RiverPark at Cooleemee Falls: The Bullhole
Don't forget your Bullhole shoes when you head out to this summer hot spot
Images by Larry T. Bower, Jr.
More than a hundred years ago, in the small town of Cooleemee, an impressive stone dam was erected by Erwin Cotton Mill #3 on the South Yadkin River. “The dam,” says former Cooleemee Mayor Lynn Rumley “is 12 foot high and 422 feet wide.”
Cooleemee residents have long enjoyed the scenic beauty of the dam, as well as the fun activities that can be had there. The stones of the dam create a stunning backdrop for the cascading water; while the area at its base and beyond provide the perfect summer playground. Large rock formations abound in the slow moving river and create small falls and eddies that are fun to splash about in. They also provide a steady resting place for birds and turtles. On the shoreline — thanks to a flood — a large area of sand can be found for an ideal place to sunbathe, play games or enjoy a picnic.
The area around the dam has long been referred to as “The Bullhole.” It seems that sometime around 1900, when the mill and dam were being built, an old man and his ox attempted to transport timber from one side of the river to the other. In the process, the ox slipped, was caught up in a swirling pool of water, and was never seen again. Today, according to an informational sign, visitors can see the exact whirlpool “when the water is up in the river.”
In 1999, “The Bullhole” was threatened by an encroaching development. At that time, Rumley and others formed the River Task Force in an attempt to protect it. The citizens of Cooleemee rallied behind the project, and in sixteen months raised over a million dollars. Children, who were also active in fundraising efforts, collected coins and participated in a play titled “Blinky,” a production that shared the community’s history through the memories of an ancient catfish.
Thanks to those efforts, the town of Cooleemee was able to purchase a considerable amount of land, and in 2003 opened RiverPark at Cooleemee Falls. Because the area had long been known as “The Bullhole,” locals insisted it be included in the Park’s name. “People in this community are very connected to this area,” says Rumley “and now that we have a park we can share it with others.”
The 80-acre Park is located in both Davie and Rowan counties and provides a nice place to walk, canoe, kayak or fish. More importantly, perhaps, it offers a refreshing retreat from the scorching summer heat. “It’s the perfect place for kids and their family,” says Rumley.
Because the rocks can be slippery and there are no lifeguards on duty, Rumley advises visitors to be careful. Locals never come to the park without their “Bullhole shoes” — a pair of shoes they don’t mind getting wet and dirty — and visitors would be wise to bring a pair, too. Wearing shoes help keep feet sturdy on the rocks and will protect against cuts or scrapes.
First-time visitors to RiverPark at Cooleemee Falls “The Bullhole” should be aware that the river will not be seen upon arrival. In the parking area, tourists will find restrooms, a picnic shelter, informational signs, and the trailhead for a very short path that must be walked to reach the falls, beach area and canoe/kayak launch. Along the trail, guests can make use of benches and picnic tables.
A work in progress, Rumley says there are plans to “expand the park, better it, and have an outfitter on-site.” To achieve these goals, two fundraising events are held each year. On the third Saturday of July, people gather to compete in “The Great Bullhole Duck Race.” On the third Saturday in October, the park serves up the “Best You Ever Ate!” meal at their annual Catfish Fry.
RiverPark at Cooleemee Falls “The Bullhole” is a unique place that is best enjoyed on a hot summer day. Have a fun visit, be safe and don’t forget to throw some “Bullhole shoes” in the car!
RiverPark at Cooleemee Falls “The Bullhole” is located at 645 Erwin Temple Church Road in Woodleaf (this address is for GPS purposes). For information regarding hours of operation, activities, shelter rental or special events, please visit cooleemee.org or call 336-751-2325.
Tip: A former cotton mill town, Cooleemee shares its history in two museums that are within minutes of the park. The Textile Heritage Museum allows visitors “to explore what a cotton mill town was like in its prime,” and The Mill House Museum takes guests “back in time to the world of a mill hand’s family in the early 1930s.” If you have time, you should stop in and learn about the town’s fascinating past. Information regarding locations, hours of operation and admittance fees can be found on the website listed above.
Jennifer Bean Bower is an award-winning writer and Tar Heel native. She lives in Winston-Salem with her husband Larry and their pet rabbit Isabelle. To learn more about Bower and her writing projects, please visit her website at JenniferBeanBower.com. Connect with her on Twitter @JenniferBBower.