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Bryson City readies itself for kayaking worlds

fr gearingupworldsBatten down the hatches, the 2013 ICF Canoe Freestyle World Championships are coming.

“This event shows how this tiny town can come together and work together,” said Joe Rowland. “Everybody involved has invested a lot of time and energy into making a natural connection between Bryson City and the Nantahala Gorge.”


Co-owner of the Nantahala Brewing Company in downtown Bryson City, Rowland and other members of the community are welcoming the world as it comes to their doorstep. Running Sept. 2-8 at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in the gorge, the championships are a way to not only bring international exposure to the outdoor facility but also showcase Bryson City and Swain County as a whole.

“Everybody is going to benefit for this,” Rowland said. “We’re pretty excited about it all.”

Bringing together hundreds of professional paddlers from dozens of countries, the championships are expected to attract upwards of 10,000 people each day. Bryson City will play host to the attendees, who will need everything from lodging to restaurants, shopping to outdoor gear. It’s a win-win for the small mountain town.

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“The NOC has been doing a great job going around to local businesses and talking to everybody on how to prepare and be ready for the event,” said Scott Mastej, co-owner of the Bryson City Cork & Bean. “With the NOC in the middle of the gorge, they’ve been letting everybody know there’s a cool little town nearby and vice versa.”

With 25 people currently on his staff, Mastej plans on hiring another 10 full- and part-time employees for the championships. He’ll also be getting help from friends and the other three business partners who manage the restaurant. Already the chefs are kicking around ideas for doing an internationally themed menu for the event. As well, the NOC will be partnering with the restaurant to host a meet and greet dinner for the athletes and their families and friends.

Coming into its third year, the establishment, which is also a café and specializes in crepes, added a dining room area this spring. The popularity of the space added into the usual summer tourism frenzy has allowed the restaurant to iron out the kinks and know what it’s capable of at full capacity.

“We feel going through this rigorous summer has prepared us for the championships,” Mastej said. “We wanted to get the dining room opened early this year so we get geared up for summer and be able to figure everything out.”

Pouring its signature craft brews at the NOC beer garden for the championships, Nantahala Brewing is teaming up with Sierra Nevada, a major sponsor who’ll also have plenty of selections on tap. An enormous craft beer company, Sierra Nevada personally contacted Nantahala in an effort to show industry solidarity and also make sure no toes were being stepped on with the California brewer coming into the gorge.

“They reached out to us and said they would only become an event sponsor if they could team up with us,” Rowland said. “We feel pretty lucky to be getting this kind of national exposure. This area just keeps getting better and better. We could be anywhere, but we wanted to be here.”

Perched high above downtown Bryson City on a mountainside, it’s business as usual for the Fryemont Inn. The historic lodge is headlong into the summer, with the championships in their crosshairs. The 45-member staff will all be present during the event. Immediately following an always-busy Labor Day weekend, the championships are a much-needed economic boost in an otherwise lull that occurs after a holiday.

“We’ve always had a pretty steady base for Labor Day, but the championships reinvigorates the week and brings in a whole new base of guests,” said Monica Brown, innkeeper at the Fryemont. “With the nature of the spectators of this sport, we’re thinking there’ll be more rooms booked closer to the event, which has been the case with other bookings this summer due to the weather.”

Brown was the chairwoman of the Swain County Tourism Development Authority throughout the planning process for the championships. She was also part of the organization steering committee set up to provide local businesses and members of the community a direct outlet to the NOC for suggestions and information. 

“We’ve got fantastic resources here, and the partnership and collaboration between everyone has really been incredible,” she said. “Yes, we’re going to see positive economic growth from it, but more importantly, it’s the lasting legacy of the event, which is a long-term investment in making this area for national and international events and visitors.”

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