Float, boat or fish the Tuck
This spring, rolling down the Tuckasegee River will be, for the most part, as it has been in years past — but getting onto the river is becoming a whole lot easier.
As canoers, kayakers, fishermen, college-aged tubers and other water recreationists dust off their paddles, poles and life jacket in anticipation of the approaching thaw, they will find that their options have multiplied.
Four new river access areas have been developed along the Tuckasegee River over the past year. Two have just been finished in Cullowhee and Whittier. They include new parking areas, a boat ramp to launch canoes, kayaks or small drift boats, and information kiosks. The Cullowhee site will also include bathrooms.
Even more river access areas will be coming to the Tuckasegee River in Jackson County over the next couple of years thanks to Duke Energy. Duke operates seven hydroelectric dams on the Tuckasegee River. Duke’s federal permits to harnesses the power of the Tuck ran out a few years ago. To get new permits, Duke had to serve up a suite of environmental and recreational benefits to the public.
A total of nine new or improved river recreation sites will eventually span the length of the Tuck from the narrow, steep cascades of its upper reaches to the wide, flat river valley. They include:
• A put in at the popular standing whitewater wave on the east fork of the Tuckasegee River called Eternity by local paddlers.
• Shook Cove Road boat put-in and parking on the upper east fork in Canada.
• Tuckasegee Power House river access on the upper west fork of the Tuckasegee River, with boat put in and parking.
• High Falls river access on the upper west fork of the Tuck near Glenville.
• East Laporte County Park enhancement project. Improvements to existing parking and put-in.
• Cullowhee Dam, a.k.a. Lena Davis Landing, with improved parking, signage bathrooms, and a kayak and canoe portage around the dam.
• Locust Creek River access area with parking and boat put-in.
• C.J. Harris Access area at the Dillsboro Dam, equipped with parking and boat put-in area.
• Barkers Creek River access area, with parking and boat put in.
• Whittier River access area, with boat put-in, parking lot.
The paddling public isn’t even aware of what’s waiting for them when paddle season starts up again in late March, and some areas may be underutilized until word spreads, according to Mark Singleton, the executive director of American Whitewater, a national paddling advocacy organization based in Sylva.
“It’s going to take some time,” Singleton said. “A lot of folks don’t know these access areas exist.”
The string of small lakes on the upper east and west fork of the Tuckasegee have their own list of new boat put-ins, docks, fishing piers, primitive campsites and trail portages around dams.
Many of the new river access areas are geared not just toward paddlers but to fisherman as well, who fly fish from drift boats or simply need somewhere to park before taking to the water in their waders.
And one of the more overlooked, but possibly the most popular watersports on the Tuckasegee River is tubing — a favorite pastime for Western Carolina University Students. And those tubers stand to benefit from some of the river put-ins and improvements near Cullowhee, most notably at East LaPorte Park and Lena Davis Landing.
“It’s the most popular activity on the river,” Singleton said. “College students in the summer time are looking for fun recreation that is inexpensive — they go up to East LaPorte, throw the tubes in and take out at Lena Davis.”
But if there’s one new river recreation perk that has the whitewater glands of Singleton salivating, it’s the upcoming whitewater releases on the upper west fork of the Tuckasegee River. As part of Duke’s re-licensing agreement, the company agreed to release seven water surges per year from its dam in Lake Glenville causing rushing rapids on the typically placid streambed below for select days of the year.
Duke typically diverts water below the dam through a series of pipes for several miles overland to a power house, reducing the natural flow of water in the riverbed. During the releases, the water is returned to the river bed — plus some extra.
The first release will be in the second weekend in April and will be complimented by a new access trail that provides a put-in beneath High Falls.
The Nantahala River is also seeing a series of public river access improvements and new whitewater releases as a condition of Duke’s hydropower permits for dams on that river.
Remaking recreation on the Tuck
VIEW MAP A string of new or upgraded river access areas on the Tuckasegee River and the chain of lakes on the upper east and west forks are being installed over the next couple of years, with some already completed. Duke Energy was required to serve up recreational perks in exchange for their hydropower permits. Map courtesy of Duke Energy