Doing it right: Surf Betsy taking steps to ensure project will serve region well

Published 3:51 pm Friday, April 1, 2022

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Managing expectations is proving to be a challenge for the organizers behind the Surf Betsy effort.
“There is a lot of work that has been going on and a lot of things that the public doesn’t see,” said Mike Mains, Elizabethton Parks and Rec director. “The most important thing with this project is to manage expectations because we want to make sure that a project like this would work with the Doe and Watauga rivers. There is a lot that goes into that. There is a lot of research that’s needed.”
The project began a year and a half ago with an ETSU College of Business study on the feasibility of building the water park. The research showed that the project could add revenue to the economy and provide another attraction to draw visitors.
The results were shared with the city council, which tasked Mains with compiling more research. He brought in River Restorations, known throughout the whitewater construction business, about five months ago.
“They have been studying both rivers looking at the water flow and looking at the rise and fall of the water along the Doe and Watauga. In this process, they developed some schematic drawings and are looking at some estimated costs, Mains said. “The rivers are both different. The Doe is naturally fed, while the Watauga is controlled by dam release of water.”
The study is costing $38,000. “It’s a great process to go through and it’s one that has been needed because you just don’t want to jump into something without fully researching it beforehand,” Mains said.
Mains and the advisory board recently reviewed the first draft of the study and are waiting for follow-up answers.
River Restorations will respond to those questions in their final report that will be given back to the board. Mains said “we can’t wait to share it,” but he did caution that the report might not be a guarantee for the project.
“There will be a lot of information in that about the rivers, why it would work here or why it may not work here, and they are very sensitive to the users of the river, to the wildlife, to the aquatic life,” Mains said. “They build these facilities throughout the world and the last thing they are going to do is create an issue for the aquatic life in the river.
“It has been a little while, but there has been a ton of work going on behind the scenes. We have a lot of news coming up. A lot of people are really excited about this project because it could really impact the city and the county and this entire region depending on what those findings are.”

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