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Rafting down the Nolichucky

July 14th, 2011 5:28 pm by Madison Mathews

It’s easy to get out of bed and head into work when your office is located inside an inflatable raft that’s rushing down the rapids of the Nolichucky River in Erwin. At least that’s the case for Brittany Higgins, a raft guide with USA Raft in Erwin.
Having grown up in the Flag Pond area of Unicoi County, Higgins was already familiar with the grand beauty of the Nolichucky when she joined USA Raft as a guide about three years ago.
Higgins’ father was a raft guide with the company about 10 years ago, and she fondly remembers spending a lot of time navigating the gorge when she was young.
“I just always remember staying on the river, camping on the river. I’ve done a lot of different rivers, but the Nolichucky is always where my head is cause it’s so close to home, and I’ve always just been around it and now I get to guide it, which is awesome,” she said Wednesday.
The Nolichucky is one of four rivers traveled by USA Raft thrillseekers throughout the week. The whitewater rafting company also takes trips on Watauga River and the French Broad and Nantahala rivers in North Carolina.
While the other rivers offer various degrees of difficulty when it comes to whitewater rafting, Higgins said the Nolichucky is by far the most adventurous of the bunch.
“It’s beautiful all down through there. It has wild animals and big rapids, which is the funnest part of course,” she said. “You feel like you actually achieved something, and people do, cause it does take work to do the Nolichucky.”
Rafting season typically begins in March, with Memorial Day serving as the official kickoff for the season. Higgins said they’ll offer rafting trips as late as October.
Higgins said one of the most exciting parts of the job — aside from traversing the water — is meeting people who come from all over the world.
“We get big groups from all over the United States. We’ve had foreign people come and do it,” she said. “It’s really exciting to meet different people cause we meet somebody new every day.”
More than 200 people are taken down the various rivers every day.
USA Raft also offers kayaking, guided rock climbing near Asheville, N.C., and caving excursions in Worley’s Cave in Bluff City.
Of course, the main attraction are the company’s whitewater rafting adventures.
“It’s really exciting to get people involved in whitewater rafting, cause it’s not a big sport. We’re probably the least-paid out of every sport, but it is a sport. A lot of training and a lot of time and energy goes into what these guys do every day. It’s a hard job sometimes when the water levels get low and stuff, but we keep on going,” Higgins said.
Cost for rafting down the Nolichucky River Gorge with USA Raft is $69.95 per person for a half-day excursion and $79.95 for a full-day trip.
For more information, call 866-USA-Raft or visit

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