Graham County NC Investing In the Cheoah River

posted November 13, 2007
by Kevin Colburn

article photo 1

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

August 17

October 4

November 1

Kevin Colburn
Missoula, MT
Phone: 406-543-1802



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