No sight required: Summer camp spurs blind youth to outdoor adventure

When Sam Chandler heard that the summer camp he’d been attending for years planned to launch an adventure camp, he was sold. Chandler — who at 17 is a rising senior at Tuscola High School in Waynesville — was quick to sign up for the week of ziplining, hiking and whitewater rafting at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. He came back for a second year, and, when he’d maxed out the two-year cap on adventure camp attendance, returned this year as a counselor.

It would be a common story of summer camp memories and corresponding summer camp allegiance, but for one simple fact: Chandler, like the rest of the teens embarking on these outdoor excursions, is mostly blind. 

Telling NOC’s story: Book shows early years of outdoor center through the eyes of staff, leaders

It was 1972, and the world of whitewater paddling was changing. Americans were just about a decade into experimenting with kayaks and it had been only three years since the first whitewater race in the South and the passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. That year’s Summer Olympic Games in Munich would be the first to include whitewater paddling among its events.

Amid all of this, Horace Holden, Payson Kennedy and Aurelia Kennedy decided to start a new rafting business in Swain County, to be called the Nantahala Outdoor Center. 

Learn to paddle at NOC youth camp

For 15 years Nantahala Outdoor Center instructors have been teaching kids and teens how to maneuver the waters of Western North Carolina during its summer camp programs. 

Earning her place: Bryson City whitewater hall of famer reflects on lifetime on the water

Bunny Johns became a paddler mostly by accident.

As a college freshman in the early 1960s, she’d lined up a summer job in her hometown outside of Atlanta but returned to discover the position had fallen through. Then a friend of hers called to say she’d been offered a job teaching swimming at Camp Merrie-Woode in Sapphire but didn’t want to go — maybe Johns, who had been a competitive swimmer in high school, would want to take her place?

Outdoor adventure park proposed in Dillsboro

Construction on an outdoor adventure park offering everything from rafting to ropes courses could begin in Dillsboro as early as April if the Jackson County Commissioners give final approval to the project following a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Monday, March 20, at the Jackson County Justice and Administration Building.

Dreaming of Toyko: A conversation with Michal

Since the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Michal Smolen has been hopping continents to finish out the post-Rio racing season, but The Smoky Mountain News caught up with him for an email conversation about paddling, Olympic dreams and the value of American citizenship. 

Dreaming of Toyko: Following competition in Rio, NOC paddler sets sights on 2020 Olympic medal

Much of America spent Aug. 5-21 with eyes glued to a television, cheering on athletes from all corners of the country as they represented the red, white and blue in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. 

SEE ALSO: A conversation with Michal

For the community of paddlers whose nucleus is the Nantahala Outdoor Center, one Olympic dream demanded especially rapt attention — that of 23-year-old kayaker Michal Smolen, a whitewater slalom favorite who cut his teeth on the waters of the Nantahala River. William Irving, president of NOC, well remembers his first experiences watching Michal paddle. At the time, Irving was the high performance director for USA Canoe/Kayak and Smolen’s father Rafal was the newly hired national team coach.

Grit and wonder: 2015’s thru-hikers reflect on trail hardships and thrills

out frIf the stack of boxes piling up on the counter of the outfitter store at Nantahala Outdoor Center is any indication, thru-hiker season is coming fast. The parcels of food, reminders of home and creature comforts are welcome diversions from the travel-light lifestyle on the Appalachian Trail, where miles are many and luxuries are few. 

“A lot of people ask about what you’re thinking about [on the trail],” said Youngblood, an 18-year-old hiker whose off-trail name is P.J. Coleman, as he sorted through his just-opened box of mail drop goodies. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, you’re thinking about food.”

NOC nears finish line in preparing for kayaking worlds

out frSitting at a picnic table alongside the Nantahala River, Charles Conner watches the fast moving water. It’s may be a peaceful sunny morning at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, but it’s the calm before the storm.

“Right now, we’re really excited but anxious because there’s so much left to do,” he said. 

Paddlers hit the river in wake of torrential downpours

fr riverfloodThe recurring deluge of heavy rains has brought paddlers out of hibernation and onto Western North Carolina rivers over the past few weeks.

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