While this may sound like play, the officials will be on serious business. They see whitewater rafting as one of the ways to promote more tourism in the area.
The group is going to the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City, North Carolina, next Saturday to see a successful whitewater rafting center in operation. They hope to encourage similar operations around the Elizabethton area.
Some North Carolina outfitters already bus tourists to a launch site downstream from Wilbur Dam for a leisurely raft ride on the Watauga that goes through Elizabethton.
For the past couple of years the Elizabethton Parks and Recreation Department has been working with the Surf Betsy Task Force, a group of whitewater rafting and kayaking enthusiasts who have been working to encourage local rafting.
Mike Mains, director of the Elizabethton Parks and Recreation Department, said there has been a lot of interest in developing more outdoor recreation in Elizabethton to help promote tourism, and said the city has a lot of whitewater rapids that could be developed. He said the city parks department has been working with the Carter County Commission’s Parks and Recreation Committee, which is preparing to cut the ribbon on its Green Bridge launch site on the Doe River in Hampton.
Another enthusiast is William Schooley, who was recently appointed to the Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission. He is an industrial engineer. He formerly lived in Miami, but the company he worked for, JW Windows, moved its corporate headquarters to the Watauga Industrial Park in Elizabethton.
Schooley enjoyed the whitewater of the area so much that when JW decided to move out of Elizabethton, he decided to stay. He continues to work as an engineer for local industry, and is quite knowledgeable of the area’s whitewater. In fact, one whitewater section on the Doe River is named Schooley’s Folly.
Schooley said the reason for taking the city leaders on the trip is to show how whitewater can be an attractive part of outdoor recreation, along with other projects the city is starting, such as mountain bike trails.
He said the whitewater of the area has a lot of potential, especially the Watauga Gorge. He called it one of the finest whitewater areas in the region. “It has that sweet spot that makes it challenging enough to keep experienced kayakers on their toes, while it is not super difficult” for less-experienced riders.
Schooley said next week’s fact-finding trip will begin with buses and private vehicles leaving together from First United Methodist Church and driving to Bryson City. He said the agenda includes a whitewater ride that should take two to three hours.
Nantahala Outdoor Center will then lead a discussion session with the Elizabethton leaders. Schooley said NOC has been very supportive of the fact finding trip.