Writer suggests city, state establish a whitewater park near B-Cliff Rapids

Published 3:19 pm Friday, March 12, 2021

To the Editor:
I have been rafting on the Watauga River since 1974 and have previously worked as a seasonal whitewater rafting guide and trainer on the Watauga River for close to a decade. It is my opinion that the Elizabethton City Council should jettison the seemingly gold-plated WaveShaper proposal that has been presented to the Elizabethton Parks & Recreation Department by its free-riding Surf Betsy supporters.
The Watauga River can already be enhanced for whitewater without gambling away limited tax dollars into expensive WaveShaper platforms — the employees of the Nantahala Outdoor Center reportedly landed the 2013 ICF Freestyle World Championships on the Nantahala River through the efforts of “zealous paddlers on the Nanty who manhandled rocks around the riverbed to craft a high-caliber feature.”
The Doe River — along its generally shallow stream course running from Valley Forge, underneath the downtown Covered Bridge, and finally into the confluence at the Watauga River — has never attracted tax revenue-generating commercial river tubing, let alone whitewater rafting and kayaking, primarily because the Doe River is dependent upon rainfall for its stream depth.
I would estimate that 93% of the commercial rafting on the Watauga River in Carter County occurs between River Mile 34 (at the TVA Wilbur Dam) and downstream of River Mile 29 (near the East Tennessee Sport Complex).
The Elizabethton City Council should be looking eastward and establish a state government-owned whitewater park at River Mile 33 (the Bee Cliff Rapids) in order to generate new tax revenues and local business opportunities from commercial whitewater rafting, much in the same way as the late Sen. Herman Robinson did when he led his state legislative effort to purchase private lands in Carter County in order to establish the Roan Mountain State Park during the early 1960s.

Robert D. Ritchie
Elizabethton

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