Catawba County Parks is a division of the Planning, Parks and Development Department. Started in 1999, Catawba County Parks Division is relatively young. The County operates three parks—Riverbend Park, Bakers Mountain Park, and St. Stephens Park. Both Riverbend and Bakers Mountain were created using matching fund grants from the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF). The grants provided recreation development using a 50% grant match, which reduced the financial burden to the local tax base.
Riverbend, which was the County’s first park, is located in the northern part of the County on Hwy. 16, east of Oxford Dam along the Catawba River. This 450-acre park not only protects the watershed for the Catawba River, it also provides recreation opportunities, such as, canoeing, fishing, hiking trails (12 miles), mountain biking trails (7.8 miles), picnicking areas, shelter and grills, a 2-acre fenced dog park, wildlife habitat and bird feeding viewing areas, an ADA accessible observation platform, and both indoor and outdoor educational programming.
Bakers Mountain Park was opened in 2002, preserving 189 acres on Catawba County’s most prominent point and the location of the County’s largest mature forest. Located in the western part of the County on Bakers Mountain Road, just off Old Shelby Road, the diverse vegetation, pristine streams and terrain is very similar to that of the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains. The 6-mile trail system offers a wide range of difficulty, with a one-quarter mile paved ADA trail to other trails that are more strenuous. Other amenities include an observation platform located at the top of the mountain, picnic areas, grills and shelters, a gazebo, a bird feeding observation area, and outdoor educational programming.
Prior to the formation of the Catawba County Parks Division, St. Stephens Recreational Corporation requested assistance from Catawba County to serve as a grant recipient for a Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) grant. Upon approval of the $75,000 grant in 1979, the 9.1 acre tract was deeded to Catawba County. A pool, bathhouse and picnic shelter were constructed and St. Stephens Recreational Corporation operated and maintained the pool and park. In 1985, St. Stephens Recreational Corporation was dissolved and the City of Hickory assumed responsibility for park operations until the summer of 2005, when the pool needed extensive repairs. Since Catawba County Parks Division’s goal is to provide passive recreation and natural preservation, the County renovated the park and reopened it in December of 2008, as a passive park. Amenities include a 1/3 mile loop trail, picnic shelter, outdoor concrete sitting/picnic area, children’s playground, horseshoe pits, a bird feeding observation area, a 1-acre fenced dog park and an educational meeting room. St. Stephens Park is located adjacent to Clyde Campbell Elementary School, at the end of 36th Ave. SE near Hickory.
Dog parks, located in both Riverbend and St. Stephens parks give pet owners the opportunity to bring their dogs to an area where they can run, without being leashed, and play with their dogs. Both facilities are designed with a double gate entrance. The owner enters the first gate, with their leashed dog and removes the leash. The owner and pet can then enter the main area of the dog park. This amenity has proven highly successful not only for pets, but also by giving pet owners the ability to socialize with other owners. Rules and dog park permit applications can be obtained at any of the parks or on the County website.