Is Carter County missing out… Could local fisheries and bodies of water be the diamond in the rough

Published 1:04 pm Friday, June 19, 2020

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Drive by the Watauga River or Watauga Lake on any day of the week and it would be hard not to find someone taking advantage of the wonderful trout fisheries and the beauty that surrounds the lake right here in Carter County.
While many locals are accustomed to what is offered in regard to boating, fishing, jet-skiing, and just having a picnic with family and friends at the recreational areas that surround the lake.
However, is it possible that the county is sitting on a diamond in the rough – a potential way to help improve schools and businesses through the economic impact of properly promoting one of the greatest assets that the county has to offer aside from the Appalachian Trail?
Daily on fishing sites, fishermen throughout the country look for and ask questions about places to go and fish. Others are looking to build homes around lakes and there is even a show on HGTV that helps families find property near lakes with one show recently filmed at nearby Norris Lake.
More than that, when we speak of tourism, this is exactly a shot in the arm to any community that can discover and take advantage of what is present in the resources they have.
Many realize that Carter County houses one of the greatest trophy trout fisheries in America. If you don’t believe that, take time to speak to some of the outside visitors that come and hire some of the best fishing guides around to take them down the Watauga River.
Then there are those who look forward to fighting a big smallmouth bass caught in a cove or perhaps a walleye in the cold depths of the Watauga Lake where there also reside some huge lake trout.
But is enough being done to promote what Carter County has to offer in the streams and bodies of water in the county?
There have been some that have tried to get tournaments such as the FLW Bass Fishing Tour to come to this area but there hasn’t been enough done to prepare for something of this magnitude.
“The thing that worries me is lodging,” said Chris Blevins – an avid fisherman of the area. “There’s not a motel in Elizabethton that I’d feel confident telling anglers to stay at.”
According to Blevins, the tournament would draw approximately 70 boats which equates to 140 fishermen who would be spending one if not more nights in local lodging.
Those fishermen have to eat, buy snacks, and gasoline when they come in so the economy is impacted.
If one doesn’t think fishing is a money-generating business consider these facts as published by the American Sportsfishing Association.
  • Recreational fishing is the nation’s second most popular outdoor activity after jogging.
  • Nearly 1 in 7 Americans take to the water with rod and reel in hand each year.
  • Since 2011, freshwater fishing participation grew 11 percent.
  • More Americans fish than play golf (23.8 million) and tennis (18.1 million) combined.
  • If sportfishing was its own corporation, it would rank #54 on the Fortune 500 List, ahead of Cisco Systems.
Along with these facts consider the following quote by the ASA President.
“Sportfishing has a significant impact on this nation’s economy,” said ASA President Glenn Hughes. “Just by enjoying a day on the water, men, women, and children across the United States pump billions of dollars into this country’s economy.
“In many ways, America’s anglers are the nation’s most powerful force for conserving our nation’s fisheries and waters, investing more than $1 billion dollars in fisheries management and conservation through taxes on fishing equipment and state fishing license sales.”
According to the new study, America’s anglers are estimated to spend $49.8 billion per year in retail sales associated with their sport.
With a total annual economic impact of $125 billion, fishing supports more than 800,000 jobs and generates $38 billion in wages and $16 billion in federal, state, and local taxes according to the publication.
The article further stated that anglers’ expenditures have a significant impact on the nation’s economy. For millions of Americans, recreational fishing is more than just a pleasant getaway; it’s a way of life.
As an industry, it provides a living for countless other people in businesses ranging from fishing tackle and boating manufacturing to travel and hospitality to publications, magazines, and much more.
But for those who do not fish, there is boating, rafting, and kayaking. Due to the popularity of these sports, there have been great strides made to develop whitewater parks to draw fans of the sport to these parks furthering the economic impact on the places these are built.
Locally, Bill Schooley has been pushing to get one of the whitewater parks to build right here in Carter County through Surf Betsy. Schooley said the project has come to the point where it is at a fork in the river and needs some support to get the needed engineering done to proceed.
“There are at least 20 of these types of whitewater parks in Colorado,” said Schooley. “In our neighborhood, the closest comparable attraction would be the Nantahala River in Bryson City, and the Upper Ocoee down near Chattanooga.
“We could actually have two parks – one on the Doe, near the covered bridge, which would probably be oriented towards kids and beginners, and a very powerful feature on the Watauga, downstream from Riverside Park near the end of Cherokee Drive.
“That would be a big wave suitable for competition and drawing enthusiasts from far and wide.”
Schooley even went as far as to say at a recent City Council meeting that it could be the crowning jewel for Carter County to build such a park.
So taking all these aspects into mind – is Carter County sitting on a gold mine that has yet to be properly mined and how much revenue is being left on the table by not properly promoting these resources.
Thinking along those lines, could there not be a couple of hotels built, some new restaurants opened, bait shops spring up, new rafting and fishing guide companies, boat mechanics, sporting good stores aimed at these sports, and other opportunities for Carter County.
The question has been asked – what say you Carter County?

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