Cheoah - Santeetlah Dam to Calderwood Lake Boat Launch


Cheoah, North Carolina, US

Disclaimer

Santeetlah Dam to Calderwood Lake Boat Launch

Usual Difficulty IV-V (for normal flows)
Length 9.25 Miles
Avg. Gradient 83 fpm
Max Gradient 146 fpm

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
CHEOAH RIVER NR BEARPEN GAP NR TAPOCO, NC
usgs-0351706800 400 - 2500 cfs IV-V 00h50m 160 cfs (too low)


River Description

The Cheoah River is located in the extreme southwestern corner of NC, near Robbinsville. For seventy years the nine-mile section between the Santeetlah Dam and Lake Calderwood was dewatered. American Whitewater along with the Western North Carolina Paddlers advocated for releases for over 6 years.  Whitewater releases on the Cheoah began in the fall of 2005.  Each year there are at least 18 releases for paddlers to enjoy for the next 40 years.

The Cheoah is unusual for rivers of its volume in the Southeast in that its gradient is relatively constant. This means that with the exception of 2 or 3 half mile or so sections, it is unusually continuous, more so than anything else with a similar volume of water in the Southeast. Some call it "warm western-style paddling;" those paddling it at the higher winter 2002 flows continued the Western analogies, comparing it to Pine Creek on the Arkansas and the Lochsa at high water. No doubt contributing to the analogies was the water quality, which was crystal clear during the winter flows. All who have paddled the Cheoah have agree it will become one of the crown jewels of whitewater world.

The portion of the Cheoah from Outland Gas and Grocery to Lake Calderwood can be broken into three sections: a 1.5 mile brushy and tree-clogged upper section with a number of sticky holes and a potentially troublesome river-wide ledge a bit downstream of the hydroelectric bypass pipe, a 4 mile relatively open and mild middle section that features some nice wave trains at higher water levels, and a 1.5 mile lower section with the most gradient and the best defined drops.  Efforts have been made to clear channels in the upper sections of the river, however there are large root balls scattered throughout the stream bed and swimmers should be extremely careful.

At flows of about 1000 cfs or under, the upper section is about a half grade and the middle section a full grade easier than the lower section, with the first two sections similar in difficulty to the Ocoee. The risks are greater, however, as much of the channel is heavily lined with trees and brush, giving the run a nature akin to paddling during a flood. The main technical challenge is presented by the frequent series of offset holes. Because of the trees and brush, it is not a good place to paddle if you don't have a rock-solid roll and the ability to read water well on the fly (bank scouting would not be fun).


The lower section is the best defined, with a number of classic drops. It begins at the bridge on which the Bearpen Gap gauge is located. My favorites were the sequence of four drops with the biggest single drop on the river (a ledge about 8 feet high) being the third and the drop beginning at the bridge downstream of the Tapoco Lodge. There were many, many waves to surf and a number of very playable holes, including two potential rodeo sites: one at Tapoco Lodge and one at the end of the drop beginning at the bridge downstream of the Lodge.

At the highest level paddled during the summer test releases (4.7 feet / 1,130 cfs), the upper and lower sections were much closer in difficulty as the offset holes were beginning to get sticky. The hole below the river-wide ledge was beginning to look scary at this level; recovery after a swim would be challenging due to the thickets of trees growing in the water and on both banks for a considerable distance downstream. The lower section didn't change much, so the result was a run that was a lot more fun but not any scarier (assuming strong class IV skills, and keeping in mind that the Ocoee only requires strong class III skills). If more of the trees and brush were removed, the upper run would almost certainly get easier at every level as paddlers wouldn't be forced to run through the meat of the holes and the entrapment danger would be lower.

For the upcoming schedule of releases see: http://www.smokymountainhydro.com/content/about/santeetlah-35694.html


See also Chris Bell's Asheville-Area Boating Beta Page.

 


Class

Flow

  Gauge

III-IV (IV+)

4.15' / 670 cfs

  The Cheoah River near Bearpen Gap near Tapoco, NC gauge is located at the bridge that marks the beginning of the lower section of the run. The cfs values for flows over 4.70 feet are estimates; the USGS has not calibrated the gauge for flows greater than those observed during the July, 2000 test releases. The river can be run at 670 cfs, but I would need at least 800 cfs to be willing to make the two hour drive from Asheville. As reflected in the ratings, the Cheoah gets harder as it rises -- especially the upper section, which is reported to be very dangerous at 6.8'. 5.3' is a very exciting, challenging level providing a thrilling ride unlike anything else to be found in the Eastern US; levels over 6' are probably too high for mere mortals on all but the middle section. These ratings are based on the river's current tree and brush-clogged status. If at some point some of these trees and brush are removed, easier lines will open up and the penalty for mistakes will be lower.

III+-IV+

4.50' / 950 cfs

IV-IV+

4.55' / 1010 cfs

IV-IV+

4.70' / 1130 cfs

IV-V

5.3' / 1840 cfs?

IV+-V+

6.8' / 4000 cfs?

 

 Video Podcast about the Cheoah Relicensing

AW's Kevin Colburn and Jeff Paine talk with John Grace of Lunch Video Magazine about the Cheoah relicensing project.


LVMTV :: Monday Morning Madhouse 3/16; American Whitewater's successes with Cheoah Releases from Lunch Video Magazine on Vimeo.


StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2015-08-05 15:42:23

Editors

Stream team editor

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Put-InPutin
0.5First diversion pipe
0.7Craik's LedgeIII+Hazard Playspot Photo
2.9The rapid above the pipeIVHazard Photo
2.9Swinging Bridge RapidIII+Photo
2.9Wilma's Ledge aka God's DamIV+Hazard Photo
3.1TakeoutIV+Hazard
3.1Takeout/EntranceHazard Photo
3.1Takeout/First DropHazard Photo
3.5Typical Upper Cheoah SceneIVPhoto
4.5Typical Rapid on the Middle Cheoah - Yellow Creek Rapid.IVPhoto
5.0Land of HolesIV
6.0The deadend poolI
6.1The easy stuffIII
7.0The Forest Service BridgeAccess
7.1Rod's HoleIIIPlayspot Photo
7.4Entrance to Bear Creek RapidIV+
7.5The FallsIV+Waterfall Photo
7.5Bear Creek Rapid (The Slide)IV+Photo
7.5Bear Creek - The left side of the Island.IV+
7.5Bear Creek Rapid (The Hole)5.0Hazard Photo
7.6Rapids below Bear CreekIV
8.4Tapoco Lodge RapidIVPlayspot Photo
8.6Yard SaleIVPlayspot Photo
9.0The LakePhoto
9.2Calderwood Boat RampTakeout Photo

Rapid Descriptions

Put-In
There is a nice forest service put-in just down from the dam.

First diversion pipe
Nice pipe about 30 feet above the river with some very mellow fast moving current under it. The next time you see this sucker, things will pick up.

Craik's Ledge (Class III+, Mile 0.7)

(RM) Put-In Rapid

(RM) Put-In Rapid
Photo of Kevin Thomas by Rob Maxwell taken 10/01/05 @ 1150

In the first mile and a half after some fast moving flatwater comes a three foot tall ledge. The middle has a rather strong hole with a major backwash at 1500 cfs. At 1000, the ledge can still throw boats vertical and recirculate swimmers. Fortunately there is a big eddy on the right to gather up gear. This rapid was run for the very first time during the Sept 17th release since this section was too over grown to be run during the test releases and the natural flows. Craik Davis helped with that cleanup effort that opened this up and was the first one over the top ledge on the morning of 9/17. He also got munched by the hydrolic & SWAM. The rapid is named in honor of his hard work and unfortunate incident that ended his run very early that day. FYI - Craik did have a successfull run of that ledge & the entire river during the Oct 1 release.

The rapid above the pipe (Class IV, Mile 2.9)

Above Pipe & Dam

Above Pipe & Dam
Photo by Sutton Bacon taken 01/26/02 @ 6.8 ft.

A little past the grocery store you'll see that giant diversion pipe crossing over the river again. Things are about to pick up!! The next three miles are Non-stop action!! There are still trees both in the riverbed and clogging most otherwise usable eddies. The pace starts to pick up here, with a long Class 3-4 approaching the water diversion pipe. Between the diversion pipe and the swinging bridge are a good series of back to back drops with some very stiff holes. There are still a lot of trees in this stretch to be avoided. Just below the swinging bridge there are good eddies on the right to scout the dam below.

Swinging Bridge Rapid (Class III+, Mile 2.9)

(RM) Walking Bridge before God's Dam

(RM) Walking Bridge before God's Dam
Photo by Rob Maxwell @ 1240

Swinging bridge rapid is the approch to the dam. Lots of routes but in the end you're going to be in a big eddy with a blind horizon line behind you. Depending on the water levels, there are a couple of large holes in the approach you will have to deal with.

Wilma's Ledge aka God's Dam (Class IV+, Mile 2.9)

(RM) God's Dam

(RM) God's Dam
Photo by Rob Maxwell taken 10/01/05 @ 1150

Below the pipe and swinging bridge, the Cheoah drops over an six-foot lowhead dam. At higher levels (above six feet/2000 cfs), the hole is terminal. At medium levels (above five feet/1400 cfs), a direct line opens up on the far right, but the preferred line here is a creeky double-drop on the left, threading the needle between two patches of trees. At lower water (below five feet/1000 cfs), you can power over the middle of the ledge. The difficulty of this rapid, along with all of them on the upper portion of the Cheoah, remains the lack of eddies, countless strainers on both sides of the river and sometimes mid-stream, and powerful holes and pushy water.

Takeout (Class IV+, Mile 3.1)
Immediately after Wilma's Ledge, the road pulls away from the Cheoah for really the only time. Strainers fill the eddies and directly below lies one of the Cheoah's toughest and longest rapids. Takeout, named in honor of many early Cheoah pioneers who ended their day early here. Takeout is difficult to scout due to the brush lined banks that are littered with poison ivy. Huge holes abound here. One of the large river left holes at the top of the rapid has a bad piton/pin rock to be avoided. On the bottom right is a large boulder that sends you toward larger holes. Once the trees are removed, at normal levels it should rate a solid 4, and easy class 5 above 1500. Around 1800 it kicks up to solid class 5. In any case, be sure to scout this one before you launch; otherwise, it may force you to "takeout" after being thoroughly hammered. At the bottom right of the rapid there is a good spot to exit the river, usually marked by a plethora of on duty rescue folks.

Takeout/Entrance

Entrance drop of Takeout

Entrance drop of Takeout
Photo by Sutton Bacon taken 01/26/02 @ 6.8 ft.

This ledge represents the entrance to Takeout and consists of a nasty riverwide hydraulic. We would have run a sneak river right, but as you can tell, there was a forest in the way. As with lots of these photos, taken with a cheap disposable waterproof camera, the perspective is a bit off. This ledge is about four feet tall.

Takeout/First Drop

Top drop at Takeout

Top drop at Takeout
Photo by Sutton Bacon taken 01/26/02 @ 6.8 ft.

This is the second drop at Takeout. As you can tell, its difficulty lies in the pushiness of the water, the size of the holes, and most importantly, the TREES! Because of these factors, Takeout at this water level is nearly unreasonable.

Typical Upper Cheoah Scene (Class IV, Mile 3.5)

Typical Upper Cheoah scene

Typical Upper Cheoah scene
Photo by Sutton Bacon taken 01/26/02 @ 6.8 ft.

This is a typical scene on the upper part of the Cheoah. I can't stress the tree-problem enough. They are everywhere! Continuous Class III-IV rapids.

Typical Rapid on the Middle Cheoah - Yellow Creek Rapid. (Class IV, Mile 4.5)

Rapid on middle Cheoah section

Rapid on middle Cheoah section
Photo by Sutton Bacon taken 01/26/02 @ 6.8 ft.

This is a typical rapid on the middle part of the Cheoah. This middle section opens up considerably from the tree-infested upper part. It's about five miles of rapids like this: big, pushy, very similar to Gauley rapids but much, much more continuous. This section is not as demanding as the tighter upper two miles, largely because of the lack of trees and the larger riverbed with wider rapids and more routes through them.

Land of Holes (Class IV, Mile 5.0)
The so-called Land of Holes is a three-quarter mile section of continuous Class IV whitewater with few eddies and no respite. I think Land of Holes is one of the very best parts of the Cheoah. Not much beats long, beautiful, and continuous Class IV boogie water.

The deadend pool (Class I, Mile 6.0)
Pretty much the only big patch of calm water on the entire run at levels of 1500 and 1000. THE Eddy is in a right hand bend of the river.

The easy stuff (Class III, Mile 6.1)
Below the eddy, you take a cut thru some brush to get back in the main channel of current. Evidently there is an island that quite a bit of water goes around, but the entrance is clogged with brush. The next mile is mostly mellow non-stop class 2-3 read and run, with a few good class 3's tossed into to keep you on your toes. As of Oct. 2005 there was still quite a bit of wood in this stretch, but its fairly easy to avoid.

The Forest Service Bridge
Once you see the next bridge, be ready for the Cheoah's final 2 mile mad dash to the lake. This signifies the start of the lower portion of the Cheoah, where the rapids will accelerate back up to IV-V and soon plunge through a large and very long Class V rapid. This is also an alternate put-in for the Lower Cheoah.

Rod's Hole (Class III, Mile 7.1)

Corey playing at Rod's Hole

Corey playing at Rod's Hole
Photo by Kenny Geronilla taken 09/17/05 @ 1500

One of the best play spots on the entire river is about a quarter mile past the bridge. Big eddy on river left and a riverwide wave. The wave is a bit flushy in the middle but will give up lots of good moves if you have the skills.

Entrance to Bear Creek Rapid (Class IV+, Mile 7.4)
The entrance rapid to Bear Creek is nearly as difficult as the drop itself. Its best to grab an eddy at the top of the approach, to scout the approach, the falls, and the hole at the bottom of bear creek. The Entrance is long and pushy, and suprisingly steep abounding with large waves and holes. The horizon line downstream is the big drop. Routes vary dramatically depending on levels, but at most flows you can catch one last eddy above the falls on the right.

The Falls (Class IV+, Mile 7.5)

(RM) Bear Creek Rapid

(RM) Bear Creek Rapid
Photo by Rob Maxwell taken 10/01/05 @ 1150

Bear Creek Falls is the largest vertical drop on the Cheoah. It's about 12 feet tall and found not far upstream from Tapoco Lodge. The lower two miles of the Cheoah drop 106 and 146 feet. This represents a whitewater experience on a mid-volume river not often found in the Southeast. At all water levels, the river right line consisting of a slide into a trashy hole is the normal route. At flows of 1000 you can boof off the right center of the falls. A left boof toward the eddy will land on rocks. At medium water levels (above 1500), I think the best line here is a gorgeous far left boof. The added water will allow you to miss the rocks on the eddyline, but you will be playing very close to them. At higher water (over six feet), the only reasonable line is river right.

Bear Creek Rapid (The Slide) (Class IV+, Mile 7.5)

Cheoah

Cheoah
Photo of Scott Hanshaw by Bryan Hughbanks taken 01/26/02 @ ~5.4ft

The fun only begins at the big drop. The next set of rapids, combined with the drop, form one of the most demanding parts of the entire river. The start of this rapid is a big slide with a number of route options. From there you have two large holes to punch before you can eddy above the bottom hole.

Bear Creek - The left side of the Island. (Class IV+, Mile 7.5)
aka "The West Prong Line". 5 back to back drops in a channel about 25 feet wide. The drops are about 8 feet tall and 30 feet apart. Get in the middle and boof hard!

Bear Creek Rapid (The Hole) (Class 5.0, Mile 7.5)

Final hole below big drop

Final hole below big drop
Photo by Sutton Bacon taken 01/26/02 @ 6.8 ft.

This is a photo of the final hole in the set of rapids below the drop. At mid to high levels, they combine to form one huge rapid. This particular hole can be found at the bottom of the righthand channel. Even at lower to medium levels, this hole is significant, and avoiding it is the toughest part of the Bear Creek Rapid. At levels of 1500 this hole led to a variety of beatdowns and lost gear. Most successful routes were boofing off the left side of the hole. At 1000 cfs there is a minor break in the hole just right of center. The holes backwash is solid at all levels.

Rapids below Bear Creek (Class IV, Mile 7.6)
Below Bear Creek and above Tapoco lodge is one very steep stretch of big water. Lots of routes, but basically a half mile of boogie water. Probably 5 or 6 defined drops at 1000 cfs, but they are stacked on top of each other. The closer you get to the lodge the steeper the gradient gets. On river right when tapoco lodge is in sight there is a pinning spot to be aware of. Of course you'll be on that side of the river avoiding the massive pour over thats on river left. You can see it as you're approaching it, so don't let your guard down.

Tapoco Lodge Rapid (Class IV, Mile 8.4)

Waves at Tapoco Lodge

Waves at Tapoco Lodge
Photo by Sutton Bacon taken 01/26/02 @ 6.8 ft.

The rapid alongside Tapoco Lodge is one of the river's best; it funnels into a great playspot almost parallel to the lodge. Below it, enormous waves continue until under the bridge.

Yard Sale (Class IV, Mile 8.6)

Yard Sale

Yard Sale
Photo of Doug Worful, Rye Redding, Trevor Barnett, and Dennis Huntley (aka Gandolf) taken 10/01/05

After the river crosses under the bridge, it drops into a steep, beautiful mini-gorge. At this point you have 3/10s of a mile before you hit the lake. The first thing you'll notice going under the bridge is that the river goes to one third its previous width. You'll also notice that the bottom is about to drop out, again. Four strong Class IV rapids are hidden in this dark little corner of the run. Just below the bridge are two large (huge?) back to back holes. There is some eddy service below both of them to gather things up. After that are two more big drops then a couple of easy class 3's before you hit the lake.

The Lake

(RM) Dam at Calderwood Lake

(RM) Dam at Calderwood Lake
Photo by Rob Maxwell taken 10/01/05 @ 1150

Notice that the water temp in the lake is about 20 degrees colder than the river temp. This is due to the bottom drawn water coming thru the hydro-power station. Also, note Cheoah Dam, where Harrison Ford's character jumped off of in "The Fugitive."

Calderwood Boat Ramp

(RM) Calderwood Boat Ramp

(RM) Calderwood Boat Ramp
Photo by Rob Maxwell @ 1240

Paddle about a quarter mile down the lake. There is a boat ramp that will be obvious.


User Comments

Users can submit comments.
April 22 2016 (33 days ago)
Mark SingletonDetails
Per new water certificate, flows on Sunday releases are now at 1000cfs.
July 8 2010 (2148 days ago)
Robert FarmerDetails
To see some cool pictures of this section, check out my friend Woody DuBois's photos and videos
http://picasaweb.google.com/tm.dubois/20090621Cheoah# . These were taken in 2009. P.S. I'm in the
blue Prijon Boxer, number 10 frame.
June 28 2010 (2158 days ago)
Great River! No serious obstructions during the latest release.
May 26 2010 (2191 days ago)
Paul KillianDetails
It is not yet known how he is doing, but thanks to Shayne he was revived and air lifted to
Knoxville. If anyone has any more information please post it as it helps us all paddle safer.
May 22 2010 (2195 days ago)
zfraysier (150593)
Wood across entrance to west prong side. One boat pinned against it today. I'm sure someone will
pull it out after this weekend release. Also one serious injury?/close call?/ death?... Life
flighted out. Hope he/she is ok.
July 9 2007 (3243 days ago)
Robert StrangiaDetails
Updated Rapid names..... Craik's Ledge, III mile 8.5 Southern Revival, III+, mile 6.4 (first long
rapids below the store) Pipewalk, III+ mile 6.3 God's Dam, IV mile 6.2 Jeff's Wood, Class III
(rapid below God's Dam) Takeout, IV(IV+)mile 6.1 The lines from right to left... The Good, The Bad,
& the Ugly Hancock's Ledge, III+(IV) mile 5.6 Yellow Creek Rapid, III+(IV) mile 5.1 Land of 1000
Holes, IV Mile 4.6 The Dead Sea, mile 3.7 Forest Service Bridge mile 1.9 Rod's Hole, III, mile 1.8
Fear Factor IV+ mile 1.5 (Entrance to Bear Creek Rapid), Bear Creek Falls, IV+ mile 1.1 Tail of the
Dragon(River Right), IV mile 0.7 West Prong Line(River Left), IV+ mile 0.7 Tapoco Lodge Rapid, IV
mile 0.5 Yard Sale,The Holes... (Cupcake, Beefcake,& Shitcake)IV+ mile 0.4 Fugitive, Class III mile
0.1
October 5 2005 (3885 days ago)
Brad RobertsDetails
I'd have to call the approach, the falls, and the runout three seperate rapids. With bear creek
being the stuff below the falls.
May 8 2003 (4766 days ago)
Kevin ColburnDetails
After a 12,000 cfs spill on 5/7/03 big chunks of the road (129) are gone. So while the Cheoah is
running 2G and holding (a VERY GOOD LEVEL), there is really no way to access it that i know of
unless you feel like running a 200+ mile shuttle! Call DOT before heading out there. It is possible
you could run part of the River but just not the whole thing...

Check out a photo... Notice the debris on the road that shows that there were several more feet of
water in the river....

http://americanwhitewater.org/photos/?photoid=4103
January 28 2002 (5231 days ago)
Some email reports just in over the weekend. Thought I'd share with the paddling world.-JTG Geoff
Kohl comments- Just ran Cheoah with some other first-timers on Saturday, January 26, 2002, at
around six feet, a level we guess that would equate to something like 2,700 cfs (it dropped to
about 5.4 while we were on the river). It was big, pushy and thrilling. The Cheoah is definitely an
instant southeastern whitewater classic. The big ledge and the area immediately downstream on the
right are the only parts that seem to start to get troubling due to the nature of some huge offset
holes. The rapid below Tapoco Lodge (past the bridge) is worth remembering, well-defined lines with
huge hidden holes at five-and-a-half feet. It could definitely go higher than this, but I don't
think any of these rapids will wash out--they'll just create more monster holes. There is one
hazard I'd mention, and that is a set of cables that are in the river just upstream of the power
house (and just downstream of the below-the-bridge rapid). Even though I saw them while in an
upstream eddy, I lost track of one silverish cable and came quite close to it while paddling
downstream. My friend said he saw black cables in the water too. This is quite close to the
upstream IV rapid when the water is up, and a paddler in our group swam just above the cabled
section. Had he not found an eddy, it could have been a scary situation. -Geoff Kohl Scott Hanshaw
comments- Ran it on Sat, Jan 26, 2002. Level was around 5.5 on the USGS gauge. This was an
unbelievable run! This level is higher than the test releases, which made for an incredibly wild
ride, But I can see that at the higher end of the test levels (900+) This would still be a great
run. A group of us paddlers from Arkansas would usually make 4+ trips a summer, out east, to the
Ocoee. We have slowed down some in the last few years because the Ocoee has lost its
"zip". If regularly scheduled releases were set up on this river, I'm certain we would be
road tripping often. At the release levels I'm guessing that the play potential would be excellent.
At this level it was "hang on to your hat and look out for the monster holes". Very
Sweet! I will defiantly be watching the gauges and when it runs again on a weekend I will be
loading up for a road trip! Thanks Keep the rivers flowin' -Scott Hanshaw Don Kinser comments- Ran
the Cheoah yesterday at 5.34 feet on the Bear Pen Gauge (CFS not available). It was big. There is
no way in hell the section below the bridge just above the lodge is class 4 at this level. Much
more like class 5+. Reminded me of Pine Creek on the Arkansas. It is big, continuous and
unrelenting. Once you went under that bridge you were committed. The section above from the little
store to the bridge was outstanding and totally continuous. Big waves, big holes, big fun. There
were many people on the river and it had come down to 5.34 feet from almost 7 the day before. Keep
up the good work. -Don Kinser
January 28 2002 (5231 days ago)
Kevin ColburnDetails
The Cheoah got paddled on january 25th, 26th,and 27th at flows ranging from well over 2500 cfs down
to 1000 cfs. higher flows were NOT compared to the ocoee, they were compared to the Arkansas
Numbers with Pine Creek Rapid at the bottom, like the Lower 5 of the North Fork of the Payette, and
like a continuous Lochsa. Even the lower flows were awesome and challenging and aesthetic. The
water was clear/blue, the air was 60-70 degrees, the locals were curious and enjoyable to chat
with, and the river was incomparable. There is nothing like it left in the Southeast, It is
Incredible.


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November 2015

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Cheoah Release
10:00 am -4:00 pm est
Cheoah Release (Hours approximated)1000 cfs

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Cheoah Release Robbinsville,NC runs 02/22/14 - 11/07/15
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Associated Projects

  • Cheoah River (NC)
    AW and regional paddling clubs spent 5 years relicensing the dam on the Cheoah and scored a huge environmental and recreational victory.

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