Duke Energy

Recreational, Environmental & Historical Enhancement

Pines Recreation Area and High Falls Trail Project

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Duke Energy successfully developed the Pines Recreation Area and High Falls Trail as part of the West Fork Hydroelectric Project. Visitors now have access to a hiking and whitewater boating access trail, fishing pier, picnic facilities, educational and historical signage, and a swim beach – an engineering marvel, completed with a first-ever design using a concrete cloth material and rock-filled wire gabion baskets.

Background and Challenge

The project team faced three major challenges: installing a gentle-sloping swim beach along the steep shoreline of a mountain lake with the safety of swimmers in mind; a tight construction schedule dependent on the ability to draw down the lake elevation without impacting the summer recreation season, hydro plant operations or the fish spawning season; and designing a sustainable and safe hiking trail in very steep mountainous terrain.


The swim beach is a first-ever engineering design application, using concrete cloth material and rock-filled basket gabions. Additionally, the hiking trail, which has be recognized as one of the most well-constructed, minimally invasive and scenic in the region, offers 0.8 miles of scenic downhill trail to the spectacular 120-foot High Falls waterfalls and the West Fork Tuckasegee River gorge. To reduce environmental impacts and promote long-term sustainability, the trail was constructed solely with natural materials found onsite.


The swim beach was the first-ever engineering design application using concrete cloth and wire basket gabions and was successful in creating a safe swim beach for public use in a mountain lake. The hiking trail is already recognized as one of the most well-constructed, minimally invasive and scenic in the region. This engineering design information can be used by other recreation managers who may have to construct similar swim beach areas. The project was safely completed on schedule and within budget. The site is an economic driver for local and regional tourism.

Stakeholder Quotes

“The Pines Recreation Area will be a tremendous asset to the region. It adds to the growing list of sites where residents and visitors can enjoy our region’s natural resources. We appreciate Duke Energy’s commitment to providing great recreation facilities and enhancing our community.” – Chuck Wooten,Jackson County manager.

“Access to high quality recreation is a key economic driver for local tourism efforts. The vision for a mix of new outdoor recreation opportunities was part of stakeholder negotiations that started 15 years ago.” – Mark Singleton, American Whitewater executive director.