‘Surf Betsy’ proposal to highlight factors of a whitewater park

Published 11:44 pm Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A new tourism attraction could soon be on the horizon for the City of Elizabethton.

Representatives from the Elizabethton IDEAS Group are putting the final pieces of preparation in place for the “Elizabethton Whitewater Park” presentation, which is set to take place Saturday, Feb. 17, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Bonnie Kate Theater.

According to Elizabethton IDEAS member Metin Eryasa, the park idea was created to showcase the natural resources the region has to offer.

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“We talked about it one day, so I started doing the research. The more I looked into it, the more I knew we had something that could be a huge benefit not only to Elizabethton and Carter County, but the entire region,” Eryasa recently told the Elizabethton Star.

Saturday’s meeting will feature city and county leaders along with state and national organization representatives. Eryasa indicated the meeting will include guest speakers, which will provide more of an insight on what the park could potentially mean for the area.

River Restoration, based out of Colorado, is a consulting firm coming to Elizabethton for the meeting.

Since its creation roughly 15 years ago, the company has focused on different projects at rivers across the country as a way to enhance the social and economic elements of the rivers for communities.

Two areas are currently being courted by organizers for a park. Eryasa added Riverside Park, located beside Joe O’Brien Field, is a possibility due to the space and its proximity to the Watauga River. Another possibility is the area behind Tractor Supply, near the river.

Eryasa added that organizers of the initiative are hoping to assist the economic growth of the community.

As Carter County and Elizabethton look to change their focus to tourism, most recent numbers from the Tennessee Department of Tourism Development for 2016 noted there was a total of $37.14 million in direct tourism expenditures. According to information provided by the Carter County Tourism Council, taxpayers were able to save $196.71 per house in combined state and local sales taxes.

A whitewater park would be the first of its kind in the state, Eryasa said, and would service individuals wanting to use it for either kayaking, boogie boarding, rafting or other activities. Those activities, doubled down with economic factors, could pay dividends for the area, he added.

“For class three to five water, we have the Doe, Elk and Watauga. If you added the Nolichucky, that’s four locations right there in our region. Nowhere else in the eastern part of the United States has that,” Eryasa said. “Whitewater events attract thousands each year and bring in money for different communities. Imagine hosting an event like that here. Then you have the Tweetsie Trail future OVT trail and Watauga Lake? You’re giving people something to be excited about and something that can be an economic drive for the community.”

Western Carolina is one area that has seen an impact of focus on rivers.

According to a 2009 report issued from Western Carolina University, the Nantahala Outdoor Center contributed a total of $48,073,691 to the local economy with 64.5 percent of visitors coming to the Carolina Smokies to visit the Nantahala River Gorge.

To learn more about the event, visit the Elizabethton Whitewater Presentation page on Facebook.