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Best of the Outdoors 2008: Paddling

Gauley Fest, W.Va.

The annual celebration of the dam releases of the Gauley River, Gauley Fest draws boaters from all over the country for a weekend of camaraderie and lighthearted competition.

“Gauley Fest is the biggest conglomeration of kayakers in any one spot in the United States, maybe even the world. It always seems to rain at Gauley Fest, so the last couple of years there’s been some quality mud wrestling. And last year Dagger brought out a stripper pole. There were quite a few guys that got onto that thing, and a few women too. You’ve got everything at Gauley Fest. There’s a lot of industry hype behind it, but it still manages to be a grassroots event. People sleep on the ground at night and paddle all day.”

—Steve Page, boater, American Whitewater volunteer, and Gauley Fest enthusiast

2. Green Race, N.C.
3. Jerry’s Baddle, N.C.
4. Potomac Whitewater Festival, D.C.
5. Boater Chick Festival, N.C.
6. Cheoah River Festival, N.C.
7. Tallulah River Festival, Ga.
8. Cheat River Festival, W.Va.
9. Russell Fork Rendezvous, Ky.
10. French Broad River Festival, N.C.
10. Ohiopyle Over the Falls Festival, Pa.

American Whitewater negotiates new legal access for the Gauley River in West Virginia… The Foothills Conservancy buys land bordering Wilson Creek, which was originally slated for neighborhood development…Tennessee creek-boater Jeff West starts the Mile High Club, a nationwide push for boaters to drop a mile of vertical in a single day…Emily Jackson (daughter of World Freestyle Champ Eric Jackson) wins Freestyle World Cup Championships… South Carolina’s Congaree River is designated a National Recreation Trail.

Chattooga River

The Wild and Scenic Chattooga River is a class IV/V whitewater run on the border of South Carolina and Georgia.

“Dam released rivers are always the same. The Chattooga is a different river every time you run it—it’s always changing with the water level. Most other rivers in the Southeast have roads beside them. The Chattooga is isolated and primitive. Only three companies run trips on this river, and we stagger our trips so we never see each other. On other rivers, it can be like bumper boats, all the companies jockeying for position. This is the greatest river in the country. I wouldn’t guide anywhere else.”

—Rob McCormick, veteran raft guide

2. Gauley River, W.Va.
3. Upper Yough River, M.D.
4. New River, W.Va.
5. Cheoah River, N.C.
6. Tallulah River, Ga.
7. Russell Fork, Va.
8. Green River, N.C.
9. Potomac River, Md./D.C.
10. Wilson Creek, N.C.

Gorilla, Green River

Gorilla is a class V+ drop through a tight notch in the Green River Gorge. It is the most revered rapid in “the Narrows” and the highlight of the Green Race for spectators.

“Gorilla has become a rite of passage. After running Gorilla for nearly 20 years, I still get jacked every time I run it. I like the many faces of Gorilla—and the Green River. I like the focus that comes over you as you line up the approach into the “notch.” I like the Green Race Day when a thousand spectators scream as racers test themselves on the drop. I also like the days when it’s just me and a buddy. I have a lot of memories from time spent at Gorilla, everything from reveling in a perfect day with friends to mourning the loss of another.”

—Shane Benedict, Liquid Logic kayaks

2. Bull Sluice, Chattooga, Ga.
3. Sweets Falls, Gauley River, W.Va.
4. Oceana, Tallula River, Ga.
5. Baby Falls, Tellico River, Tenn.
6. Triple Drop, Wilson Creek, N.C.
7. Hell Hole, Ocoee, Tenn.
8. No Fishing Falls, South Fork of the Piney, Va.
9. El Horendo, Russell Fork, Va.
10. Quarter Mile, Nolichucky, Tenn.

Kevin Colburn

As the national stewardship director for American Whitewater, Kevin Colburn has played an integral role in negotiating the relicensing of dams on major southern rivers like the Cheoah, Ocoee, Nantahala, and Tuckasegee. Recently, he’s been fighting hard for boating access on the Upper Chattooga.

How did you get into paddling?
In junior high, I went on a rafting trip with an outdoor club to the Lehigh River. It was October and it snowed the whole time. I wore a 6mm wetsuit and wool socks. I was instantly hooked.

You’ve been with AW for a while now.
I started out of grad school working immediately on dam relicensing issues east of the Mississippi. It was so daunting. I was in meetings for the Cheoah, Nanty, and Tuck at least twice a week. It was intense right away. If you would have asked me at 25 if I would still be doing this job at 32, I would have said no way. But it’s fun, so here I am.

Any success stories that stand out in your opinion?
The Cheoah, hands down. It’s one of the few projects that I’ve worked from beginning to end, and it’s such a well-rounded victory. I can go paddle that river and know I helped put water in it. It’s very tangible. I’ll be proud of the West Fork of the Tuckasegee too. It’ll be a decade-long project by the time I finally get my boat wet in that river, but it will be worth it.

How do you feel about the process surrounding the Upper Chattooga?
Honestly, I’m disillusioned by the whole process. I assumed that river management happens based on reason and standards, but the Chattooga has given me a glimpse of the wizard behind the curtain, and it’s not pretty. Ultimately, the outcome will be good and the process has already benefited the environment. Because we have forced them to look at the river and its watershed, the Forest Service found 20 miles of illegal trails and campsites.

Lake Jocassee, S.C.

This 7,500-acre mountain lake is located at the base of the Escarpment in South Carolina. Surrounded predominantly by public land, several streams and rivers meet the lake in dramatic waterfalls tucked inside lush coves.

“Lake Jocassee provides great access to the Foothills Trail and Gorges State Park, and the waterfalls provide spectacular destination paddles and great canyoneering opportunities. Flatwater paddling isn’t as popular around here as whitewater kayaking. It requires perseverance and patience.”

—Joe Moerschbacher, owner of Pura Vida Adventures.

2. Lake Santeetlah, N.C.
3. Congaree National Park, S.C.
4. New River, N.C.
5. Chesapeake Bay, Md./Va.
6. Outer Banks, N.C.
7. Lake Fontana, N.C.
8. Cumberland Island National Seashore, Ga.
9. Chattanooga Waterfront (Tennessee River), Tenn.
10. Summersville Lake, W.Va.

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