Headwaters French Broad canoe trip focuses on wildflowers

Here’s the press release from Headwaters Outfitters:

Spring, a time of year when life is breathed back into the land. You can feel it in the air and you can see it on the mountains, but Spring is best experienced with a paddle in hand floating down the French Broad.

David Whitmire knows the Upper French Broad River, he grew up there, it is in his soul. Headwaters Outfitters, located in Rosman NC, is excited to announced that Whitmire will be once again be leading the Signs of Spring Guided Canoe Trips. Born and bred locally, Whitmire knows a lot about native flora, having learned traditional mountain uses for various plants from countless relatives and friends. Add to that a 25-year horticultural career as the operator of Sapphire Landscaping, and 40 years of paddling the French Broad and its tributaries, and Whitmire’s credentials as a river guide quickly become apparent.

There are over 2,500 species of wildflowers and flowering shrubs in the southern Appalachians, and many of these can be found somewhere along the French Broad River watershed. Thanks to a variety of microclimates and abundant rainfall, the French Broad hosts one of the showiest spring flower displays in the Appalachians. The “Signs of Spring” guided trip, offered each April, May and June by Headwaters Outfitters in Rosman, takes full advantage of this fecundity.
Although you can certainly see spring wildflower displays while hiking, Whitmire said, a canoe-eye’s view offers several advantages for experiencing the new seasons’ first blush.

Firstly, the banks of the French Broad offer some of the richest soils for plant growth, courtesy of regular floods that deposit nitrogen-rich sediments onto the floodplain. Abundant moisture along the river’s banks also provides ideal habitat for riparian-loving species such as orange jewelweed (seen in June), crested dwarf iris (May), bluets (April), purple phacelia (April-May), monkeyflower (June), and bee balm (June-Sept.)

And flowers on the forest floor aren’t the only displays along the French Broad corridor. Vast walls of rosebay rhododendron explode with white blooms along the river beginning in June, preceded by the pink saucers of mountain laurel and the incomparable beauty of flame azalea in May. Canoeing allows visitors to enjoy nature’s spring bounty at a relaxed, slow pace, Whitmire said.

Flowers may be the chief draw of the “Signs of Spring” tour, but Whitmire pointed out that April, in particular, is prime time for birders interested in catching sight of spring migrants passing through on their way to their northern breeding grounds or returning from the tropics to nest here.

“We see a whole host of vireos, warblers, tanagers and flycatchers this time of year, both because they’re coming through in good numbers and also because the foliage is pretty thin, since everything hasn’t fully leafed out yet,” Whitmire said. “A lot of times, being on the river gives you a better perspective to spot birds with binoculars or a camera.”

Even after the spring migration is over, the French Broad remains a birding mecca. Wood ducks breed along its banks and can often be seen leading a caravan of fuzzy young through streamside deadfall. Louisiana water thrushes, Acadian flycatchers, belted kingfishers and great blue herons are regularly spotted by canoeists on the French Broad, as well. Occasionally, an osprey or bald eagle will perch on a dead branch above the river, scanning the water below for vulnerable quarry.

“If you keep your eyes open, you can see signs of wildlife everywhere this time of year,” Whitmire told the group, as he eddied out next to a muddy bank. “See this eroded area right here? That’s an otter slide. River otter have really made a big comeback since the 1980s, when they were reintroduced to the Smokies.” Beaver, fox, long-tailed weasels, mink and skunk can also be spotted along the French Broad, he said.

Headwaters Outfitters runs their “Signs of Spring” guided trips run every Saturday from April 5th through June 21st. These trips balance nature observation with the quiet relaxation of a morning canoe outing. Departing at 10 a.m. from Headwaters, each trip includes all paddling gear, river shuttle, and guide service. Snacks and drinks are available for sale at the shop. Prior canoeing experience is helpful, but not necessary. Reservations are required and are secured with a 50% deposit. The cost is $60 per person, though kids under 10 who sit in the middle of the canoe cost only $30. To reserve a spot, or for more information, call Headwaters at (828) 877-3106.


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