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Study shows benefits of building river park in Bryson City

A feasibility study recommends access improvements to the Tuckasegee River in Bryson City. A feasibility study recommends access improvements to the Tuckasegee River in Bryson City.

The Tuckasegee River Alliance is looking at possible ways to increase access to the Tuckasegee River as it runs right through downtown Bryson City. 

In collaboration with the town of Bryson City, Swain County Chamber of Commerce and the Tourism Development Authority, the Alliance contracted Recreation Engineering and Planning out of Colorado last year to explore the suitability of the Tuckasegee River corridor for recreational improvements. 

REP Project Manager Mike Harvey came to Bryson City in November 2018 to tour the river, meet local stakeholders and analyze the feasibility of making improvements to access, fish habitat and potential development of a wave feature to make the corridor more attractive for multiple recreational uses. 

To complete all the recommended projects and improvements along the Tuck at Island Park and the Everett Street Bridge downtown, the cost would be just over $1 million. The study is complete, but future steps will be guided by community decision making about how to best put the project into phased plans.

The Tuck runs right through the downtown business district of Bryson City and offers an excellent spot for fishing trout, smallmouth bass and steelhead. The county has made every effort to expand on its angling tourism. The town received a Trout City designation from the state a couple of years ago and is also home to the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians and the new Appalachian Rivers Aquarium. 

With the Nantahala Outdoor Center and other recreational outfitters located in Swain County as well, the county’s natural resources have made it a hotspot for outdoor recreation from hiking, tubing, kayaking, paddling and more. 

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“Western North Carolina is arguably the nation’s premier whitewater paddling destination. The Nantahala Gorge attracts whitewater paddlers and rafters from all over the globe. In Bryson City whitewater paddlers use the Devil’s Dip rapid at Island Park. Instructional programs use the Tuck for teaching kayaking and slalom race training,” the feasibility report states. 


River parks

Creating a river park recreational area at Island Park in Bryson City was one of the main proposals included in the feasibility study. 

The term river park refers to multi-use recreational improvements on rivers near population centers that allow public access to waterways — it can include instream improvements to create paddling opportunities, habitat enhancements and access improvements. A river park can encompass a mile of water or just a single feature but strive toward the goal of attracting people to the destination.

Many communities are looking to their river corridors, historically centers of industry, as a way to boost recreational opportunities, which in turn supports tourism and the local economy. Rivers can serve as catalysts for economic development and accessible river corridors with recreational amenities are key anchors. 

“The operation of these parks across the country has shown that these types of projects provide a number of benefits including new recreational opportunities, economic stimulus, enhanced aquatic habitat and environmental education opportunities,” the study states. 

River parks tend to attract a demographic of people between the ages of 25-45 with disposable income and a love for recreational travel. For example, Golden, Colorado constructed a river park in 1996 and an economic impact report done in 2000 showed a $1.4 million to $2 million annual impact to the local community. A river park in Reno, Nevada has a projected economic impact of $18 million over the first decade and contributes $9 million impact during an annual three-day Reno River Festival.

The study analyzed the Tuck from Island Park on the upstream to the Everett Street Bridge on the downstream end for the potential river park area. Projects could include public improvements to Island Park and an ADA access ramp upstream of Everett Street.

As the study points out, the Tuck from Everett Street to Island Park already functions as a river park with multiple user groups already using the area for fishing, walking, paddling and tubing. It’s physical characteristics, existing infrastructure and proximity to downtown makes it ideal for a river park. 

Island Park already has public access through a pedestrian bridge from Bryson Street. Devil’s Dip is a natural whitewater feature located along the southern side of the island used by many young paddlers for training. Fishermen use both sides of the island and walkers use the park for walking dogs or strolling along the river. 

However, the island has invasive plants like privet and kudzu and is shrinking with every heavy rain and flooding. The banks of the island are showing signs of erosion with trees sitting isolated in the channel, evidence of the land already lost. The head of the island is protected by a historic bulwark (small retention wall), which is in a state of disrepair. 

The study recommends stabilizing the banks by constructing some steps down to the water — also known as terracing.

“Bank stabilization and terracing could serve to prevent future erosion and provide better access to the river. The access areas would be set behind bank contours so that they are located in eddys where fine sediment can deposit to form calm areas for wading beaches,” the report stated. “The concrete and debris along the southern banks could be cleaned up and stabilized with native rock and vegetation.”

The study found that there is an opportunity to enhance habitat along the northern channel with a series of improvements that would provide holding water for fish and angling — these improvements could include cross veins, boulder clusters or current deflectors. 

The natural Devil’s Dip feature could be enhanced for whitewater paddling, but the study found that creating additional whitewater resources downtown is a better option. Putting in a manmade wave drop structure would utilize the fall in the river below Devil’s Dip to create a multi-use whitewater feature that could be useable across a wide range of flows and by a variety of users. The hydraulic jump feature could be accessed from adjacent eddies (pools of water) created by the shape of the wave structure. 

Wave drops can be designed and constructed many different ways, but generally they are created using native stone boulders and grout. Each structure is designed with between 1 to 3 inches of vertical drop depending on local conditions.

“Island Park is envisioned as the anchor to the river park,” according to the study.


Downtown improvements

Upstream of the Everett Street Bridge downtown is an opportunity to improve the banks with terracing and planting pockets that would serve to beautify the banks, provide access to the Tuck and more fully integrate the river into the downtown business district. 

“By laying back the bank and terracing the bank the visual connection to the river would improve. Additional habitat enhancements above the bridge should be explored as a way of attracting anglers to the river downtown,” the study said. 


By the numbers

Estimated costs of improvements on the Tuckasegee River in Bryson City:

• Wave feature — $250,000

• Bank and access improvements at Island Park — $150,000-$250,000

• Habitat improvements — $200,000

• Bank and access improvements downtown — $150,000-$200,000

• Re-vegetation, bank clean-up, invasive species removal — $100,000

• Design, engineering, permitting — $125,000

• Contingency — $180,000

• Total — $975,000 to $1.2 million

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