Anyone who has spent a sunny afternoon at the U.S. National Whitewater Center can appreciate its appeal. Just outside of town and along the Catawba River, the center features 1,100 acres designed for playing and relaxing. From rafting on the world’s largest man-made whitewater river to zip-lining over said river, there’s plenty to keep guests entertained.

But hiking and crossing the river in this area weren’t always for recreational purposes. The Tuckaseegee Trail, which was one of the Carolinas’ most traveled Native American paths, once ran through the property. The trail, which also brought European settlers and travelers into Charlotte, is likely one of the major reasons the city initially developed at all.

The trail led to the Tuckaseegee Ford, which is known as the oldest crossing point along the Catawba, and had several historic crossings including General Rutherford and his troops during the Revolutionary War. And while other routes sprang up along the Catawba, the ford actually remained in use until 1914 when the river was damned to create Lake Wylie, raising the water by 20 feet.

Today, on one of the center’s canopy tours, you can explore the area that was once the trail leading to the ford. And if you paddle around the island in the Catawba on one of the center’s kayaks, then you’ve crossed what was once the ford.

Visit the U.S. National Whitewater Center

WHAT: A recreational and athletic training facility featuring whitewater, rock climbing, zip-lining, mountain biking, canoeing, and more.

WHERE: 5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy.

COST: It’s $5 per car to park, but admission to the center is free. Activity prices vary.

PRO TIP: The center pays homage to its past with one of its most popular festivals, the annual Tuck Fest. Named for the Tuckaseegee Ford and Trail, the weekend outdoor festival kicks of the summer season at the center each year.

This story comes from Sarah Crosland’s book “Secret Charlotte: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure,” which you can buy on Amazon here or at local shops like Park Road Books and Paper Skyscraper. It’s a great read for anyone who loves Charlotte — and we’re not just saying that because she’s our former boss.

Photo: James Carter/The Herald