The world of outdoor recreation had several milestones this year, especially in the whitewater arena.
Blaze of glory
The Tour de Georgia brought biking superstar Lance Armstrong into WNC’s backyard this year. Tens of thousands of Lance fans and road-biking enthusiasts lined the race route as it passed through the mountains of North Georgia just south of the state line to see the competitive hill-climbing legs of the race.
The virtual free-for-all of recreational uses on the Needmore tract — a 4,400-acre tract along the Little Tennessee River on the border of Swain and Macon counties — was brought under control by the N.C. Wildlife Commission.
The land was home to largely unregulated recreation for decades while it was in the hands of Nantahala Power and Light and more recently Duke Power. Extended camping, including the construction of personal outhouses, partying and four-wheeling, including in the river, had taken root and was damaging natural resources. The Wildlife Commission is working to establish formal campgrounds and allowable public recreation.
American Whitewater moved its national headquarters to Cullowhee. American Whitewater is a national paddling advocacy organization, currently headed by two former staff of the Nantahala Outdoor Center. The Western Carolina University Center for Regional Development is housing American Whitewater, signaling a partnership between whitewater paddling and the university as an area of economic potential.
Way to go, Payson
Payson Kennedy, co-founder of Nantahala Outdoor Center, was inducted into the inaugural class of the International Whitewater Hall of Fame last month.
Kennedy served as director and CEO of the Nantahala Outdoor Center from 1972 until 1998, transforming NOC from a rural gas station and motel into one of the largest outdoor recreation and education centers in the world.
Paddlers stand up
A two-year study that could result in opening the upper stretch of the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River to paddling began this year.
American Whitewater, a national paddling advocacy group headquartered in Cullowhee, challenged the Sumter National Forest’s ban on paddling on the stretch, triggering the national forest to re-examine its policy through a two-year public input process.
The first of the whitewater releases on the Cheoah River attracted hundreds of paddlers to Graham County.
For decades, the Cheoah River has been little more than a shallow meandering stream trickling out of Santeetlah Lake. That’s because Alcoa Power Company takes the water out of the river and runs it overland through big pipes to their power house to generate electricity.
But when Alcoa’s 40-year permit to operate the dam expired this year, the company had to start providing public benefits in exchange for harnessing the public’s river. One of those benefits was putting water back into a nine-mile stretch of the Cheoah River to allow for paddling on select days — 19 a year, to be exact.
Three releases were held in the fall, attracting larger than anticipated crowds for a shot at the new paddling opportunity.