Several dozen representatives from rafting, lodging and other recreation businesses in the Nantahala Gorge area got together May 28 to discuss the declining numbers of visitors to the river in the last 10 years and just what might spark a revival of interest in the U.S. 19 corridor there—as reported in the June 3 issue of the Smoky Mountain News. The article notes that the number of people going down the Nantahala has declined from a peak of 219,642 in 1998, to 182,715 for the past year. The first rafting outfit began trips down the gorge in 1972.
Ideas at the all-day workshop included the development of a whitewater park; promoting biking, hiking and swimming opportunities; providing a family friendly beach area; and increasing fishing opportunities with year-round catch-and-release in the upper Nantahala. The businesses also discussed sharing a Web site and developing a common logo, or “branding.” Paul Wolf, head of outdoor leadership program at Southwestern Community College, summed up the shared dilemma: “The mentality of so many is been there, done that,” he was quoted. “What else can we provide? How do you keep them here?”
One enhancement for the area, at least, is already in process. According to SMN, the U.S. Forest Service has a $2.5 million project on the boards to improve the outdated Nantahala put-in.
— Nelda Holder, associate editor