Chapel Hill: Sports

March 26, 2014

Recreation: Come on in, the water’s fine

University Lake and the Cane Creek Reservoir have opened their spring season for boating, fishing, picnicking and other recreation.

Life was good for Johnny Riley when he was first hired about one year ago as the new Orange Water and Sewer Authority Lakes Warden.

Filling the position vacated by Eric Barnhardt, who retired after 32 years of service, Riley was returning home to assume the responsibilities of his dream job, complete with the best office view around — one overlooking OWASA’s Cane Creek Reservoir and Recreation area.

His head was full of great ideas, and the lakes were full of water. Riley’s “cup runneth over.”

A year later, water has been so plentiful, the lakes themselves have “runneth over” at times.

“The lake actually got a little too high the other day, around March 7,” Riley said, laughing. “We had to open up a couple gates. I guess you can have too much of a good thing.”

University Lake and the Cane Creek Reservoir reopened for boating, fishing, picnicking and other recreation this past Saturday, with basic fees waived in honor of Lightning Brown Day.

OWASA traditionally has used opening day to honor the late Brown, a community activist and member of the OWASA Board of Directors in the mid-1990s, an OWASA release stated.

OWASA is a public, non-profit agency providing water, sewer and reclaimed water services to the Carrboro-Chapel Hill community. Located on the west side of Carrboro, the University Lake recreation area is at the end of University Lake Drive, reached via Old Fayetteville Road south of Jones Ferry Road. The Cane Creek Reservoir is about eight miles west of Carrboro on the north side of N.C. Highway 54, just west of Stanford Road.

While water is never truly inexhaustible, Riley remains a wellspring of new ideas for improving and stirring greater interest in recreational use of the lakes.

“We’ve been working on our new fishing pier,” he said, overlooking the final stages on construction of a new pier at the Cane Creek Reservoir late last week. “The old pier is no longer there. The N.C. Wildlife Commission builds these all over the state, so we contacted them, and now they’re making it happen. The sections come already pre-built — they build them off-site — so they basically push them out onto the water and lock them together with a few bolts.”

Riley said plans are still in the works for an improved boat launching area as well.

“We’ve been working with a landscape architect,” he said. “He’s the same one that designed our entire recreation facility when Cane Creek was first built. We’re looking at some concept stuff right now, but there will be some pretty substantial changes happening eventually.”

At some point early in the season, Riley also anticipates the addition of recreational kayaks to the menu of boats available at both facilities, where canoes and flat-bottomed boats have already been available for rent.

“We looking to have them available within a few weeks onsite,” Riley said. “They’ll be at both of our lakes — Cane Creek and University Lake. We’re working with Great Outdoor Provisions Company to get kayaks which are made in Tennessee, and we’ll have 12 total — six at each lake. It’s not an armada, but it’s more than we’ve had.”

“We’ve heard from other lakes with similar facilities to ours that (we should) get some kayaks,” he explained. “We just want to provide more of those things people find popular right now. Down the road, we might even try to expand this.”

Citizens may use small private boats if they are brought on a car or in a truck (trailers are not allowed), a release stated.

The limits on private boats are intended to help prevent aquatic weeds (which cause problems for fish and in water treatment) from being introduced into the reservoirs. For this reason, boats have to be cleaned of mud and vegetation and inspected by OWASA. To help protect water quality, OWASA allows only electric motors, which are also inspected.

Riley said fees are remaining the same for 2014.

“I do think it’s important to mention, however, that Orange County residents always get a discount on everything, from canoes to rowboats,” Riley pointed out. “We feel it’s important, because while not all Orange County residents are OWASA customers, all OWASA customers are Orange County residents.”

For OWASA customers and Orange County residents, half-day lake use rates are $4.50 for ages 12-64 and just $2 for children and seniors. Boat rentals are an additional $4.50. Private boat launching is $3.50 plus the lake use fee, and electric trolling motor half-day rentals are available for $15.

Season passes are available for OWASA customers and Orange County residents.

For non-Orange County residents, lake use fees are $5.50 per half-day for ages 12-64 and $2.50 for children and seniors. Boat rentals are an additional $8, and private boat launching is $7 plus the lake-use fee. Electric motor rentals are $22 per half-day.

Citizens with disabilities will receive assistance from OWASA staff as needed to enjoy boating and using the lake recreation area.

Another change for 2014 is the addition of Fridays to the University Lake recreation schedule beginning in April.

“During our peak operation months of April through August, University Lake will now be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays,” Riley explained. “Cane Creek will keep the same days: Fridays and Saturdays.”

University Lake will revert to its Saturday-Sunday schedule this September through the end of the season on November 9. The lakes will be closed on Good Friday (April 18) but will be open for the Memorial Day, July Fourth and Labor Day holidays.

Recreation hours are normally 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. The lakes do not open until sunrise, and they close at sunset.

University Lake and the Cane Creek Reservoir are stocked with bass, crappie, catfish and a variety of sunfish. A State fishing license is necessary except on July 4.

Riley said the fishing has never been better.

“Last year, there were a lot of really big bass caught,” he said, “and people fishing for bluegills and shell-crackers were absolutely slaying them. Crappie fishing did well too. I’ve caught more crappie this year than I ever have in my life. The fishing here is something we’re really proud of.”

Patrons are reminded that the lakes and recreation areas are alcohol-free. Free life jackets are generally available for adults and children (some people may need to use their own life jackets due to unusual size or other special conditions). Lake users are required to use life jackets under safety rules.

For more information, visit the recreation link on the OWASA website ( call Lakes Warden Johnny Riley at 942-5790, or call Senior Assistant Lake Warden Bob Glosson at 942-8007.

Customers also can call OWASA at 968-4421.

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