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Bryson City touted as third best ‘Outdoor Town’ in America

Bryson City’s tourism leaders have long touted this Swain County town as the Outdoor Adventure Capital of the Great Smoky Mountains, and a book now available in stores nationwide helps undergird their claim.

The book, 101 Best Outdoor Towns, by two former Men’s Journal editors, ranks Bryson City as the No. 3 best whitewater-paddling town in the nation. The write-up includes an extensive profile that details the many other outdoor activities besides paddling that are available in the area, including mountain biking, hiking and fishing.

101 Best Outdoor Towns retails at $19.95 and is published by The Countryman Press/W.W. Norton & Company.

“If you can’t find something exciting to do outdoors in Bryson City — a three-hour drive from both Charlotte and Atlanta — you’re not breathing,” the profile begins. “This speck on the North Carolina map, sandwiched between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Nantahala National Forest, packs a heavier dose of mountain-biking, hiking, and paddling adrenaline per capita than nearly any other town in the East.”

Writer Greg Melville, who lives in South Burlington, Vt., is no stranger to the attractions of Bryson City. His several visits include having been snowed-in in the town of 1,361 residents for about a week.

“There’s so much more there than just paddling,” he said. “There’s access to other great recreational opportunities.”

Melville and co-writer Sarah Tuff set out to write the type guidebook they’d wished was on bookstands when both lived in New York, he said.

To that end, the writers established criteria that included size (towns not being too large), locations within at least 100 miles of a major airport and overall proximity to outdoor recreation.

At No. 3, Bryson City came in behind Salida, Colo., and Taos, N.M., and in front of Moab, Utah, and Ohiopyle, Pa.

“This is the kind of PR you can’t buy in an ad,” said Charles Conner of the Nantahala Outdoor Center.

Conner said nationally published pieces such as the one in 101 Best Outdoor Towns help keep the Nantahala River in the forefront of people’s minds when they search for a paddling destination. And, despite the lack of rain, he said NOC and other outfitters are prepared if more visitors want to hit the river — water releases on the Nantahala are dam controlled.

“Our numbers are up despite the drought,” Conner said. “It is pushing some of our outpost business to the Nantahala. If it goes on all summer, though, our numbers will go down eventually.”

Brad Walker, past president of the Swain County Chamber of Commerce, said Bryson City’s growing national reputation as an outdoor Mecca helps the area economically and in other ways.

People visit, fall in love with the natural beauty, and move into the region, he said.

“It brings those people who love the outdoors and want to protect it,” Walker said. “That helps keep us from becoming just a condominium-type area.”

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