Swain leaders tout river access, horse ring upgrades
Not that many years ago, anglers and boaters wanting to gain access to the Tuckasegee River in Swain County essentially had to bushwhack their way to the water.
Today, a goal to beautify and improve public access along the Tuckasegee has transformed a roughly five-mile stretch of the river. The latest project opens access to the southern banks near old U.S. 19 west of town.
Tourism leaders believe the improvements being made along the Tuckasegee could help fuel efforts to capitalize on Swain County’s developing reputation as a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. The county offers visitors a complete slate of activities, including fishing, hiking, biking, camping, rafting and tubing, plus is touted as a jumping-off point to the Cherokee Indian Reservation and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“The (Tuckasegee) work is important because when you are positioning yourself as a tourist destination, people have certain expectations concerning appearance and accessibility,” said Lucretia Stargell, director of the Swain County Chamber of Commerce and the Swain County Tourism Development Authority.
The latest project
A $75,000 grant from the Tennessee Valley Authority allowed the Partnership for the Future of Bryson City and Swain County, an umbrella nonprofit organization for community projects, to fix up a horse-riding ring that had fallen into disrepair.
But the work didn’t stop there. The group, aided by agencies such as the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, also:
• Built a smaller training ring.
• Put in picnic tables.
• Widened the dirt road under a train trestle as it enters the ring area.
• Constructed a short trail near the river that meets the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
• Added a fishing pier that is handicapped accessible.
• Provided separate river access for kayakers and canoeists.
The riding rings were redone primarily to benefit the Swain County 4-H Club and the Swain County Horse Riders Association, said David Monteith, a county commissioner and member of the partnership group.
“It used to be real active here, but it all fell apart and about rotted down,” Monteith said.
The commissioner said the group this week plans to start adding public restrooms. Later, a sign to advertise the site will be placed on old U.S. 19.
Additional work is planned to open up and improve an old dirt road on the far side of the project that follows the Tuckasegee for about a mile-and-a-half. The intention is to build a trail for horse riders and add additional river access for others.
As part of the ongoing improvements to the Tuckasegee, recent work also has taken place at Island Park, a seven-acre tract near the railroad depot in town.
A concrete bridge has replaced a 150-foot swinging bridge that went over a side channel of the river, and Monteith said the county intends this fall to put in a pavilion with picnic tables.
Work was delayed because one grant was lost and the county had to secure other money for the projects, Monteith said.
The island is periodically covered by floodwaters, which means any structures — or picnic tables — must be held secure by large blocks of concrete. County leaders and town leaders are working on developing parking for those wanting to use the island.
What’s been done
Monteith, who has been heavily involved in much of the restoration work along the Tuckasegee, said his personal goal is simple.
“I just want to see Swain County have more than we used to have,” he said, “and accessibility has been nonexistent. We never had that.”
The projects already completed are:
• Building a welcome station at Governor’s Island two miles upstream from Bryson City along U.S. 19. The site was paved, and a gazebo and kiosk added.
• Building the Old 288 Park three miles downstream from Bryson City. The work included adding a boat ramp, picnic pavilion, river-viewing pull-offs and handicapped-accessible fishing pier.
“This is about providing quality of life,” said Dan Wood, the newly appointed director of the Partnership for the Future of Bryson City and Swain County. “And, giving kids a place to go that’s safe and clean.”