Graham County NC Investing In the Cheoah River
With the final Cheoah releases of the 2007 season behind us, it’s an appropriate time to share a little background on activities in Graham County, NC (the county the Cheoah River flows through). Earlier this year, Sara Day Evans was hired as a 21st Century Community Planner in the Western Regional Office of the Division of Community Assistance, Department of Commerce. Sara has been taking an active role working with Graham County to secure funding for vegetation removal in the Cheoah River.
Graham County, as the North Carolina’s third most economically depressed county, is
receiving targeted, place-based economic development planning and funding assistance from the
N.C. Department of Commerce (DOC) and other partnering agencies over the next two
years. “Place-based economic development” focuses on economies
tied to the “place”, and addresses the triple bottom line of “people, planet
and profits”. With a goal of strengthening local economies through
diversification, several state agencies have joined forces to provide assistance to counties such
as Graham who have suffered recent economic downturns, but who have a desire to diversify their
economy. In the case of Graham County, there is a fourth component of
“public safety” (the removal of vegetation that is encroaching the river channel due
to years of zero water in the riverbed) added to the bottom line.
In May 2007, DOC conducted a survey of county leaders and stakeholders and learned that
77% of those surveyed felt that their greatest economic development strength was their
Natural Beauty/Outdoor Tourism. With 73% of the county land-base owned by the U.S.
Forest Service, the county recognizes the need to leverage their natural beauty as a destination
for eco-tourists and outdoor enthusiasts, while preserving those natural qualities that make it
an outdoor Mecca for whitewater sports, boating, fishing, hiking and biking.
Topping the list of those human-powered activities suggested as having the greatest potential to drive the local economy were the Cheoah River/whitewater sports (21%) and the major lakes of Santeetlah and Fontana (21%). Hiking was next, followed by fishing and biking. To this end, the Department has begun assisting with the river restoration effort that was initiated by AW and other whitewater representatives, paying special attention to survey suggestions to improve the river’s safety by removing the aberrant vegetation in the river corridor.
Working with its partnering agencies, DOC and the county were able to secure grants in October 2007 to conduct an environmental impact assessment (EA) on the best methods for permanent removal of the aberrant vegetation in the river corridor. Working with the U.S.F.S., U.S. Fish and Wildlife, American Whitewater and outfitters, the county is moving forward to contract out the scoping and EA, with a goal of completing the EA by November 2008. Depending on the EA results, DOC will work to secure funding for removal of the vegetation in late 2008, early 2009. The DOC and the county feel that a safer river adds up to an improved outdoor economy for Graham County by attracting a broader spectrum of boaters spending their dollars in Graham County and ideally decreasing the county emergency response calls for river rescues.
The 2008 Cheoah River release schedule is as follows:
February 16 and 17
March 15, 16, and 17
April 5, 6, and 7
April 19 and 20
May 3 and 4
May 10 and 11
May 17 and 18