the early Nineties, housing starts along the north and northeast corridor of I-77 surpassed those in southeast Charlotte for the first time.

Nearly 60,000 residents now call the area home. In spite of the lake’s inevitable growing pains, most say they couldn’t be budged with a dredger. Lake Norman, like Lake Wylie, its sister lake to the south, is a “working” lake, created by Duke Energy for the generation of hydroelectric power. Both are part of the Catawba River system. Norman is the larger of the two lakes, with 520 miles of shoreline in four counties - Mecklenburg, Iredell, Lincoln, and Catawba. At nearly 34 miles long and 8 miles across at its widest point, it is larger than the Sea of Galilee and often referred to by locals as “The Inland Sea.”
Lake Norman with over 500 miles of shoreline provides plenty of space for your boating opportunities.  From serene sailing to power boating, Lake Norman has it all.   There are even a couple of ol' time Mississippi Paddle Wheelers on the Lake.  

From power boating to sailing it is all here. Need a place to keep your boat, pay a visit to one of the many marinas located around Lake Norman.  Many offer both wet and dry storage for your boat as well as plenty of dock space for their customers use.  Many of these marinas also rent boats.  Most rental companies have pontoon boats, ski boats, and fishing boats to offer their customers. 

When Charlotteans refer to the Lake Norman area, they usually mean the area north of the Harris Boulevard/I-77 interchange, which includes Huntersville, Cornelius, and Davidson in Mecklenburg County and the southern tip of Iredell County, which encompasses Mooresville and its shoreline. In less than 20 years, the four towns have been transformed from sleepy rural hamlets into thriving towns with all the amenities of city life, from business parks to bistros, housing to health care.

The transition hasn’t always been easy. Like their larger counterparts, the towns have struggled to manage growth and provide services while preserving the warmth and small-town charm that attracts new citizens.

The roads and schools have felt the tightest pinch, but community leaders have coped admirably by planning carefully and working with developers and county officials on innovative solutions.

The state is scheduled to begin widening I-77 in 2003. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Transit Department planners have also proposed a bus rapid-transit system to complement its existing park-and-ride service, linking Davidson, Cornelius, and Huntersville to Charlotte. The Cornelius/Exit 28 area, which was the first focus of retail development, suffers the most from congestion, but the state plans to widen Catawba Avenue and N.C. 73 to four lanes in 2003.

In 1998, Legette Blythe Elementary in Huntersville became the fourth elementary school in north Mecklenburg. That same year, Francis Bradley Middle School, the area’s third, welcomed its first students. The new Hopewell High on Beatties Ford Road, also in the Huntersville area, opened August 2001 and accommodates 1,600 students.

Depending on where you live in the Mooresville area, students attend classes in either the Mooresville Graded School District or the Statesville-Iredell School District. The latter, which serves the area outside the Mooresville city limits, opened the new Lakeshore Elementary for the 2000-2001 school year, welcoming 400 students in grades K-5. The district hopes to complete work on a second high school, Lake Norman High, in 2002.

A number of private schools also have opened in the past few years. They include Acclaim Academy (pre-K-8) in Davidson; Lake Norman Day School (Preschool - Grade 6), Inwood Montessori Academy (pre-K-8), New Beginnings Christian Academy, Southlake Christian Academy (K-10), Chesterbrook Academy at Birkdale (K-8, opening fall 2001), and Academic Illumination (Montessori, serving ages 7-13), all in Huntersville; and Grace Christian Academy (K-5) in Mooresville.

The boom in population has been music to the ears of homebuilders and Realtors. Newcomers can choose from a broad range of home styles and prices in gated communities, family-friendly neighborhoods with sidewalks and bike trails, waterfront condominium communities with boat slips, or spacious luxury apartments.

Many neighborhoods offer private golf facilities and amenities such as a residents’ club or country club that offers swimming, tennis, and dining facilities. These include The Peninsula Club in Cornelius, The Point Lake & Golf Club in Mooresville, River Run Country Club in Davidson, and NorthStone Club in Huntersville.

Birkdale Golf Club, part of a 600-home master-planned community in Huntersville that includes a residents’ club, is semi-private. In 1997, North Carolina Magazine voted it “Best New Golf Course.” The Business Journal of Charlotte ranked NorthStone the toughest private course in the area. River Run is ranked fourth toughest. In all, 10 courses ring the lake.

Neotraditional neighborhoods, sometimes referred to as “new urban design,” have recently become a trend in the Huntersville/Cornelius area. By combining homes, shops, service businesses, and restaurants in a self-contained community linked by sidewalks and open green space, they offer a new twist on the village concept.

Two such communities, Vermillion, to the east of downtown Huntersville, and Oakhurst, off Statesville Avenue, are already under way and have homes completed. Birkdale Village on Sam Furr Road in Huntersville will include 325,000 square feet of shops, restaurants, a 16-screen movie theater, office space, and 180 apartments. The first phase opened recently. Across the street, The Village at Birkdale, which includes the NorthEast Fitness and Wellness Center, medical and professional offices, and restaurants, serves as the gateway for the Birkdale community.

In 1999, the Town of Davidson approved plans for The Liburdi Project, which will incorporate retail, live/work units, retirement housing, flex commercial space, a common green area, and single-family homes. The 42-acre parcel is located at the intersection of Beaty and Armour streets in northwest Davidson. Acclaim Academy and Dance Davidson have already moved into former office and industrial space and new homes are springing up around them.

Homes in the north Mecklenburg/ Mooresville area are usually listed in areas 1, 9, 12, 14, or 16 or simply under “Lake Norman.” A qualified Realtor can help you sort through the choices to find the perfect home.

As any developer will tell you, retail follows rooftops and the Lake Norman area is no exception. Lake shoppers can now browse unique boutiques, quaint village shops, upscale specialty stores, or national chains such as Target, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Stein Mart, Kohl’s, and Old Navy. Several Charlotte specialty retailers, including Black Lion, Taylor Richards & Conger, and Alexandria Jewelers, have opened second sites at the lake, as have a number of restaurants. In the town centers, entrepreneurs are converting homes, warehouses, old mills, and train depots into craft, consignment, antiques, and clothing shops.

Health-care providers have also responded to the needs of Lake Norman residents. Lake Norman Regional Medical Center last year moved from its former location in downtown Mooresville into a new, 117-bed facility at I-77 Exit 33. The complex, which also includes a physicians’ office building, has been the catalyst for a development boom at the interchange. Leading the charge is Crosland Commercial’s Mooresville Gateway development, which will include everything from fast-food eateries and convenience stores to hotels and medical specialists’ offices. NorthCross Medical Park, at Exit 25, boasts it offers “everything except the beds.” The complex, affiliated with Carolinas HealthCare System, has 13 practices and offers outpatient surgery, OB/GYN, pediatrics, radiology, cardiac care, orthopedics, plastic surgery and urgent-care services.

Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte has also opened an outpatient surgery center at Exit 25 and has applied for a certificate of need to build a 60-bed facility at Exit 23.

But while architecture, good schools, and health care are important, they’re not what draw people to live on the lake. Lake living is about savoring the constantly changing panorama of wind, water, and light, listening to bullfrog serenades and the lullaby of gently lapping waves, or waking to bird songs or the honking of ducks and Canada geese. It’s the thrill of a telltale tug on the end of your line or stripping off your tie or high heels at the end of a long day and plunging into the cool, green water or sailing into a brilliant sunset. It’s about Christmas caroling by boat and the smell of grilling steaks seasoned with the scent of engine oil aboard a gently bobbing pontoon boat.

In fact, one of the first things most newcomers do is buy or rent a boat to experience those pleasures. There are nearly a dozen marinas that offer wet or dry boat storage beginning at around $1,000 a year. Many are also boat dealers. For those who want to be skipper for a day, Holiday Harbor and Kings Point Marinas in Cornelius rent all types of boats, from sailboats to pontoons. Before you sail off into the sunset, however, check on boating safety and local regulations with the Lake Norman Marine Commission, which governs lake usage. With so much shoreline to navigate, it’s also a good idea to pick up a map of the lake and a navigational chart. The lake level can fluctuate as much as eight feet depending on power usage and the time of year. There are also regulations governing personal watercraft (power skis), so be sure you know the rules before heading out.

Even those who don’t live lakeside can enjoy the lake at one of the many waterfront parks and public access areas. Jetton Park, Blythe Landing, and Ramsey Creek Park in the Cornelius/Huntersville area offer boat launching ramps, paved bike and walking trails, playgrounds, tennis courts, athletic fields, fishing piers, and sandy beaches. (Swimming is prohibited in all Mecklenburg County parks.) At Latta Plantation Nature Preserve on nearby Mountain Island Lake, nature lovers can rent johnboats, canoes, or horses by the hour.

Swimming is permitted in Duke Power State Park above Mooresville, which offers many of the same amenities as well as family camping facilities. Other public access areas in Iredell County include Hager Creek Access at Exit 33, McCrary Creek Access, Pinnacle Access, and Stumpy Creek Access off N.C. 150.

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