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June 27, 2018, day 5/7
John resumed where he left off and quickly caught up in his expedition kayak– around noon. I sent him a text message to portage the Low-Head Dam in Cullowhee to avoid the dangerous river-wide hydraulic at the base. This dam is almost a century old and is being considered for renovation or removal, a local controversy with sound arguments on both sides. We fished the 5 mile section of world-class trout waters down to Dillsboro. Fishing from a standup paddleboard is a joy. Floating and spinning in the current with a 6 foot vantage point provides a 360 degree opportunity for visualization and spotcasting. The river opens wide here and provides a western-style fly-fishing experience. I improved my casting skills but did not catch enough for dinner and set my eyes on Dillsboro for nutrition.
In 2010 a large orange crane outfitted with a hydraulic hammer sat in the Tuckasegee River removing the 12 foot high and 310 foot long Dillsboro Dam in chunks. Mark Cantrell, biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said, “What we’re seeing now is the rebirth of that section of river and a confirmation of the decision to remove it. There’s no question about it-if you are an angler, boater, fish or bug, the Tuckasegee River is better with the Dillsboro Dam removed.” (Tuckasegee River, biodiversity, revives after dam removal two years ago. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, March 28, 2012) I paddle over the lip of what once was a dam into a class 2 whitewater rapid, native boulders and all. I manage to stay upright on my paddleboard for the obligatory photo before falling off into the froth. The banks were still green with fresh seeding from the dam removal as I collected myself below the resurrected rapid. We hid our boats in the river cane grove near Dillsboro Park and celebrated the freeing of a river with a burger and beer at LuLu’s!
Paddling down from Dillsboro in the late afternoon we entered the Tuckasegee gorge, a 5 mile section of class 1-2 whitewater. Anna Levesque, former freestyle kayak world champ and founder of Girls at Play chose this section as her favorite beginners whitewater. She accurately described our paddling experience, “wave trains are common and the safest lines through rough water are usually easy to discern.” This section is also perfect for the intermediate stand up paddleboarder wanting to move into the whitewater scene. I navigated the whitewater well but became a little careless photographing in a shallow rapid and “caught a fin” launching me forward. I lost my Gopro camera and gained a bruise and a sober reminder to keep my helmet on!
John and I searched the eddies for my camera to no avail. My Gopro “float” obviously didn’t work and we moved on thankful I had uploaded the pictures to my iphone the night before. Paddling leisurely we watched a black mink play in the rapids, clearly a weaker swimmer than his cousin the otter. Camp was set up on a long sliver of rock island at the end of the gorge section just before the river becomes visible behind Uncle Bill’s Flea Market on highway 74.