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Nolichucky River Wild and Scenic Designation Update (NC/TN)

Posted: 01/12/2022
By: Kevin Colburn

What’s up with the Nolichucky? We get this question a lot here at AW, and it’s a good one. Last week, Carolina Public Press published Part 1 and Part 2 of an article that offers an accurate window into the current status of the Wild and Scenic River designation efforts. Check out the articles and know that our river protection work in Western North Carolina is not letting up and still has vast support. 


Last summer, the diverse 26-organization Nantahala Pisgah Forest Partnership endorsed Wild and Scenic Designation for the Noli. They joined 65 regional businesses, 25 organizations, and around 24,000 individuals who have voiced support for designation. Almost 2,000 people have recently written supportive messages to congressional leaders, and positive media stories have run in nearly all of the local papers and magazines. Support for designation is diverse and strong and not going away. 


But, as the Carolina Public Press articles note, the three relevant county commissions have thus far decided to remain neutral because of unfounded concerns drummed up by an agricultural lobbying group. This is despite the fact that the proposed designation would have absolutely no effect on agriculture. County support is an important step toward congressional Wild and Scenic designation for the Nolichucky, so until the county commissions voice their support a designation is essentially on hold. 


The Wild and Scenic River opponents in the articles cite impacts of designation that are not possible or relevant. As a quick rebuttal to the concerns raised, the proposed Wild and Scenic River designation for the Nolichucky would occur entirely on federal Forest Service land and would:


- Not allow the government to condemn private land.  

- Have no effect on private lands.

- Have no effect on agricultural practices like irrigation and spraying. 

- Not result in designation of a longer reach than proposed. 


On the contrary, Wild and Scenic designation is a tried and true river protection measure with an over 50-year track record and broad popularity, including in Western North Carolina. Designation is a wonderful opportunity to protect the Noli, and would:


- Ensure exemplary management of the Nolichucky Gorge for its recreation and scenic values by the Forest Service, in perpetuity.

- Ensure the Gorge is never dammed or marred by major construction like pipelines or powerlines, which could otherwise be allowed. 

- Broadcast to visitors the counties’ pride in their natural wonders, and provide assurance that they are among the best in the Nation. 

- Be a high-value and zero-cost investment in outdoor recreation that is likely to have economic benefits.


There is no downside to designation. Right now, county leaders are neutral and support is vast among regional citizens. We remain hopeful that these counties and others in Western North Carolina will honor and celebrate rivers like the Noli that paddlers know deserve Wild and Scenic status. Here at American Whitewater, we’ll keep working with local leaders and citizens to protect some of the region’s best whitewater rivers, including the Noli.

Kevin Colburn

Asheville, NC

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