Whitewater rafting park could be new economic tool

Published 4:17 pm Friday, July 9, 2021

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There is a growing wave of interest among local city leaders and outdoor enthusiasts for a whitewater park in Elizabethton. Rafting and canoeing are already popular sports on the Doe and Watauga Rivers. Each day, weather permitting, there is a large number of water enthusiasts on the Watauga River, who begin their experience at the Wilbur Dam and tackle the currents at the Bee Cliff, and from there all the way down the river to past Sycamore Shoals Park. When not riding the rapids, the river can be tranquil, allowing for a quiet afternoon to enjoy Mother Nature.
With their popular recreational and spectator appeal, river parks such as the one the Elizabethton Parks and Recreation is proposing, are connecting communities to their rivers through better and safer public access —especially when located alongside public parks that include trails, greenways, parking, restrooms, and other amenities. Because they are also delivering significant economic and environmental benefits as well, this trend is expected to swell.
Elizabethton has never fully taken advantage of its waterways and promoted outdoor interests such as fishing, boating, skiing, etc. In recent years, a company in nearby Banner Elk, N.C., has promoted canoeing and rafting on the Watauga River, and daily brings people to Carter County to enjoy these sports. Additionally, there are local businesses who promote these sports such as Watauga Kayaking.
The new Elizabethton Whitewater Park, which is being proposed, could set off a new era of development in the area, and connect the river with businesses and residents downtown. It could be an example of how smaller towns and cities like Elizabethton see riverfronts in general, and outdoor recreation specifically, as new economic catalysts.
It is a way of showcasing the asset that we have and to capitalize on the growing outdoor economy in our area. A new whitewater park can make Elizabethton a more well-rounded and attractive destination, furthering the potential of its location near the Tweetsie Trail and the proposed biking trail at the Doe River Watershed in Hampton.
According to a 2017 economic study by the Outdoor Industry of America, activities like camping and water sports benefit America’s consumers, businesses, and government at all levels. These activities generate a whopping $887 billion annually — about $702 billion by travelers and vacationers — support nearly 8 million jobs, and bring in just over $59 billion in state and local tax revenue. For comparison, the entire nation’s financial services and insurance industry generates $912 billion.
Whitewater parks, like the one being proposed for Elizabethton to support outdoor recreation like kayaking and rafting, represent a small part of the nation’s huge outdoor industry. They’re increasingly being seen as a developmental tool, not just another entertainment option.
The Watauga and Doe Rivers are big in Elizabethton’s economic development offerings. They could enhance the opportunities to play, and ring cash registers, too!

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