Off the beaten stream

There’s an undercurrent to the Mountain Sports Festival’s two paddling events: Get people using and enjoying the river and they’re more likely to help keep it clean.

“Paddling down a river, you see things you don’t get cruising down the interstate; you can get places few people can get to,” says paddling-event organizer Jeff Boggs. In the Okefenokee Swamp, for example, he saw otters and osprey, among other natural wonders. And WNC’s many rivers and lakes offer similar pleasures, says Boggs, whether you’re seeking recreation, relaxation or an adrenaline rush. Paddling attractions within an hour or so of Asheville include the Green, Nolichucky, Tuckasegee and French Broad rivers, plus such flatwater options as Lake Julian, Cascade Lake, Beaver Lake, Lake James, Bear Lake and Wolfe Lake.

Western North Carolina is known for its whitewater, which has enticed high-profile athletes like world champion Eli Herbert, U.S. team member Dixie-Marree Prickett, and Olympians Scott Shipley and Lecky Haller to train in the area. Our mountain lakes, however, are “a hidden secret for paddlers,” says Boggs. In the fall, Lake Jocassee is a stunning place for kayaking and canoeing, he mentions.

Folks new to either activity might feel intimidated both by the variety of boats available these days and by the rigors of the sport: But it’s not all adrenaline-rush whitewater adventure, Boggs notes. Stretches of the French Broad offer placid river cruises, with water (rarely deeper than four feet) moseying along at a leisurely 4 mph or so. And a number of local manufacturers will be represented at the Kayak and Canoe Demo/Symposium; for a $1 donation, you can try out any boat that piques your interest and ask questions of the experts, he says.

Lake Julian’s calm, warm water makes it the perfect place for such activities, notes Boggs; there’ll also be kids’ races throughout the day.

The symposium has another purpose, too: “One of our goals is to inform people about the plans for a whitewater park off Amboy Road.” Such a facility, says Boggs, would give Asheville “a world-class feature downtown; you could go paddling on your lunch break, or we could host competitions.”

It’s all part of the idea of linking river use with caring for the resource, he emphasizes.

Even North Carolina’s official classification system for rivers considers such factors as “frequent, organized human contact,” notes RiverLink’s Philip Gibson, the French Broad’s designated “riverkeeper.” The French Broad is a class B waterway — a step up from class C, which allows higher levels of fecal coliform bacteria (one of the nasty critters present in sewage and wastewater), Gibson explains.

In fact, he wants state officials to drop the C classification altogether, arguing that “The Clean Water Act says that all waters in the U.S. should be both swimmable and fishable, safe for humans and wildlife.”

In that vein, Gibson remarks that one reason for hosting the Mountain Sports Festival’s French Broad Downriver Challenge is to dispel lingering perceptions that the river isn’t a safe and usable resource. Both Knoxville and Newport, Tenn., he notes, use it as their principal source of drinking water.

The event starts at Westfeldt Park near the airport and winds down the French Broad for 16 miles, ending at the Southern Waterways takeout (521 Amboy Rd.).

Along with The Challenge’s co-sponsors (the town of Fletcher and the Asheville, Buncombe and Henderson County parks-and-recreation departments) RiverLink is promoting a long-range vision. In Gibson’s words, “We want to inspire people to get out on the river and start caring about it.”

Schedule and more info

French Broad Downriver Challenge, Saturday, June 1, 10 a.m., Westfeldt Park

The French Broad Downriver Challenge is an American Canoe Association-sanctioned event for recreational boater and novice-to-expert boaters. The race will give participants a chance to enjoy the scenes and sounds of the French Broad River with friends, family and the community. Whether you’re an experienced boater or a beginner, don’t miss out on paddling this beautiful 16-mile class I and II stretch of water.

Registration: Entry fee for individuals is $30; $40 for a two-person team. This includes a race T-shirt for each pre-registered participant. Late registration for individuals is $35; $45 for a two-person team. On Friday, May 31, pre-registration/packet pick-up will be available 2-5 p.m. at RiverLink (corner of Lyman Street and Riverside Drive). On race day, registration will be held at Westfeldt Park (Fanning Bridge Road, near Asheville Regional Airport), 7-8:30 a.m. Arrive early to allow enough time for shuttle and preparation.

Shuttle: Two shuttles will run before the race, leaving from the takeout at Southern Waterways (521 Amboy Rd.) for Westfeldt Park (where the race starts) at exactly 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m.

Awards: The top three males and females (overall) in the open and recreational races will win awards, which will be presented on Sunday, June 2 (time and place to be posted at the Festival Center on race day).

Safety/Gear: Coast Guard-approved life jackets must be worn, and a helmet is required during the boat race. All life jackets and helmets will be checked for safety before departure. Bring water and snacks in your boat. There is one pull-off station/finish station (competitors in the recreational division may end here!) at Bent Creek Park (half-way), where boaters may take a break and refill water bottles. Water will be available at the start, at Bent Creek and at the finish.

Rentals: Participants are encouraged to bring their own boats. Southern Waterways, Nantahala Outdoor Center and Diamond Brand also have a number of boats for rent on first-come, first-served basis.

For more info, phone (828) 252-8474, fax (828) 253-6846, e-mail phillip@riverlink, or or visit the Web site (

Mountain Sports Festival Kayak and Canoe Demo and Symposium, Saturday, June 1, 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Lake Julian Park.

Manufacturing reps and paddling experts will demonstrate kayaks and canoes and showcase paddling techniques. The event is open to the public ($1 per person donation). Exhibitors will include Dagger, Perception, Islander, Piranha, Impex, Mad River, Wilderness Systems, Wave Sport and others. Sign-in will be at the park, with a mandatory signed waiver. Info on the Whitewater Play Park proposed for the French Broad River in Asheville will also be available. A kids kayak race will be featured, along with giveaways, drawings and prizes.

Directions: From Asheville, take I-26 east to exit 6. Turn left under the bridge, and go approximately one mile until you see the entrance to Lake Julian Park on your right.

For more information, call Jeff Boggs at 251-4668 or e-mail

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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