Ride Rapids THE
BEST WHITEWATER RAFTING TRIPS IN THE SOUTH
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10 | RIDIN’ RAPIDS
BRO rounds up the best whitewater rafting rivers in the South.
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The kayaking community in Richmond, Va., continues to mourn one of their own without losing love for the water. JUNE 2022 | BLUERIDGEOUTDOORS.COM
Experience the everyday comforts of a welcoming community and beautiful campus and embrace the unexpected: Adventure embedded in the academic program. Among our 70 programs of study are majors such as Outdoor Studies & Tourism and Health & Wellness Promotion. Love the outdoors? Apply for our Mountain Challenge Scholarship.
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Outdoor studies are part of the curriculum at Tennessee’s Maryville College BY ELLEN KANZIN GER
FOR FOUR YEARS, THE CRAWFORD House served as a home away from home for Becca Roberson as she studied biology at Maryville College. The house, with its climbing tower, bouldering wall, and wide-open green space, holds Mountain Challenge, a private outdoor adventure company that has partnered with the college for over 35 years, providing students the opportunity to plan, lead, and facilitate trips for other students and community members. Roberson, who graduated in May, said her time spent as a staff member gave her skills she’s using as she currently pursues a career in wildlife biology. “Since it is so student-led, a lot of the problems that we face, we have to figure out on our own,” she said. “The skills I have from Mountain Challenge, from working outdoors with other people, knowing how to problem solve, and how to lead things, is vital to what I’m going to do in the future.”
Students have a wealth of outdoor recreational opportunities within an hour of their campus, from hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to paddling the French Broad, Holston, and Tennessee rivers. Throughout the pandemic, Roberson witnessed many of the 1,200 students on the eastern Tennessee campus rally around the program. “Mountain Challenge served as this little lifeboat for people to be able to get outside, do a lot of stress relief, and hang out with people in a safe way during the pandemic,” she said. Students have a wealth of outdoor recreational opportunities within an hour of their campus, from hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to paddling the French Broad, Holston, and
Tennessee rivers. At Maryville, this year’s winner of Blue Ridge Outdoors’ annual Top Adventure College contest, students can pursue more than 60 majors, including Outdoor Studies and Tourism, Environmental Science, and Sustainability Studies. For Alex Thompson, a rising senior, his classes as an outdoor studies major have given him a deeper insight into how groups function in order to better facilitate a safe and fun experience outside. Thompson’s favorite trip that he’s led so far was a hike through a foot of snow at Frozen Head State Park. “I like going out and doing those types of things, especially in more adverse conditions,” he said. “I like the stories more than I like being warm.” After graduation next year, Thompson hopes to get certified to guide a variety of outdoor trips and thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. As Mountain Challenge fellows, Roberson and Thompson were both awarded a scholarship to develop their leadership skills and serve on staff during their time at the college. Since graduating from the college in 2003, Tyson Murphy has seen Maryville’s
outdoor program gain more resources, including the addition of the scholarship. Murphy currently serves as the program director for Mountain Challenge, adjunct instructor in the outdoor studies and tourism department, and head crosscountry coach.
“They may not be the best climber, the best cyclist, the greatest paddler, but if they’ve developed some habits that allow them to reap the physiological and psychological benefits of being in the natural world, then that’s a win for us.” The emphasis in the outdoor studies program has shifted, he said, to give students a better sense of the broader issues related to reconnecting people and the natural world. It’s about more than just going out and leading trips; it’s about forming meaningful connections. “The further we progress in a world that
is more screen driven and technology driven, [there are] issues with green space and limited access to having safe outdoor spaces for people to recreate,” Murphy said. Ultimately, Murphy hopes students leave the program and the college inspired as the next wave of ambassadors and teachers, leading the charge in demonstrating best practices and caring for these spaces. “They may not be the best climber, the best cyclist, the greatest paddler, but if they’ve developed some habits that allow them to reap the physiological and psychological benefits of being in the natural world, then that’s a win for us.” Blue Ridge Outdoors’ annual Top Adventure College contest placed 32 schools against each other in a bracketstyle competition and received a flood of online voting from fans of their favorite schools. The colleges were chosen based on academic curricula, outdoor clubs, commitment to environmental initiatives, and access to adventure. The runner up was West Virginia University, and the contest was sponsored by Adventures on the Gorge.
JUNE 2022 | BLUERIDGEOUTDOORS.COM
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Ride Rapids THE
Best Whitewater Rafting Trips in the South BY M I K E B E Z E M E K
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THE SOUTHEAST IS FULL OF EPIC rivers that offer some of the best whitewater rafting trips in the country. There are plenty of thrilling rides through bouncy, class V rapids with big drops but also mellower floats through scenic Appalachian forests and remote canyons. To help you find the right adventure, we’ve rounded up some of the best guided rafting trips in the region.
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R A F T E R S B O U N C E T H R O U G H T H E R A P I D S O F T H E N A N TA H A L A R I V E R . A L L P H O T O S C O U R T E S Y O F T H E N A N TA H A L A O U T D O O R C E N T E R
Nantahala River – North Carolina
Just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in southwestern North Carolina, the Nantahala River is a scenic gem. The classic run is eight miles through the overhanging foliage of the Nantahala Gorge. Along the way expect splashy class II and II+ rapids culminating in the beefy Class III Nantahala Falls, where spectators often gather to watch the action. If you’re new to rafting, the Nanty makes for a perfect first-time experience. Those with prior experience can even rent a raft and self-guide the rapids. It’s also a great river to try an inflatable kayak, aka ducky, or take a lesson on hard-shell kayaking. Aim for a hot summer day because the damreleased river is icy cold. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Nantahala Outdoor Center, a rafting and adventure-sports complex located on the river just below Nantahala Falls. After your rafting trip, hang out at the riverside pub or restaurant, watching kayakers playboating in the whitewater park and gung-ho backpackers passing through on the Appalachian Trail. NOC also offers rooms, cabins, and land activities like zip
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lining, mountain biking, hiking, and more. To mark the anniversary, NOC is planning several celebrations throughout the rest of 2022. The marquee event will be the 50th Jubilee, an all-day party on June 11th with live music, giveaways, family-friendly activities, and more. Later in the fall, the popular Guest Appreciation Festival from September 23rd to 25th will be amped up anniversary-style with live entertainment, vendor booths, and endof-the-season gear sales.
Pigeon River – Tennessee
A step up from the Nanty, the Pigeon River is a great introduction to class III rafting. Located north of Asheville along I-40, it’s easy to drive in for a day trip or you can stay at one of the many raft outfitters along the river in Hartford, Tenn., including Big Creek Expeditions (bigcreekexpeditions.com) and another NOC outpost. Despite its proximity to the interstate, the river is set among a sweet stretch of Smoky Mountains scenery. The classic run is the five-mile upper Pigeon River Gorge with challenging but fun rapids like Roller Coaster and Accelerator. There’s also a mellow class II lower run that’s perfect for family floats.
Cheat River Narrows
Small-town charm. Big-time fun. In Tucker County, true outdoor experiences are the norm and lively small towns personify mountain living at its finest. Pack up the family, and together, paddle rapids and rivers, chase breathtaking waterfalls or browse contemporary art galleries. Perched high atop these mountains, you’ll discover your own slice of Almost Heaven. Explore more at WVtourism.com/TuckerCounty
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Come see us in St. Paul You can discover your own style of adventure on the Clinch River--the most bio-diverse river in the Northern hemisphere. From its headwaters in Tazewll, VA to the Tennessee state line, enjoy kayaking, canoeing, floating, or swimming its waters. You can even grab a fishing pole and make some memories along its banks.
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French Broad River – North Carolina
Just east of Pisgah National Forest, the French Broad is a big, wide river offering several trip options, mostly on the eight miles of Section 9. The upper part is a popular half-day trip with many class II and III rapids. Full-day trips continue onto the lower half of Section 9, which includes a class IV climax at Frank Bell’s Rapid. Many trips on this warm water river stop at swimming holes along the way, making the French Broad a great summertime choice close to Asheville. French Broad Outfitters (frenchbroadoutfitters.com) has multiple locations in the city and offers guided trips and rentals.
Ocoee River – Tennessee
One of the best class III+ rivers in the country, the Ocoee is a must-paddle for all diehard rafting fans. While the scenery is classic Appalachia, the focus here is on rapids—and lots of them. The main trip is a half-day run on the Middle Ocoee with five miles of nearly continuous whitewater starting right from put-in and continuing R A P I D S C H U R N C O N T I N U O U S L Y O N C E R TA I N SECTIONS OF THE OCOEE RIVER.
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through favorites like Broken Nose, Double Trouble, and Tablesaw. For a longer day, some weekend trips tack on the Upper Ocoee, a slightly harder but less continuous four miles with several class IV pool drop rapids. This run passes the Ocoee Whitewater Center, which sadly burned down in April. Early word is that the upper river will remain open for rafting during the season. One highlight has long been the man-made slalom course through rapids where events were held for the 1996 Summer Olympics. Ocoee Adventure Center (ocoeeadventurecenter.com), based in Blue Ridge, Ga., offers a 10-mile full Ocoee trip, and a half-day Middle trip.
Chattooga River – South Carolina/Georgia
The South’s premier wilderness river experience, the Chattooga is a National Wild & Scenic River featuring two free-flowing all-day trips that can be run separately or consecutively for a full weekend of adventure. The 1972 film Deliverance was famously filmed on the Chattooga, but today the chills are all related to whitewater.
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WHERE ALMOST HEAVEN BEGINS
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As you venture back out to re-discover our world, take your first step on a winding trail, down an historic sidewalk, through the entrance of a national park, or into a raft on a majestic river. Jefferson County is your first step to exploring West Virginia. Take it and you will quickly realize why it is called Almost Heaven.
Learn more at DiscoverItAllWV.com JUNE 2022 | BLUERIDGEOUTDOORS.COM
In our region of Pisgah, float or kayak the Catawba River, paddle Lake James, or fly fish our awesome trout streams. Call for maps and guides or visit online.
Explore Gulf County, Florida Parks.
From inland swamps and oak tree-covered playgrounds to beachside trails and kayak launches, parks in Gulf County allow you to branch out and explore something new.
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R A F T E R S AT T H E L O W E R K E E N E Y S E C T I O N O F T H E N E W R I V E R G O R G E I N W E S T V I R G I N I A . PHOTO COURTESY OF ADVENTURES ON THE GORGE
Section III is the mellower upper run, with 12 miles of class II and III rapids culminating with a final class IV at Bull Sluice. Section IV is a big step up, with over eight miles of legendary rapids like Seven Foot Falls, Raven’s Chute, and the Five Falls—a thrilling half mile of drops through five consecutive class IV-V rapids. By the time your raft spills into Tugaloo Lake, you’ll be sad it's over but ready for the break. Wildwater (wildwaterrafting.com), the oldest outfitter in the Southeast, has been guiding trips on the Chattooga since 1971.
close look at two other remote and lesserrafted options in northern Tennessee. Big South Fork of the Cumberland (ky-rafting. com) is a National River and Recreation Area, and the Nolichucky River, which can be rafted via guided trips from USA Raft (usaraft.com), has been proposed as a new addition to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers system. Both rivers have a mix of fun but challenging rapids, including a class IV section, plus calmer sections to float, and excellent forested scenery. Because these sections are undammed, trips are water-level dependent.
Nolichucky River & Big South Fork – Tennessee
New River – West Virginia
If you’ve caught the bug for rafting free-flowing wilderness rivers, then take a
There are several excellent whitewater trips on West Virginia’s legendary stretch of the New River. One
favorite is the seven-mile class IV section from Cunard to Fayette Station, typically called the Lower Gorge. This run has some of the best rapids on the river, including a set of three drops called the Keeneys, a technical boulder slalom called Double Z, and the punchy holes of Fayette Station. Because of its large watershed, the New River often runs high and offers a great introduction to bigger volume whitewater—a great precursor to the class V Gauley. ACE Adventure Resort (aceraft.com), based in Oak Hill, offers multiple trip options on both the Upper and Lower New.
Gauley River – West Virginia The big dog for whitewater rafting in the Southeast, the Gauley is considered
by many paddlers to be one of the best rivers in the world. While the river may run from rainfall at other times, most paddlers descend during fall Gauley Season. Beginning the Friday after Labor Day, and continuing for 6 weeks, the river runs high from the annual drawdown of upstream Summersville Lake. The result is big-water class V on the nine-mile upper section with infamous rapids Pillow, Lost Paddle, and Sweet’s Falls. The Lower run is eleven miles of class IV with rapids like Upper & Lower Mash and Pure Screaming Hell. Many rafters will plan a full weekend of whitewater at the Gauley, often staying at one of the riverside outfitters, like Adventures on the Gorge (adventuresonthegorge.com), which offers a variety of Gauley trip options.
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Get out of the house. Feel at home in nature. With over 2,700 acres of water and 60 miles of shoreline, Summersville Lake is brimming with opportunity for summer fun. Spend your days soaking up the sun as you paddle on exceptional flatwater or simply sit back and relax and take in the stunning sights that surround you. Explore more at WVtourism.com/Summersville
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MAJESTIC MOUNTAIN LAKES Beat the summer heat by getting away to the cool waters of the Blue Ridge BY ELLEN KANZIN GER
LIZ NANCE WAS ONLY SUPPOSED TO be in the mountains of western North
Carolina for the summer. In 2004, she took a seasonal job at the Nantahala Outdoor Center because it seemed like a fun way to spend the warmer months. By the end of her summer gig, Nance had accepted a full-time position and put down permanent roots near Bryson City, N.C. “This area just draws you,” she said. Surrounded by trails and waterways, Nance found a new home in the mountains, and she was particularly drawn to Lake Fontana, canoeing the big lake’s many nooks and crannies or camping on its shores. For others in search of tranquil waterfront adventures, we've highlighted four of the top lakeside destinations in the Blue Ridge. JUNE 2022 | BLUERIDGEOUTDOORS.COM
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Fontana Lake, N.C.
Nance is now a co-owner and beer buyer at Bryson City Outdoors. In addition to two outdoor shops and a taproom, the store offers kayak and paddleboard rentals on Fontana Lake. With nearly 240 miles of shoreline surrounded by Nantahala National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there are plenty of sights to seek out as the lake curves around the landscape. “It’s nice to be able to go out to a lake and find that privacy, even in the busy summer seasons,” Nance said. “There are a lot of access points, so it’s not like everybody who’s visiting the lake is going to the same spot.” Several backcountry campsites around the lake, accessible by boat or trail, make for a secluded A G U I D E D K AYA K I N G T O U R O N F O N TA N A L A K E . PHOTOS COURTESY OF CAROLINA BOUND ADVENTURES
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Halifax County, Virginia
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DEREK ESTERS FISHES NOLIN RIVER LAKE. PHOTO BY MORGAN ESTERS
NOLIN RIVER LAKE. PHOTO COURTESY O F G R AY S O N C O U N T Y T O U R I S M
night by the water. You can also make camp on one of Fontana’s islands, if you’re really looking to get off the radar. Backcountry permits are required for these sites. The Fingerlake area is a great spot to paddle without any motorboats around. For mountain biking, the trails at Tsali Recreation Area offer a range of difficulty levels and loop around the lake’s scenic shoreline.
Nolin River Lake, Ky.
Known for the distinguishing color of its water, Nolin River Lake is a sprawling body of water nestled among the hills of central Kentucky. From Nolin Lake State Park, you can access miles of trails with technical rock features and acres to explore by boat. You can also cool off with a dip in the lake from the beach area or pack a picnic to eat by the water. Nolin River Lake is also known for its secluded fishing spots. Terry Watts, owner of Nolin Guide Service, has been guiding fishing trips full-time on the lake for 12 years and has fished these waters for more than 25 years. Watts says the lake has one of the best populations of white bass in the
state and the “spring spawning run in late March is legendary.” You can also cast for crappie, largemouth bass, and the occasional walleye. Other nearby activities include caving, hiking, and camping at Mammoth Cave National Park, as well as paddling on the Green River.
Smith Mountain Lake, Va.
After 35 years in healthcare software, Garett Meyer was looking for a lifestyle change. Meyer looked at lakes all over the region, eventually deciding to settle on Smith Mountain Lake with his family where he co-owns Virginia Dare Cruises and Marina. “In comparison to some of the other big lakes like this, this is very laid-back,” he said. The Virginia Dare, a modern boat dressed as a paddle wheeler, has become a staple on the lake over the last 32 years. A variety of sightseeing cruises, including sunset and wildlife tours, are one of the best ways to cover more ground on this mammoth lake. On the north shore, Smith Mountain Lake State Park is the perfect home base for all of your activities. Between the 13 miles of trails for hiking and biking, a beach with a swimming area,
Explore the Chesapeake Bay from a new perspective. Travel our waterside community by kayak or paddleboard. Plan your trip at www.ChooseCalvert.com/Kayak
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and a variety of boat rentals during the summer, you’ll fall right asleep when you crawl into your tent or cabin at the end of the day.
Cheat Lake, W.Va.
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Open water is a highway to adventure, best traveled by canoe or kayak.
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Just outside of Morgantown, W.Va., Cheat Lake is a family-friendly destination that offers a variety of adventures on the water. Launch your kayak from one of the public access points to explore the “backwaters”—the calm sections of the lake perfect for swimming, paddling, and fishing. The main section of the lake is where you’ll find your motor boaters and water skiers enjoying some high-speed fun. Keep an eye out for an appearance of the Mooey Buoy, an ice cream boat you can paddle right up to and order a sweet treat, or dock at one of the three restaurants on the lake. You can also explore the areas around the lake for swimming holes and hidden waterfalls or head into nearby Coopers Rock State Forest for trails and campgrounds. Joelle Cameron started visiting and boating on the lake as a young girl. Now she wakes up every morning on the lake’s shore where she lives with her
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family and leads standup paddleboard yoga sessions right out her back door. “You can feel the paddleboard moving a little bit,” Cameron said. “You can feel the wind on your skin with the birds chirping.” With this practice, it’s more important to soak up the experience than nail every position. Don’t worry if your balance isn’t the best, Cameron said. “Usually by the time the weather’s nice enough to get out there, falling in actually feels pretty good.”
Water Spots Looking for more spots to hang out by the water? Check out these other spectacular lake destinations in our region to fuel your summer plans. Stay on a houseboat at Lake Cumberland in Kentucky. | Catch a glimpse of the disappearing lake—Mountain Lake—in Pembroke, Va. | Dock at one of the restaurants around Deep Creek Lake, Md., for good eats. | Visit the only natural lake in North Carolina, Lake Waccamaw. | Ride 36 miles of singletrack trails around Raystown Lake in Pennsylvania. | Fish for bass and trout on Watauga Lake in Tennessee. | Explore the waterfalls tumbling into South Carolina’s Lake Jocassee. | After a pontoon boat ride, find a spot to picnic beside Georgia’s Lake Ruban. | Dive through the clear waters of Summersville Lake, West Virginia’s largest lake. | In Alabama, spend a night under the stars on the shores of Lake Guntersville.
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Park It Forward
The country’s most popular national park proposes new fees to address record visitation BY WILL HARL AN
Question: What is the most visited national park in the country? Perhaps the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone? Maybe Yosemite? Answer: Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Smokies hosted over 14 million visitors last year, which is more than the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite combined. HERE’S SOMETHING EVEN MORE surprising: unlike
nearly every other national park, the Smokies has no entrance fees. It is completely free to visit. That may soon change—sort of. For the first time in its history, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has proposed charging a modest fee for parking within park boundaries beginning later this year. There still won’t be any entrance fees to the Smokies, but the park will charge a $5 daily parking fee ($15 for weekly parking passes and $40 for an annual pass). Pedestrians and cyclists would not need parking tags. Why now? Unfortunately, over the past two decades, federal funding for national parks has plummeted, even as visitation has skyrocketed. Over the past decade, visitation to the Smokies increased nearly 60% percent, while Congressional allocations have decreased or remained flat. As a result, Great Smoky Mountains National Park can no longer make ends meet. "When you're in a scenario like this, we have to participate in our own rescue," said Great Smoky
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Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash. "And we need the public to participate in preserving this natural wonder that millions of people enjoy."
The Smokies is also one of the only national parks that is prohibited by law from charging visitors an entrance fee. But it can legally charge a parking fee. Operating and maintaining the country’s most visited national park ain’t cheap. The park employs over 320 permanent and seasonal staff, operates 27 water and sewage treatment systems, and maintains more than 384 miles of roads and 850 miles of trails across the half-million-acre park. The Smokies is also one of the only national parks that is prohibited by law from charging visitors an entrance fee. But it can legally charge a parking fee. If approved, parking fees will begin this fall. Visitors will
be able to purchase parking tags online, in the mail, or at fee machines in the park. Cash anticipates that the parking fees will generate around $14 million in revenue, which can help address serious staff and maintenance shortfalls. And unlike entrance fees, which are shared across all national parks, parking fees stay within the park. That means 100 percent of parking fees will support Smokies operations, including trail maintenance, trash removal, staffing, and law enforcement. Most regional organizations support the proposed parking fees, including the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club, Forest Keeper, and National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). “The Smokies have been trying to make do with less for a long time, as the National Park Service faces mounting costs and shoestring budgets,” says Jeff Hunter, NPCA’s senior program manager. “We support the park implementing a modest fee to park your car near some of the most beautiful trails and views in the country.” The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians also
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supports the Smokies parking fee. The Qualla Boundary is immediately adjacent to the park, and park land was tribal land for generations before it became the country’s most visited national park. “It is our heritage; it is also our future. We must honor it, protect it, preserve it,” wrote Tribal Chief Randy Sneed in a recent Asheville Citizen-Times op-ed. “Today, the park is strained under the weight of demand. This is unsustainable, and we must change course before it’s too late….It is a shared responsibility to steward these lands in honor of our ancestors. We all have a duty to support this effort financially.” At $5 a day, the Smokies parking fee is still significantly less than other parks. Visitors driving to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone pay a $35 entrance fee. Cyclists and pedestrians at these parks pay $20. The Smokies is also still a lot cheaper than other nearby attractions such as the Biltmore Estate, which starts at $86, or the North Carolina Arboretum, which charges $16. Grandfather Mountain State Park charges $22, and Chimney Rock State Park charges $17. Still, Cash also hopes that the modest $5 G R E AT S M O K Y M O U N TA I N S N AT I O N A L PA R K . P H O T O COURTESY OF GETTY IMAGES
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4 Questions About the Smokies Parking Fees 1) Our public lands are supposed to be free. We already pay taxes to support public lands. Why do we have to pay more? There are more than 420 national park sites across the country, and more than 100 of them collect entrance fees. Many other parks charge visitors to park cars. Great Smokies currently charges neither, despite having more visitors than any other national park in the country. People who visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park deserve a world-class experience, and charging a modest fee for parking will help rangers provide that for them. 2) Shouldn’t the government be paying for parks? What gives? Yes. Fees can only help supplement funding for parks; the bulk of money still must come from Congress. Congress has made great strides in recent years, passing legislation that is fixing our parks’ decaying buildings and outdated water systems, supporting the operation of parks, and providing hundreds of thousands of much-needed jobs. President Biden’s
most recent budget proposal also calls for more funding for national parks. We need members of Congress from across the aisle to come together and continue to prioritize national park funding. 3) Wait a minute. I thought it was illegal to collect entrance fees in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not proposing an entrance fee; vehicles are welcome to enter and exit the national park without paying a fee. However, Great Smokies is proposing a parking fee for vehicles at visitor centers, trailheads, and other points of interest in the park. Park staff have verified that this is legal under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. 4) Well, at least people are guaranteed a parking spot under this new plan, right? Great Smoky Mountains National Park is primarily made up of beautiful trails, vistas, scenic overlooks, and other one-of-a-kind natural features. There are lots of parking spots around the park, but unfortunately, there are not enough for these passes to provide a guaranteed spot for everyone.
fee will not be an economic barrier for folks who want to visit. The Eastern Band of the Cherokee citizens will receive free passes to park in the Smokies as part of a partnership agreement with the park. He also wants to ensure that the Smokies remain accessible to all. "We're trying to move that weight of sacrifice from the people of North Carolina and Tennessee to the shoulders of the country, to help us maintain it for future generations," said Cash.
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Training Days At a two-week event in southeast Virginia, women learn professional skills in prescribed fire forest management. BY ELLEN KANZIN GER
THE FIRST TIME LAUREL SCHABLEIN participated in a
prescribed burn felt like a foreign experience as she watched the fire move across the landscape. After years of studying bird communities around Virginia, she knew fire could be used as a tool to create healthier forests but had never seen one up close. “Your heart rate gets up because you’re watching something that we’ve been really conditioned to believe is damaging and harmful,” she said. That step outside of her comfort zone led Schablein, conservation coordinator with the Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Allegheny Highland Program, into a new stage of her career. At the Warm Springs Mountain Preserve, her team uses prescribed fire to help maintain the biodiversity of the Appalachians. “It’s been a really meaningful way for me to develop a really strong connection with the land,” she said. Fire is an important tool in promoting the resiliency of forests, one that was systematically taken off the landscape for decades under a policy of fire suppression. “All of the animals that our forests support evolved with a much more diverse landscape that had a mosaic of all different kinds of conditions,” Schablein said. The homogenization of forests is especially concerning in the face of climate change as the lack
of species diversity leads to a higher susceptibility to pathogens and pests. Just as diversity in forests is important, so is diversity on the fire line. It is not uncommon for Schablein to be the only woman on a burn, especially when it comes to leadership positions. Enter the annual Women-in-Fire Training Exchange (WTREX). Sponsored by a host of partners, including the Nature Conservancy and U.S. Forest Service, the training exchange brings together female fire practitioners from across the world to learn from each other and grow in community. This spring, 35 participants from 14 states and five countries met in southeastern Virginia for two weeks. BRO caught up with some of this year’s participants to learn what WTREX means to them.
Laurel Schablein, Conservation Coordinator
THE NATURE CONSERVANCY (ALLEGHENY HIGHLANDS, VA.)
This year was Schablein’s third WTREX event. For her, it’s the community of women and the emphasis on learning that keeps her coming back, as trainers make time for dialogue about techniques and mistakes.
“We’ve heard the phrase ‘permission to fail’ a lot this week,” she said. “So it’s really putting that in the forefront so that people can step out of their comfort zone, embrace their leadership, and learn here.” The schedule is packed with workshops, covering topics from fire policy and mapping to imposter syndrome, sexual harassment, and motherhood. When weather conditions allow, attendees work the fire line together, implementing their new skills. “It takes away this idea that you are alone when you have that feeling of not really belonging in a particular male-dominated workforce,” Schablein said. Every day, the participants get to see women calling the shots and modeling a variety of leadership styles.
Lenya Quinn-Davidson, Area Fire Advisor
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA COOPERATIVE EXTENSION (HUMBOLDT COUNTY, CA.)
According to Lenya Quinn-Davidson, there’s a certain type of magic in bringing these women together. “Many of them have never sat in the same room with 40 other women who work in fire,” QuinnDavidson said. With that comes a responsibility to JUNE 2022 | BLUERIDGEOUTDOORS.COM
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For Quinn-Davidson, the WTREX lead organizer, providing a space for mentorship is the key to keeping women in fire. is the key to keeping women in fire. “If they can see someone who looks like them who’s in a leadership position or who’s made it in fire, that gives them the support and vision they need,” she said. In addition to providing participants with hands-on experience, this event is also a chance to build a global network of women in fire to provide support as they move up in their careers. Why is cultivating gender equity and diversity in the field of fire important? “There’s no future, in Virginia or California, that doesn’t involve fire on the landscape,” QuinnDavidson said. While fire is an inevitable and natural part of the landscape, wildfire seasons are becoming longer as extended droughts, rising temperatures, and deforestation allow
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fire to spread faster. According to the U.S. Forest Service, what was once a four-month fire season now lasts between six to eight months in some places. Prescribed fire is an effective way to conserve and restore habitat. Putting controlled fire on the landscape provides a host of services, from clearing the forest floor of potential fuels to helping fire-adapted species like the longleaf pine thrive in their native habitat. “It’s a real positive, solutionsoriented space in a world that’s fraught with negativity and guilt,” Quinn-Davidson said.
Alicia Rhodenizer, Unit Crew Supervisor
BRITISH COLUMBIA WILDFIRE SERVICE (BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA)
Growing up in British Columbia, Alicia Rhodenizer was exposed to wildfire early on in her life. By the time she was in eighth grade, she knew she wanted to work on the fire line. At the age of 18, she signed up for a summer with the Wildfire Service as one of the only women on the crew. “I was young and maybe a little bit naive,” she said. “Over the years, especially when I started getting into crew leader positions, that’s when I really started to recognize things weren’t all sunshine and rainbows.”
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Many things draw Rhodenizer to the world of fire—hard physical work outside, cohesive crew dynamics, and getting to help people on a regular basis. Although the work culture wasn’t always welcoming to women, she’s glad she persevered through the tough times even when she wanted to quit. As she starts her tenth fire season, Rhodenizer found a community of likeminded people at WTREX. One of the most beneficial workshops for her was on power dynamics. Participants took turns role playing different scenarios, learning how to respond to a variety of issues that might pop up and talking through strategies to calm things down. “I even got a bit shaky because it felt so realistic to what I experience at work sometimes,” Rhodenizer said. Now that she’s in a leadership position,
Rhodenizer does see the field changing as more women pursue a career in fire and discussions around sexist comments, harassment, and diversity are normalized.
Kylie Paul, Superintendent JULIET CREW (CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA)
WTREX was just one stop in Kylie Paul’s journey through the U.S., part of a few months spent traveling the country and learning new fire techniques to take back with her to South Africa. As the supervisor of an all-women wildland firefighter crew, Paul knows the importance of common experiences in building trust. “As women, we don’t feel like we can actually make a mistake or fumble, so we won’t take a lot of risks,” she said. “I think we all feel
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August 23 the same that if we get it wrong, it’s representative of all women.” While Paul mostly works on fire suppression, the lessons learned at WTREX are universal. One of her biggest takeaways was the importance of addressing mental health. Discussions included the importance of incorporating empathy and emotional intelligence into fire, critical to ensuring crew members don’t burn out on the physically and mentally demanding work. “We’re not mechanical,” Paul said. “We’re not machines. We are human beings.”
Nikole Simmons, Restoration Coordinator THE NATURE CONSERVANCY
(ALLEGHENY HIGHLANDS, VA.)
Since the first event in 2016,
WTREX has been a space for women to learn and make mistakes in a supportive environment. “Oftentimes I’m the only female in leadership positions on the fire line,” Nikole Simmons said. “Not always, but often.” While mentors of any gender can provide support, training geared specifically towards women offers participants a different perspective in a field where sometimes being the only one can be intimidating. As a member of the WTREX founding team, Simmons has worked with pioneering women in the world of fire. “Many of them are handing over the reins to us,” she said. “Those are big, important shoes to fill.” Now, she hopes the next generation of women in fire will be able to benefit from all the work it’s taken to get to this point.
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The BRO Paddling Adventure Guide 18 Ways to Get on the Water this Summer
Choose Your Paddling Adventure in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Va.
W h e n i t c o m e s t o f i nd i ng a c o o l s p o t o n th e w a t e r, ou r r e g i o n i s f ul l o f m o un ta i n r i v e r s , pe a c e f u l l a ke s , and s c e n i c b ay s . W h e th e r y o u p r e f e r a r af t o r t u b e, t h r i l l i ng w h i te w a te r o r c a l m f l a t w at e r, w e’ v e g o t an ad v e n tu r e f o r yo u . S o w h at ar e y o u w ai t i n g f o r ? I t’s ti m e to p a c k t h e s un s c r e e n , g r ab a h at , a n d ex p l o r e a n e w f un - f i l l e d s u m m e r d e s ti n a ti o n .
Whether you’re looking for an urban adventure through town or a remote paddle away from the crowds, Charlottesville and Albemarle County offer relaxation and beautiful views in Central Virginia. Pair your river trip with mountain hikes and craft beverages for the ultimate summer destination. Starting in the foothills of of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Rivanna River flows through the city of Charlottesville marked by calm stretches of scenic beauty and fun whitewater for more experienced paddlers. Along the way, you’ll see signs of heron, osprey, smallmouth bass, turtles, and more. Get set with kayaks, canoes, or standup paddleboard rentals or a guided trip from Rivanna River Co., conveniently located right off a paved section of the Rivanna Trail. After a full day on the water, hop over to all the amenities of the walkable Downtown Mall, including dozens of restaurants, galleries, shopping, and bars. From the city it’s just a 30 minute drive to the town of Scottsville on the historic James River. You’ll find this stretch of river relatively quiet and undeveloped as you make your way past farmland and paddle some small rapids. Scottsville’s charming main street offers restaurant options and a brewery for that perfect post-adventure hangout with friends. The best way to experience this river is with a trip from one of the area’s outfitters. James River Reeling and Rafting offers something for every age, including a variety of boat options Beaver Creek Reservoir and trip lengths. Let the experts at James River Runners hook you up with the perfect trip, from a float in a tube to a relaxing paddle in a raft. Both outfitters offer shuttles to the put in and camping by the river to extend your trip. You can even book a river tour or sunset cruise from the James River Batteau Company, where you’ll float in a flat-bottomed boat historically designed to navigate these shallow waters. Still haven’t gotten your fill? Several lakes and reservoirs in the area offer calm flatwater for a relaxing jaunt, including Beaver Creek Reservoir and Walnut Creek. When you’re all paddled out and filled up with delicious eats, pick from a variety of lodging options. Ranging from high-end resorts and vacation rentals to bed and breakfasts, inns, and chain hotels, there’s a spot to fit your adventure. It’s time to start planning your trip today. VisitCharlottesville.org JUNE 2022 | BLUERIDGEOUTDOORS.COM
Cheat River. Photos by Brian Sarfino, courtesy of Tucker County CVB
Find Your Flow in Tucker County, W.Va. Why paddle Tucker County in wild and wonderful West Virginia? Surrounded by national forest, state park, and other public lands, you’ll find remote stretches of river with views you can’t get anywhere else. You can paddle one of the East Coast’s longest free-flowing river watersheds. You can even stay in one central location while you play on multiple rivers. Still not enough to hook you? Three charming river towns offer plenty of ways to eat and stay when you’re done on the water. The Blackwater River offers something for everyone. Put in at the ADA compliant boat launch at Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge on the upper stretch of the river for some gentle class I and II whitewater and an excellent trout habitat. Then head to Blackwater Falls State Park to take in the majestic sight of the river tumbling over the 57-foot cascade from the overlooks. Discover even more of the area on Dry Fork and Shavers Fork as you paddle through the county. All three rivers eventually flow into the Cheat River, giving you mile after mile of river views. The Upper Cheat River Water Trail provides access to nearly 40 miles of peaceful paddling. Here, you’ll find solitude through the Allegheny Mountains, a brilliant display of the region’s biodiversity, and a glimpse of the region’s storied history. Several public access points make it easy to customize your route length. The kayaking, canoeing, and whitewater opportunities on all four rivers are seemingly endless. While you’re in the area, check out Blackwater Outdoor Adventures for all of your river needs. Head out on a thrilling whitewater ride through the Cheat Narrows where the class II and III rapids provide fun for the whole family. Paddlers looking for less splash can float the Upper Cheat on a canoe, kayak, or tube while taking in the scenery and wildlife. Their shuttle service makes it easy for you to have a good time without too much work on the logistics side. You can even camp on the banks of the river, making it easy to wake up and get on the water without much effort. Head into the towns of Thomas, Davis, and Parsons for a bite to eat or a look around the shops. All three towns are right off a river, making it easy to find a spot by the water to relax or picnic. You might even pack a rod and reel to see if you can catch a native brook trout. You can also access Allegheny Highlands Rail Trail and Beaver Creek Trail for a scenic walk or bike ride along the river banks. Thomas, W.Va. When you’re ready to refuel, find a
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Blackwater Falls. Courtesy of West Virginia Department of Tourism
Blackwater Falls State Park. Courtesy of Tucker County CVB
table at one of the local restaurants before grabbing a drink from Mountain State Brewing or Stumptown Ales. You might even make your way to the Purple Fiddle for live music from regional stars or The Ice Cream Shop for a refreshing sweet treat. With so much to fit into your schedule you’re going to want a comfortable place to rest at the end of the day. Luckily the Canaan Valley is full of cozy lodging options, from campsites at one of the local state parks and rooms at a bed and breakfast in town to cabins surrounded by the woods for a secluded getaway. No matter how you choose to stay, you’ll wake feeling refreshed and ready for another day outside. The rivers are just one part of what Tucker County has to offer visitors. From epic mountain biking flow during the warmer months to thrilling downhill and cross country skiing in the winter, there’s always something going on outside. WVTourism.com/TuckerCounty
Roanoke River. Courtesy of Roanoke County Parks, Recreation & Tourism
Virginia’s Blue Ridge is for Paddlers In the heart of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, the Roanoke Valley appeals to paddlers of all ages and skill levels to experience life by the water. Between the scenic waterways, helpful outfitters, and charming river towns, adventure and relaxation await around every corner. Float the Upper James River Water Trail through Botetourt County, a section designated a Virginia Scenic River. A few class I and II rapids will keep things interesting, but most of the river is flat, making for excellent wildlife viewing and a great spot for a family-friendly paddle. Twin River Outfitters, located right along the river in the town of Buchanan, can provide gear rentals, shuttle service, and guided trips during your visit. You can even book an overnight glamping and camping trip for a multi-day adventure along the water. Discover more than 45 miles of mountain views along the Roanoke River Blueway, recently voted the Best Urban Kayaking Spot in the country by USA TODAY 10Best. Flowing from the South Fork in Montgomery County to Smith Mountain Lake, you’ll pass by stretches of remote countryside and thriving cities. Roanoke County’s Explore Park is an excellent spot to access the river, offering entry for paddling, tubing, and boating as well as a beautiful location for fishing. The park also features cabins and campgrounds for overnight lodging, including riverfront camping sites so you can fall asleep to the water gently lapping at the shore. This summer, don’t miss the Concerts by Canoe Summer Music Series at Philpott Lake in Franklin County. At this one-of-a-kind free concert series, attendees are encouraged to paddle their own canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards for a front row seat as Philpott Lake. Photo by Matt Ross, courtesy of the band performs on a floating stage. Franklin County Parks & Recreation Arrive early to launch from the Twin Ridge Recreation Area in order to get the best seats on the water. This year’s concerts are scheduled for June 24, July 8, and August 12 with music starting at 6:30 p.m. When you’re done on the water, find a spot to kick back and relax at one of the area’s craft beverage outposts. Whether you choose Starr Hill Pilot Brewery & Side Stage in Roanoke, Twin Creeks Brewpub at Explore Park, Twin Creeks Distillery in Rocky Mount, or Town Center Tap House in Botetourt County, know that you’re in for some good times and friendly faces. After you visit once, you’ll want to make Virginia’s Blue Ridge an annual destination. VisitVBR.com
Explore the Mountain Waters of Pocahontas County, W.Va. For scenic rivers and lakes, there’s no better destination than Pocahontas County, W.Va. In Nature’s Mountain Playground, you can paddle for miles or days while surrounded by Monongahela National Forest and other public lands. No matter what season it is, the Greenbrier River is always ready to show off. Plus, there are plenty of spots to get out of your boat and swim along the way. Most of the river’s run through the county is accessible for paddlers of all abilities with a few class II or II+ sections. The 78-mile Greenbrier River Trail closely follows the water through some of the most remote areas around, making it easy to take in some of the sights by foot or bike. The headwaters of seven other rivers begin in Pocahontas County for anglers looking to catch a variety of trout species. If you prefer flatwater, several lakes in the area ensure you’ll see something new on every visit. Enjoy some family fun on Watoga Lake at Watoga State Park with boat rentals and camping under a blanket of stars at an official Dark Sky Park. Amidst Seneca State Forest, West Virginia’s oldest and largest state forest, Seneca Lake is a hidden gem surrounded by running creeks and winding trails. When you’re done paddling, take in the panoramic views from the fire tower. Within the national forest, Buffalo Lake is a small, quiet retreat featuring a picnic area, boat ramp, and easy access to camping. You might even find yourself on Shavers Lake at Snowshoe Mountain Resort. Take the scenic lift to the lake for swimming, inflatables, hiking trails, and more with onsite lodging and dining for all your travel needs. Several outfitters in town can help you get out on the water safely. Just off the river in Seebert, Jack Horner’s Corner provides canoe, tube, and bike rentals, plus a snack for when you’re starting to feel those miles. If you’re hanging around Marlinton, Appalachian Sport has you covered with boat rentals and shuttles to accommodate your mileage while Route 66 Outpost in Cass has kayak, tube, and bike rentals. Your visit isn’t complete until you head into one of the charming towns for all your food, lodging, and entertainment needs. Located in a National Radio Quiet Zone, Pocahontas County is a place where you can truly disconnect, relax, and enjoy your time on the water. PocahontasCountyWV.com JUNE 2022 | BLUERIDGEOUTDOORS.COM
Lake Anna. Courtesy of Visit Spotsy
Deep Creek Landing Marina. Courtesy of Newport News Tourism
Surrounded by Water in Newport News, Va. Located on the northern shore of the James River near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, Newport News has everything you could want out of a cool summer vacation by the water. Although this coastal Virginia destination is only 120 square miles, more than a third of that area is covered by water. Visit Newport News Park for an excursion on Lee Hall Reservoir and Harwood’s Mill Reservoir, the area’s only public freshwater destinations. Swing by the campsite office for boat rentals or take a bike out on the surrounding trails as you pass through swamps, marshes, and woodlands. Head inland on the calm waters of Deep Creek, offering endless paddling opportunities as you kayak the day away. Rent a single, double, or triple kayak and launch your boat from Deep Creek Landing for hours of fun. For the more adventurous paddler, explore miles and miles of the James River in all its glory. You can even catch an epic sunset over the river from Hilton Pier or Huntington Park. Need gear while you’re in town? If you’re planning to fish from your kayak or canoe, stop into Wilcox Bait & Tackle for a high-quality stock of reels, lures, nets, and more. Nearby, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Camping World, and Walmart have additional supplies for a successful trip. Your getaway isn’t complete without a stop at one of the area’s many dining options. In the mood for seafood? At Crab Shack on the James you can fill up on the fresh catch of the day while enjoying some of the finest views in town. Enjoy weekly specials and a raw bar from Harpoon Larry’s Oyster Bar, plus homemade ice cream for a refreshing sweet treat. For those who prefer to sip their way through town, follow the Toast the Coast trail for delicious James River. Courtesy of craft beers, wines, and spirits made Newport News Tourism locally, including Ironclad Distillery, Coastal Fermentory, Tradition Brewing Company, and 1700 Brewing Company. When it comes to finding a place to spend the night, there is no shortage of options. You might find yourself pitching your tent at Newport News Park so you can stay close to the action or maybe you’re relaxing by the pool when you book The Lodge at Kiln Creek. Over a dozen chain hotels offer an affordable way to stay while you’re in town. When it comes to booking your next coastal getaway, look no further than Newport News, Va. Newport-News.org
BLUE RIDGE OUTDOORS
Calm Waters in Spotsylvania County, Va. Whether you’re looking to escape for a day or a week, Spotsylvania County provides an idyllic Virginian getaway. Several lakes and reservoirs in the area make for a peaceful paddle this summer or fall. Once you experience that change of pace, you’ll be making plans to visit year after year. Lake Anna is the crown jewel of Spotsylvania County with over 9,000 acres to explore by boat. From Lake Anna State Park you can access a public boat launch, largemouth bass fishing, and a swimming beach. Plus, 15 miles of trails for hiking and biking make it easy to see the lake from multiple viewpoints. Lake Anna Outfitters will be your go-to guides for the area with kayak, canoe, paddleboard, and pedal boat rentals to quickly get you on the water. From the Wilderness Presidential Resort you can easily access Hazel Grove Lake and Cool Spring Lake for hours of fun. Rent a variety of boats from the marina, suitable for adventurers of all ages. The resort makes it easy to extend your visit with a variety of lodging options ranging from cozy campsites to lakeside cabins. Plus, with an aerial adventure park, archery, escape room, mini golf, and more onsite, there’s always something new and exciting to do. For a more remote paddling experience, head out to the waters of Ni River Reservoir and Hunting Run Reservoir. Both reservoirs have facilities for boat rentals as well as a spot to launch your own. For the anglers out there, these are excellent destinations for largemouth bass with the potential to catch an occasional trophy fish at Ni River. When you’re done on the water, dive deep into the area’s history at one of the area’s local museums, multiple battlefields, and historic sites. Then swing by the Battlefield Country Store for an epic milkshake before you kick back and relax as you sample the “Spotsy Spirits.” Finish your day off with a glass of bourbon from Virginia’s oldest distillery, A. Smith Bowman, or grab a glass of your favorite wine, craft beer, or cider from a variety of local establishments. Conveniently located between Richmond and Washington, D.C., this is a scenic destination away from the crowds without the hassle of a long drive. Plan your visit to Spotsylvania County today and discover what a truly relaxing vacation looks like. Wilderness Presidential Resort. Courtesy of the resort
South Branch of the Potomac River. Courtesy of Breezewood Adventures
Paddle and Fish Hardy County’s Rivers, Runs, and Lakes Kayaking, canoeing, or floating? Spinning or fly fishing? Hardy County, W.Va., offers seasonally gentle or whitewater rivers, as well as lakes and mountain runs waiting to be fished. Tributaries wind down the mountain slopes feeding Hardy County’s six rivers to offer some of the best paddling and fishing in West Virginia. Fed by the North Fork and South Fork, the South Branch of the Potomac River is a favorite, and whether fishing or floating the river, the Trough should definitely be a destination. This historic six-mile gorge features towering rock walls that can only be accessed by water. Known for its great bass fishing and abundance of rainbow, brown, and brook trout, you can also watch bald eagles soar overhead. Hanging Rock is a favorite casting spot on the 30-mile Lost River. Disappearing underground at Lost River Sinks, the river emerges as the Cacapon River. Flowing north through two more counties to the Potomac River, the Cacapon is a great distance paddling river. The Cacapon and its tributaries are known for their brook trout habitats and nearby Warden Lake offers easily accessible fishing. The longest grass carp on record (53.1”) was landed at Warden Lake this year. North River flows east from its headwaters at 3,000 feet and skirts the northern boundary of Hardy County before turning north and joining the confluence of the Cacapon. Like so many of the mountain runs and man-made lakes, the North is stocked throughout the season. Upper Cove, Kimsey Run, and Parker Hollow lakes are well known fishing spots with Parker Hollow’s submerged, standing trees creating great fish habitat. The 17-acre Rockcliff Lake offers a South Branch of the Potomac River. tranquil setting for canoeing, a beach area Courtesy of Breezewood Adventures for swimming, and incredible fishing from the river’s tree-lined shore or by boat. Channel catfish, largemouth bass, and trout are regularly caught at Rockcliff but, while night fishing is permitted, there are special boating and fishing limit regulations. Check out Breezewood Adventures where you can rent kayaks and canoes for paddling or fishing the South Branch. They also offer a variety of river trips with shuttle service and host private camping trips featuring water-front sites, river access, and adventure activities. Come for the day but plan to stay the night at one of the many inns, bed and breakfasts, and vacation cabins, or at a more traditional hotel or motel in Hardy County. VisitHardyWV.com
A World of Adventure in Southeast Kentucky’s Daniel Boone Country In Southeast Kentucky, Daniel Boone National Forest offers a paddling oasis surrounded by nature. Whether you’re looking for some epic, heart-racing whitewater or a scenic spot for a peaceful paddle, you can’t go wrong in this bucket-list destination. The majestic Cumberland Falls, accessible from Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, are just one of the area’s crown jewels. At 68 feet tall and 125 feet wide, there’s a reason these falls have earned the name “Niagara of the South.” The fine folks at Sheltowee Trace Adventure Resort offer a variety of paddling trips in the area, from whitewater rafting below the falls and casual paddling on the Upper Cumberland River to nighttime rides to the base of the falls where you can view the awe-inspiring moonbow during a full moon. There’s no better way to experience the natural arches and scenic vistas of the Red River Gorge than a paddle on the Red River, a Wild and Scenic River. Expert paddlers will love the difficult rapids through the Clifty Wilderness area while beginners can have some fun on the Middle and Lower Red River. For another one-of-a-kind experience just down the road, kayak into a cave with The Gorge Underground. A tour guide will lead you through this abandoned mine as you paddle your way through the darkness. While you’re in the area, Laurel River Lake is a must visit for paddlers of all kinds of crafts. Explore the quiet coves and cliff-lined shores of this 5,600-acre lake, all surrounded by national forest land, by kayak, standup paddleboard, or boat. Find a spot to relax on the beach, maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, or spend your afternoon fishing for black bass, rainbow trout, walleye, crappie, bluegill, and catfish. Several outfitters and marinas in Laurel County offer boat rentals and shuttles to enhance your experience. If you’re planning to stay for a while, there are even more class I-IV paddling opportunities on the Rockcastle River, including the towering 100-foot cliffs through the Rockcastle Narrows. Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park and Carr Creek State Park provide family-friendly flatwater paddles with hiking trails and lodging accommodations for when you’re ready to get off the water. This is your invitation to experience the untold beauty and adventure of Kentucky’s Daniel Boone Country where you can trade in the hustle and bustle for a getaway like no other. JUNE 2022 | BLUERIDGEOUTDOORS.COM
Hungry Mother State Park. Courtesy of Town of Marion
Rowland Creek Falls. Courtesy of White Blaze Outdooors
Fun in the Mountains of Smyth County, Va. In the mountains of Southwest Virginia, Smyth County is your gateway to a variety of highelevation adventures. From tumbling streams to picturesque lakes, there’s something for every water lover out there. Hungry Mother State Park is the place to be for lakeside activities, no matter the season. The 108-acre lake is perfect for families, kids, beginners, and paddlers who just want to relax. The state park features a sandy beach, boat rentals, and a boat launch to make your trip as worry-free as possible. Anglers will have fun fishing for a variety of bass species, plus crappie, muskellunge, and walleye, while a universally-accessible fishing pier ensures a spot for everyone. When you’re ready to get off the water, hike or bike nearly 17 miles of trail around the park for stunning views of the lake and set up camp for the night. You can even bring your fourlegged friend along to this pet-friendly park. Just down the road, Hungry Mother Outdoor Adventures offers mountaintop zipline tours as you sail through the trees and tubing rentals as you float down the Middle Fork River. Grab your canoe, paddle, and life jacket before you hit the North Fork of the Holston River. Although river access is limited, it’s worth the effort for the views and wildlife. Anglers will especially love the trophy-sized bass that call this river home. The area above the town of Saltville is narrow and shallow, making it a great spot to wade. All fishing is catch and release due to a history of mercury contamination. But that’s not all the area has to offer. Explore even more mountainous waterways and waterfalls when you visit Grayson Highlands State Park, Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, and state forest lands. Learn about the Blue Ridge Mountains’ natural history at the Blue Ridge Discovery Center. Make Smyth County your home base as you travel around to some of the region’s most stunning waterways. South Holston Lake, a hotspot for largemouth bass fishing and scenic views of Cherokee National Forest, is just 45 minutes away on the Virginia-Tennessee border. Travel for miles by foot, bike, or boat along New River State Park or check out Clinch River State Park, Virginia’s newest designated state park and first blueway state park all within an incredibly diverse ecosystem.
Courtesy of Smyth County Tourism Association
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What makes a great adventure even better? A delicious meal to refuel your
Courtesy of Smyth County Tourism Association
Hungry Mother Lake. Courtesy of Virginia Tourism Coporation
body and a cozy place to sleep for the night. Smyth County is full of options when it comes to finding a new restaurant to try. Whether you’re in the mood for a piping hot pizza, authentic Mexican cuisine, or country home cooking, there’s something for everyone. If you’re not sure what you want to eat, King’s Bridge Food Park features fare from a variety of food trucks with a festive outdoor dining space. You might even swing by the Highlands Distilling Company for a hard drink hand crafted in small batches. These locally made spirits, including moonshine, whiskey, and bourbon, pay homage to the area’s heritage and history. When it comes to choosing a place to spend the night, you can’t go wrong with your options. Those looking to escape the crowds will love the secluded cabin options dotting the landscape amongst the trees. Book an easy stay at one of the area’s affordable inns or hotels. For those who prefer to stay closer to nature, several campgrounds offer a variety of campsites. A visit to the mountains has never felt so refreshing. It’s all within reach when you visit Smyth County, Va. VisitSmythCountyVA.com
York River State Park
Paddling the Peak in Chesapeake, Va., is a Family Affair Kayak, canoe, or paddleboard through Chesapeake’s breathtaking waterways and earn cool rewards along the way with Paddle the Peake. Rewards include a Paddle the Peake sticker, hat, dry bag, and Nalgene water bottle. C.J. Fair, who’s been kayaking for four years, recently completed all four reward levels. “I enjoy the peace and the tranquility of kayaking,” C.J. said. “Chesapeake has a lot of waterways that are very calm and scenic, and it’s soothing to be out there.” Launch your vessel of choice and paddle through the untamed Dismal Swamp Canal, home to river otters, foxes, black bears, and many other species of wildlife living among the calm amber lake and gorgeous bald Cyprus trees. Or put in at Northwest River Park, which features 763 sprawling acres, canoe and kayak rentals, and the glassy-calm Lake Lesa. There are nine locations in total in the Paddle the Peake program. C.J. reached the highest reward level by checking into every location, earning her the title of Paddle Pro. What motivated her to complete all four levels? C.J. saw Paddle the Peake as a family adventure. “It was something fun that my children and I could do together,” she said. “We set out on a weekend to see if we could check into all of the different places.” As a result of Paddle the Peake, C.J. and her children discovered kayaking locations they hadn’t known about. And along the way, they kayaked past some of Chesapeake’s most photo-worthy bird species. “If you take your time and just glide through the water, you can see tons of wildlife. We saw peregrine falcons, egrets, osprey, and a bald eagle. My son especially loved that.” When asked which Chesapeake kayaking location was her favorite, C.J. smiled with delight. “Oh, that’s so difficult to choose just one. We love putting in anywhere along the Elizabeth River. It’s an easy location and great for watching sunsets. The colors reflect off the water and it’s absolutely gorgeous.” Ready to hit the water? Download the Chesapeake, VA app for a complete list of Paddle the Peake locations and details. Don’t forget to share your paddle adventures with the hashtags #PaddleThePeake and #VisitChesapeakeVA.
Virginia State Parks Provide a Paddle for Everyone With more than 40 parks, most beside some type of waterway, there’s an adventure around every bend at a Virginia State Park. Whether you’re looking for flowing water and rapids, calm floats, or open waters under a wide sky, there’s a park out there for you. Here are some of the top picks for your next paddle.
At Machicomoco State Park, one of the newest parks in the system, you’ll find easy access to Poplar and Timberneck Creek for some coastal paddling. When you get off the water, learn about the culture and movement of the Indigenous people who call this land home, including the Powhatan Chiefdom. Farther up stream, explore the rare and delicate estuarine environment at York River State Park. Canoes and kayaks are available for rental on Taskinas Creek. Discover three miles of shoreline at James River State Park. Swing by the visitor center for canoe, kayak, and tube rentals, as well as shuttles to your paddling spot. This is also a great spot to catch the annual James River Batteau Festival, scheduled for June 18-25, 2022.
Prefer calmer waters? Take a day to paddle the 225-acre Swift Creek Lake at Pocahontas State Park. You might also pack your fishing rod to get some fishing in on the smaller Beaver Lake. When you’re done on the water, there are more than 90 miles of trails weaving their way through the park. Mountain bikers will especially love the variety amongst the singletrack, machine-built flow, and hand-cycle friendly trails. Surrounded by 16,000 acres of Cumberland State Forest, Bear Creek Lake State Park is an oasis for outdoor recreationalists of all types. Boat rentals are available during the warmer months on the 40-acre lake. Those with their own boats can access the Willis River for additional time on the water.
Take in the wonders of Virginia’s Eastern Shore from Kiptopeke State Park. From here, access the open waters of the Chesapeake Bay as you keep an eye out for the local marine wildlife. You might even find yourself paddling around the Concrete Fleet, concrete ships commissioned during World War II that were brought to the beach to provide protection during severe weather. This is just a small taste of what Virginia State Parks can do for you. Find your spot today.
VisitChesapeake.com Pocahontas State Park
VirginiaStateParks.gov JUNE 2022 | BLUERIDGEOUTDOORS.COM
Fries, Va. Photo by Steve Marshall
Cowpasture River. Photo by Chuck Almarez
Cool Mountain Waters in the Alleghany Highlands, Va. Get lost in the mountains and enjoy the waters of the Alleghany Highlands of Virginia. Grab your kayak or paddleboard and float the many lakes, rivers, and streams that make up the Alleghany Highlands Blueway. Explore the Jackson River as it flows through Covington, Clifton Forge, and George Washington and Jefferson National Forest or follow the river on foot and bike for 14 miles on the Jackson River Scenic Trail. Paddle the Cowpasture River, with a few smaller rapids, as it converges with the Jackson River to form the headwaters of the James River. Visit Douthat Lake at one of Virginia’s oldest parks, Douthat State Park. Swim, boat, or fish on the 50-acre lake or explore more than 40 miles of top-notch biking and hiking trails, offering breathtaking views of the mountains. At the other end of the Alleghany Highlands, you’ll find even more boating opportunities all year at Lake Moomaw with 43 miles of undeveloped shoreline to tour. On your way back into town, view the 80-foot cascading Falling Spring Falls from the overlook on Route 220 or pack a picnic to eat beside the stream at Humpback Bridge. Head to Alleghany Outdoors, located beside the Jackson River Scenic Trail, for all of your gear needs while in town. They provide kayaks, rafts, tubes, and bikes for a variety of adventures and operate a shuttle service so you don’t have to worry about getting back. After a full day of paddling, stroll through town for delicious eats, unique shops, and nighttime entertainment. Jack Mason’s Tavern and The Rail Bar & Grille are excellent spots for pub fare and a cold drink while The Cat & Owl provides an upscale dining experience. Pop into the Alleghany Highlands Arts & Crafts Center and Clifton Forge School of the Arts to enjoy a number of classes and exhibits or see a show at the restored Historic Masonic Theatre. Settle in for the night at one of the area’s cozy lodging options. In Clifton Forge, The Red Lantern Inn, Hill Crest Mansion Inn, and Ridgely Bed, Breakfast, and Historic Gardens feature spacious rooms and are within walking distance of restaurants and shops. Stay close to the adventure at The Evergreen Inn, right on the Jackson River Scenic Trail, and Cliff View Golf Club & Inn. You can explore even more scenic cottages and rooms in the area on Airbnb. All of this, and more, is what makes this part of Virginia Uniquely Alleghany. Douthat State Park. Photo by Sam Dean Photography
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New Paddles on an Old River in Grayson County, Va. Take a scenic drive down the Crooked Road through beautiful Grayson County, Va., on your way to explore a spectacular section of the New River, the second oldest river in the world. The north-flowing river meanders through the Southwestern Virginia Highlands, popular with outdoors enthusiasts for its numerous hiking trails, creeks, and peaks. There are eight main landings along this stretch of the river that offer paddlers of all skill levels numerous opportunities to put in and enjoy the water, ranging in difficulty from class I to class III rapids with a few sections suitable for easy-going tube floats. You’ll find an entire world revolving around the river in the small town of Fries, Va., “Where the River Meets the Trail,” one of the most popular sites to begin a river adventure. If you don’t know where to start, look no further than New River Outdoor Adventures to get you safely on the water through one of their guided river tours. Head over to Paddleyax Kayaks in Independence for quality rentals and an expert’s knowledge of the river to guide your trip. Stay a night at the New River Lodge overlooking the water or at New River Campground, Canoeing and Kayaking before you head out. When you’re done on the water, explore the river’s banks on the New River Trail, an easy-does-it trail ideal for hiking, biking, fishing, and camping and accessible for all ages and skills levels. Grayson Highlands State Park offers outdoors enthusiasts the chance to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail and take in the sights from the vistas. Don’t forget to stop and say hello to the park’s wild pony population at Wilburn Ridge. Nearby Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain stand as Virginia’s two highest peaks where backpacking, horseback riding, and day hiking opportunities are everywhere to be found. When the long day on the river is over, stop off for a bite to eat at Aunt Bea’s BBQ or enjoy a taco feast at Mi Casa Azteca. Before you turn in for the night, enjoy a jam session at the Fries Theater and hear some of the most authentic old-time music in the country. Grayson County hosts numerous events and festivals throughout the summer season that celebrate the region’s rich heritage. The New River is calling from the heart of Grayson County where you’ll undoubtedly feel elevated by nature. Fries Dam. Photo by Jared Leagan
Valley Falls State Park
Make a Splash in Marion County, W.Va.
Upper New River
A Life-Changing Paddle Through West Virginia’s New River Gorge For some of the East Coast’s most thrilling whitewater, look no further than America’s 63rd national park, the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Located in the mountains of Fayette County, there are a variety of paddling trips to choose from no matter your experience level. On the Upper New River, families will enjoy a scenic float with a few class I-III rapids to add in a little excitement while those looking for a thrill can’t beat the class IV-V rapids on the Lower New River. On both sections, there are plenty of opportunities to get out of the boat and swim in the refreshing waters. Book a ride with one of several outfitters in the area to ensure you have the best time on the water. Keep the fun going with a guided paddleboard trip from Mountain Surf Paddle Sports. You’ve got options, whether it’s a serene paddle on Summersville Lake or a float beneath the towering New River Gorge Bridge. You might even try learning SUP Yoga for a real core workout. There’s even more to Fayette County when you get off the water. Visit one of the area’s parks for a round of disc golf before you head over to the Burrito Bar at Breeze Hill for some live music and beautiful sunset views. Cool off inside while having some fun bowling at Pinheads New River Gorge or trying to locate the secret bunker at Escape-A-Torium. Don’t forget to pick up a souvenir to commemorate your trip from New River Antique Mall, Wisteria’s Gifts, or Canyon Rim Gifts. With all this activity and excitement, you’re going to need a place to refuel and keep your energy. For a morning pick-meKanawha Falls up, both Cathedral Cafe and Wood Iron Eatery offer hearty meals and a jolt of caffeine before you get going. Find a seat post adventure at Firecreek BBQ & Steaks, Wanderlust Creativefoods, or Southside Junction Tap House where you can rest your tired muscles and try the local fare. At this point, you’ve earned your dessert so head over to the Frozen Barn or Dixie’s Drive-In for a sweet treat. Those looking to end the night with a drink are sure to find a craft beer to quench their thirst at Bridge Brew Works. There’s no better way to experience the grandeur of the New River Gorge than on a paddle right down its center. Discover the wonder of Fayette County today.
Grab the sunscreen and get ready to get your paddle on in Marion County. The mountains of West Virginia make for a scenic destination as the Monongahela River and other waterways flow through the area. Palatine Park makes it easy to get on the river with multiple docks and a boat launch. Pack a lunch to eat by the water and hang around in the summer evenings for live music in the amphitheater. Head out to Valley Falls State Park for a paddle on the Tygart Valley River. You’ll definitely want to make time to view the series of four falls that give the park its name. Flatwater paddlers will enjoy spending time at Curtisville Lake & Campground surrounded by lush forests. At the end of the day, get a taste of the local cuisine and culture at one of the area’s excellent eateries, like the pepperoni roll, an official state food, from Country Club Bakery, live music at The Rambling Root, and homebrewed beer at Short Story Brewing. Find a spot to rest up at one of Marion’s convenient hotels so you’re ready to do it all again the next day. MarionCVB.com
Natural Wonders Await in Halifax County, Va. Grab your canoe, kayak, or standup paddleboard and head to the rivers and lakes of Southern Virginia. The rivers of Halifax County call to you while the lakes of Mecklenburg County draw you in. Imagine a paddling experience unlike any other. Over 100 miles of navigable river lead to 1,200 miles of a beautiful lake shoreline. Follow the Staunton and Dan rivers as they wind their way into the John H. Kerr Reservoir with countless parks along the way for a waterside picnic. Unspoiled wilderness, plus abundant fish and wildlife, are within reach just a short drive from major cities. All of the sights and experiences are along one freshwater trail that’s perfect for a few hours in a canoe with the kids or a few days in a kayak with your friends. Waterfront camping and no crowds, all within minutes from great restaurants, hotels, and outfitters, make for an excellent getaway. Amazing scenery and miles of pure paddling adventure await you in Halifax County, Va. GoHalifaxVA.com
NewRiverGorgeCVB.com JUNE 2022 | BLUERIDGEOUTDOORS.COM
Kayaking Cawtaba River
New River. Courtesy of Giles County Tourism
Paddle Through the History of Calvert County, Md.
Paddling for All in Giles County, Va.
Calvert County, Md., presents a natural landscape shaped by wind, tide, and time. Paddle the waterways of Calvert County to journey into a world rich in history and filled with natural splendor. Dugout canoes, sailing workboats such as skipjacks and bugeyes, and steamboats all plied these waters in times past. Today, recreational paddlers follow the same routes and revisit a rich history, including early colonial settlements, farms, and woodlands. The eastern side of Calvert County fronts the Chesapeake Bay and is characterized by steep wooded cliffs. The Patuxent River side, to the west, features a mix of rolling hills and flat, primarily agricultural lands. The Patuxent River and its host of creeks and smaller waterways such as Fishing Creek, Cocktown Creek, Parkers Creek, and St. Leonard Creek were noted as early as 1608 on a map made during one of Captain John Smith’s voyages and are still great paddle locations. The shallow, protected waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries are also excellent for canoeing and kayaking. Canoes and kayaks can be launched from boat ramps, beaches, and other shoreline areas. After a day on the water, relax and watch the sunset at any number of waterside restaurants.
For 37 miles, the New River Water Trail flows through Giles County, offering spectacular sights in Virginia’s Mountain Playground. Paddling one of the oldest rivers in the world, you’ll have the opportunity take in towering cliffs and a variety of wildlife. Starting at Ingles Landing, paddle six miles to Pembroke as you float past the historic Palisades Cliffs, plus several class I and II riffles ideal for boaters and anglers alike. From Pembroke to Ripplemead is a short 2.5-mile paddle with a number of islands that make for a perfect picnic spot. Experienced paddlers will enjoy the rapids on the way from Ripplemead to Hale’s Landing, including an opportunity to surf the wave at Clendenin Shoals, while beginners will love the calm float from Narrows to Glen Lyn. While you’re in the area, stop by one of the local outdoor shops for gear rentals and apparel for a day on the water. The helpful folks at Tangent Outfitters, New River’s Edge, and New River Outdoor Company will ensure you make memories to last a lifetime. When you’re done on the water, head to one of the locallyowned restaurants nearby and settle in for a night at your campground or cabin. VirginiasMtnPlayground.com
Leading Trips in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains since 1971
CHATTOOGA RIVER • OCOEE RIVER • PIGEON RIVER • NANTAHALA RIVER WildWaterRafting.com 58
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AN EASY-DRINKING LIGHT AND REFRESHING BREW WITH A TANGY CITRUS CHARACTER. PERFECT FOR FUN IN THE SUN.
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Exploring Chesapeake’s beautiful waterways and awe-inspiring wildlife by kayak, canoe or paddleboard just got even more exciting with the new Paddle the Peake Passport. This FREE passport guides you to the great places to paddle, the history and ecology of local waterways, Chesapeake flora and fauna, and more as you “level up” for fun perks along the way. Plan your paddle adventure in Chesapeake, VA, today. Download the Visit Chesapeake, VA app to get started.
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T H E A U T H O R PA D D L I N G H I S J A C K S O N F U N O N T H E OCOEE RIVER IN TENNESSEE. PHOTO BY CURTIS AHLERS
EVERY KAYAK I EVER PADDLED Tracing a lifetime of adventures on the water in 25 boats
BY MIKE BEZEMEK
THE FIRST TIME I EVER WANTED TO TRY
kayaking was during a guided raft trip with the Boy Scouts. We were on the class III Gorge section of the South Fork American River in California, and I was around 14 years old. As our raft plowed through fun rapids, I watched skillful kayakers dipping their blades, swiveling their torsos, and expertly maneuvering sleek boats through crashing hydraulics. I want to do this, I thought. Learn to kayak, be a raft guide. So, I asked the late-20s guide about it. “Much harder than it looks,” he said, launching into a dispiriting lecture about how difficult it is to become a raft guide and, even more challenging, a kayaker. Being an impressionable kid, I accepted the guide’s dismissive claims. Somehow, this mythical figure could sniff out whitewater potential, and I clearly had none. Discouraged, I let the dream float away. Later that summer, my aunt’s boyfriend invited me to go kayaking. I eagerly agreed, hoping it might involve
easy whitewater. But the kayaks were clearly flatwater rec boats, and our destination was a mellow section of the Lower American. Still, I was excited to finally paddle any kind of kayak. I hopped inside a big yellow boat and off we went. Three of us paddled upstream for several miles until the turnaround point, a riffle too swift to ascend. As the others turned downstream, I kept paddling into the current, trying to reach the rapids. Eventually, the others were out of sight, so I gave up and chased after them. The second kayak I ever paddled was for whitewater—a massive red Perception Corsica. This 11-foot boat was manufactured from rotomolded plastic in the mid-1990s, but it wasn’t until 2001 when I paddled it into the current. By now, I was a first-year raft guide on the Gorge section of the South Fork American. While paddling whitewater was challenging and did carry risks, it wasn’t nearly as impossible as the cocky guide had declared six years before.
Though my new rafting friends and I had no idea how to kayak, we careened down the Gorge rapids anyway. We smacked boulders and holes broadside, flipped over, wet exited. After hardknock swimming with our yaks to shore, we drained them, laughed it off, tried again. We were nothing like the skillful kayakers I’d witnessed as a boy. But we were clearly having fun, so why stop? The third kayak I paddled was an inflatable ducky. A group of us guides took them on a trip across Northern California to rivers like the McCloud, Trinity, and Klamath. With each mile, we were getting the hang of reading water and navigating rapids. The fourth kayak I paddled was a Wave Sport Godzilla. This whitewater boat was cutting edge at the time, but my hardshell kayaking still wasn’t. By now, I’d learned how to paddle full speed ahead through rapids, which worked 80 percent of the time. But lacking the ability to consistently roll upright, I still swam plenty of rapids.
The fifth kayak was a Pyranha Inazone. I was too tall for this whitewater demo, but I stubbornly crammed inside anyway and spent the whole day hurting. I jealously watched my new girlfriend comfortably demo a Dagger RPM—which later became the sixth kayak I paddled. Late that summer, my girlfriend and I tried our first sea kayaks (#7) on the Sea of Cortez in Baja. We paddled out toward a curious flock of birds floating on the water. Then we paddled swiftly away when we realized these were actually the raised flippers of sea lions. The herd scattered, with several charging toward us. One even slapped against my hull, but eventually they all broke away. As we paddled back to our cabana, a massive sea turtle broke the surface. It must have been disturbed by the chaos because it gave us an annoyed look like, do you even know how to kayak? The turtle exhaled in a huff and dove beneath the waves. While descending a volcano that fall, I ruptured a disc in my spine. I discovered
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I couldn’t sit in a kayak without intense pain. But within a few years, I luckily recovered enough to try again. The eighth kayak I paddled was a friend’s Wave Sport Big EZ, the revolutionary river-play boat of its time. I made it down the Gorge, but the pain lingered, so I waited another few years before kayaking again. The ninth kayak I paddled was a Riot Booster. My roll was still fifty-fifty, but I nailed the best one yet. The river was running high at 5,000 cfs, about four times the typical summer flow. I flipped over below Satan’s Cesspool in a flushy constriction. I swept my paddle blade and came right up in fast current. The feeling was exhilarating. For the first time, I felt like a real kayaker. The next season, I bought my own blue Big EZ, the tenth kayak I ever paddled. My back was better now, and I worked on my roll until it was almost automatic. I tried other types of boats, too, like the Wave Sport Diesel (#11), a big river runner,
and the Dagger Kingpin (#12), a tiny playboat that didn’t really fit. Months later, I relocated to St. Louis for graduate school. Soon, I was paddling in the Ozarks— whitewater rivers like the St. Francis and surrounding creeks. My roll was solid now, and it was the rare swim that I remembered. One day, we were portaging a downed tree. After carrying around, I set my kayak on the slope. The moment I sat inside, it started sliding downhill. Before I knew it, I’d impacted the water. The cockpit filled and the boat started sinking. I decided to go with it and submarined to the bottom before swimming out and dragging it along. I began making forays to the Southeast, discovering rivers like the Nantahala, Ocoee, New, and Gauley. But when I took the Big EZ on steeper creeks like the Little, I kept catching edges. Wanting something higher volume, I bought a large Pyranha Burn from a dude at a gas station in Kentucky. It was the thirteenth kayak I ever paddled, and I took it to run laps through Baby
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first roll and, while re-setting, struck a rock with my head. I was still using my old raft guide helmet, which slid upwards, and I was sliced above the eyebrow. I rolled up on my offside needing eight stitches and a better helmet. Once my confidence was restored, and helmet upgraded, the search continued with a Liquid Logic Freeride (#20) before arriving at a large Pyranha Jed (#21), the first playboat that comfortably fit my longer legs. I paddled these boats for years on rivers across the country, from the Southeast to the Ozarks to the Rockies to California. During that time, I even crammed inside the most uncomfortable fiberglass Prijon (#22) from the 1980s on a float in Germany. By now, I was spoiled by modern outfitting, and
(About five years later, the guy found me to apologize, describing a tough time with substance abuse. All was forgiven, and the $100 went right into the boat fund.) By now, I’d moved on from all previous boats in a search for perfect fits. First, I downsized to a next-gen medium Burn (#16) which I found sportier for river running and creeking. The buddy I bought it from switched to a Karnali, which he let me try (#17). Along the way, I picked up a used ducky, mostly for my wife and friends. Of course, I had to paddle it, plus convince my hardshell friends it didn’t mean anything (#18). In my search for a first playboat, I tried out a Rev (#19) but learned a hard lesson. Taking it down the upper Ocoee, I flipped backwards in a hole at Roach Motel. I missed my
the hard plastic seat and wooden backband reminded me how good I had it back home. You’d think I’d be done, right? But kayaks to kayakers are like fine works of art to art collectors. In recent years, I added a pair of 11-foot Pyranha Fusions, whitewater/touring hybrids that my wife and I share (#23 & #24) for long miles and overnights. Plus, I picked up a higher volume Machno, just for some variety. Twenty-five. Honestly, there were probably others I’ve forgotten. Over two decades, I’ve witnessed kayaking come full circle. From longboats at the turn of the century to stubby boats in the early 2000s to a return of longboats in the 2010s. Always, it was more about the adventures than the boats. I’m excited to see what the next 25 kayaks will bring.
PHOTO BY CURTIS AHLERS
Falls at the Tellico. Owning a bigger boat made me realize how tight my Big EZ was. Since I had developed full-on GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), it was a nobrainer to upgrade. The fourteenth kayak I paddled was a bright-green 2nd-gen Jackson Fun, a former demo boat. It was more everything— comfortable, stable, playful. But a funny thing happened. Another area boater had also wanted to buy this green boat but ended up with an orange one. He kept pestering me to trade, but I declined. On the river one day, he offered $100, and I finally gave in. Of course, while I was off running shuttle, he swapped the boats without any cash and drove away. So, the fifteenth kayak I ever paddled was an otherwise identical Fun in orange.
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BLUE RIDGE OUTDOORS
P H O T O S BY R I C H YO U N G
Kayaking in the Wake of Loss After four years, the Richmond kayaking community continues to mourn one of their own without losing love for the water. BY LUCIE HANES
CHRISTIAN WOOD WAS PREPARED FOR THE WATER conditions on his last day out on the James River. That’s
the part that’s been the toughest for his friends and fellow boaters in the Richmond kayaking community. As a teenager, Wood put in the effort to master his skills and dedicated himself to the sport from day one with unprecedented vigor, according to Michael Stratton, director of the Outdoors Program at Trinity Episcopal School, where Wood first began kayaking. “I have never met someone as committed to a lifestyle as he was,” said Stratton, who taught Wood how to roll and knew right away that he would be an influential part of the river community. “He was all in. He watched every outdoor video, followed everyone on social media associated with outdoor adventure sports, and knew every single gear item that was trending. He was the most knowledgeable student I have ever met.” He also emanated enthusiasm for all aspects of kayaking, while paddling on his own time or as an instructor at Passages Adventure Camp. “I think of Christian as endlessly energetic, but always knowing where that energy needed to go,” says Geoffrey Gill, the kayaking site director at Passages while Wood served on staff. “You could see it in his paddling style, just throwing in every move and every trick he could, but what stood out to me was how he directed it. He would take the lines he wanted to take, stop and play where he wanted to play, but still have an eye out for where the group was. I trusted his judgment to be in the right place and respond the right way.” But paddling whitewater is unpredictable and carries inherent risks for even the most experienced boaters. On February 13, 2018, not long after his 18th birthday, Wood headed out on the Lower James with another equally experienced boater and friend. Both he and his paddling partner held valid high-water permits, which are required for everyone on the river when it
rises above flood stage. Though the James presents a serious threat at such a high level, the pair had enough experience under the same conditions to feel confident in their decision to enter the water. Wood eventually collided with a log concealed under the surface, lost consciousness and endured the battering of the waves while his friend fought the current to attempt a rescue. Wood’s partner managed to reach him, pull him above the water, and tow him back towards the shore—all against a raging current that most kayakers wouldn’t have the strength or the courage to face. He administered CPR on Wood until River Rescue showed up within minutes to take over. But after being taken to a nearby hospital, Wood later died. “This was a tragic accident, but an accident no less,” said Kevin Tobin, the director of Passages Adventure Camp and owner of the Peak Experiences climbing center. Water levels presented dangers at the time, but the two boys knew the demands of the river in those conditions. “I believe Christian in no way acted rashly or took risks that he and his paddling partner were not prepared to take on. He was a talented and intelligent kayaker who knew his limits and trusted his skills to take him down the river successfully, every time.” The Richmond kayaking community has had four years to sit with Wood’s death. All losses leave a mark, but this one cut especially deep, in large part because of his competence as a boater. The greatest challenge for the community has been coming to terms with the harsh reality that the water doesn’t always care about expertise. “We like to think that we’re in control of things,” said Tobin, “but at the very best we only have some influence when it comes to whitewater.” In the wake of his loss, kayakers close to Wood reviewed their habits on the water to double down on safety measures. “We’ve taken everything that we do and
how we do it and put it through a new filter,” Tobin says. They’ve mainly opted for a change in perspective rather than a change in practice, and many are more careful both about how they personally approach risks and how they represent the sport. “I definitely view the sport differently after Christian,” Stratton said, “though I think the change is not in my perceived danger, but in the danger exposed to others. I am more hesitant to do anything that I think someone else may see and think they can try.” Some local boaters took time off from the sport over the past four years to give themselves room to grieve and reflect. But Tobin can’t think of a single person from Wood’s inner circle who has walked away entirely in the aftermath. The community has realized that awareness doesn’t necessarily translate to avoidance. If the outcome had been different that day, Wood’s friends believe he wouldn’t have hesitated to get back out on the water. “Christian would never want this tragedy to frighten anyone from pursuing their own path through the communities and sports he loved,” Tobin wrote in a letter to the Passages staff following Wood’s death. “He would never want anyone to miss out on these deep and formative experiences on account of him.” Wood’s friends ultimately understand that the best way to honor his legacy is to pick it up right where he left off. Gill looks at one moment from his first day back at Passages after the accident as the sign he needed to do just that. He had a conversation with staff and campers about fear on the water, and he eventually found himself arm in arm with his coworkers, tears cropping up alongside the memories. “At some point, one of our kids said, ‘Well, should we go kayaking again?’ and we all kind of realized that there really was nothing else to do but exactly what would have made Christian happy.” JUNE 2022 | BLUERIDGEOUTDOORS.COM
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BLUE RIDGE OUTDOORS
THE OUT AND BACK
THOUGHTS ON DELIVERANCE AND THE PURSUIT OF QUIET
T H E A U T H O R N AV I G AT E S T H E R A P I D S O F T H E C H AT T O O G A O N A G U I D E D T R I P. P H O T O S C O U R T E S Y O F W I L D WAT E R
BY G R A H A M AV E R I L L
THE THING I LIKE MOST ABOUT THE
movie Deliverance is how quiet the setting is once the group of four guys from Atlanta gets on the river. There’s some hooting and hollering as they canoe through the rapids, but mostly, you just hear the birds and the water. Especially when Jon Voight is rappelling into the gorge after killing the hunter who may or may not have been trying to kill him. It’s so quiet. I think about that as I’m doing my part to paddle a raft down the Chattooga River, which as you definitely already know, is where many of the scenes for Deliverance were filmed. The filmmakers got that part right; when my rafting cohorts and I aren’t screaming through rapids and desperately trying to stay in the raft, it’s really quiet on this river. Nothing but the birds and the low rumble of water, which is exactly what I’m looking for on this particular adventure. I’ve jumped on a trip with Wildwater Outfitters, one of the South’s O.G. guide services that’s been taking people down the Chattooga for more than 50 years. During those five decades, the Chattooga has become legendary, not just for its whitewater, but for its pristine setting. In 1974, it was designated a Wild and Scenic River, the first of its kind in the Southeast, and because of that designation, there is no other rafting experience quite like it in the Southern Appalachians. In the movie, Lewis, played by Burt Reynolds, and his cohorts want to run the fictitious Cahulawassee River before it gets dammed because it’s “the last unpolluted, un-fucked up river in the South.” I wanted to raft the Chattooga for basically the same reasons, because it’s one of the last places you can find peace and quiet in the South. The increasing crowds at my favorite spots in the forest are starting to bum me out. I typically like crowds. For years, I would go to the mall on Christmas Eve just to hang out amongst all that frantic energy. Sold out baseball stadiums? I love them. And I don’t begrudge the crowds at the trailheads; we’re all just looking to have
a good time and enjoy nature. I have no problem sharing my favorite bike trail with 300 dudes from Charlotte, honest. But every once in a while, I need to enjoy that nature in relative solitude, and the Chattooga is one of the few places in this part of the world where you’re guaranteed to be kind of alone. It’s basically written in the contract. Thanks to the Wild and Scenic designation, the Chattooga’s recreation is managed more closely to ensure the pristine atmosphere, so guided trips have a participation cap and those trips are spaced throughout the day so one group never sees another other group. The idea of spacing pods of rafts so you don’t see other pods of rafts is a simple thing that transforms the experience of rafting the Chattooga from “fun” to “enlightening.” I’ve rafted all over the South and some of our best rivers can feel like bumper cars on busy days. But being alone on the Chattooga, as it cuts through a steep curtain of green hardwoods and all you see is water, rock, and sandy beaches, I found myself becoming engrossed in the details of the scene. At one point, I watched the fast water roll over a certain rock and form a slithering, white trail, almost like a snake. I stood there for minutes, transfixed by the snake of water. I can’t remember the last time I stared at something other than a screen for minutes. Twice, we beached our boats on sandbars and hiked to waterfalls that were hidden behind a cloak of trees, and get this—those falls weren’t littered with sunbathers and big-bellied guys doing cannonballs from high rocks! Have you ever seen a waterfall that wasn’t adorned with people? It’s downright meditative. Sure, it’s possible to get transfixed by nature when there are hordes of people around you, but it’s hard. I’m not good at it. I get distracted too easily.
That’s not to say the Chattooga is just about finding inner peace. The river can get rowdy occasionally too, especially during the crescendo of the Five Falls, where class IV and V rapids hit back-to-back as the river drops 75 feet in a quarter of a mile. But the drop and pool nature of the Chattooga gives you time to look around and ponder Big Ideas like solitude and whether or not I would look good in a leather vest like Burt Reynolds in Deliverance. (Sadly, nobody can pull off a leather vest like Burt Reynolds). It's easy to watch that movie now (or read the book if you’re into that sort of thing) and see it as a cautionary tale of male hubris and poor expedition planning, but I think you’d miss the greater point at play here: they had a good time before all the murdering started. They steered their long, aluminum canoes through the rapids, shot fish with a bow, played guitar
by the campfire…those guys got the wild, rejuvenating experience they were after before Ned Beatty squealed like a piggie. The Cahulawassee delivered everything Lewis and his cohorts were after, just like the Chattooga delivered everything I was after.
JUNE 2022 | BLUERIDGEOUTDOORS.COM
PADDLING GEAR BODY GLOVE PERFORMER 11 INFLATABLE
DIP IN Our picks for the latest, greatest paddling gear will get you out exploring and enjoying those long, sweet summer days. BY D O U G S C H N I T Z S PA H N
Dermatone Sport Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50 Don’t mess with the sun when you are out on the water at altitude. The Sport formula (we go with the highest SPF we can) goes on easily and provides moisturizing for your mountain-dry skin and, most importantly, it’s resistant to water and sweat (but reapply frequently). $19; dermatone.com
Dragon Flare LL H2O Polar
With big lenses and frames these polarized shades offer up plenty of protection when you paddle. But the big benefit here is that they float. That means you can confidently wear them without the annoyance of a retainer strap and not lose them if they slip in the drink. $209; dragonalliance.com
Astral The PFD Sandal
Here’s a boating shoe that was specifically designed for the needs of river guides who spend all day standing in the water and navigating random terrain. Webbing straps (the same as Astral’s famed PFDs) batten down for the perfect secure fit and a proprietary rubber sole grips to wet rocks and logs. It’s the technical shoe you need for that big river trip but you will want to wear everywhere. $115; astraldesigns.com
Blackfin Model X
Designed specifically for SUP fishing, this big, stable board (35 inches wide and rated up to 450 pounds) is the perfect deck not just for fighting beefy trout in the middle of the lake but also for taking off on overnight adventures on the far shores. Two cargo areas hold plenty of gear and it’s fully compatible with a fishing rack attachment that will give you the ability to manage multiple rods. Oh, and it’s also just fun to paddle. $800; irockersup.com
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DRAGON FLARE LL H2O POLAR
Body Glove Performer 11 Inflatable
Thanks to a new wider tail shape, this inflatable tracks easier and provides a lot of stability out on the water, making it a nice option for beginners as well as experienced paddlers looking for a reliable ride. And here’s an upgrade we really appreciate— an electric pump means you won’t feel beat by the time you get on the board. And paddle easy: For each board sold, Body Glove donates a tree to reforestation nonprofit One Tree Planted. Want more? If you are a Costco member, look for it at select stores where you can grab the board for a killer deal at $399. $999; bodyglove.com
ASTRAL THE PFD SANDAL
DERMATONE SPORT SUNSCREEN LOTION SPF 50
This front-entry PFD puts comfort foremost. The back works with the high setbacks of many new canoes and kayaks and the wrap-around fit is easy to adjust to any body shape. Bonus: The hand warmer pockets are a simple innovation you will wish were on every PFD. $139; kokatat.com
Werner Nomad Raft Paddle
The tapered blade shape on this one-piece fixed paddle means it can handle a wide range of adventures—from digging into whitewater with your team to high adrenaline creeking. It’s available in a beautiful silhouette pattern of Split Rock on Washington’s Skykomish River or a more basic translucent red. $190; wernerpaddles.com
WERNER NOMAD RAFT PADDLE
BLACKFIN MODEL X
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Kokopelli Nirvana Self-Bailing X
KOKOPELLI NIRVANA SELF-BAILING X
Big and beefy enough to take on major endeavors, this self-bailing pack raft can run whitewater and haul a bike or backpack but it’s still easy to hike the boat into remote spots. It rolls down to just 14 inches by 10 inches and tips the scale at an impressive 16.2 pounds with key accessories. Don’t worry that this packability makes it any less of a performer on the water—the Kevlar construction on the floor and up the sidewalls can handle a lot of abuse. $1,499; kokopelli.com
Stio Women's Hylas Hooded Pullover and CFS Board Shorts
Shading yourself from the sunlight is paramount when you are spending the day on the water—but you don’t want to cramp your style. Mountain-town brand Stio has you—literally—covered. Providing UPF 50+ protection but still light and breathable, this stretch nylon pullover also dries in a hurry, making for the perfect SUP top. The shorts complete the set with the same protective and quick-dry super powers. $89 pullover, $89 shorts; stio.com
Hobie Mirage iTrek 11
This easy-to-transport inflatable kayak provides pedal power via a zippy drive system that allows you to get around the lake in a hurry—and remain hands-free, ideal for fly fishing or kicking back and enjoying the view while your legs do the work. It weighs in fully rugged at just 28 pounds, making it more versatile than big boats with similar drive systems. $2,799; hobie.com
Old Town Discovery 119 Solo Sportsman
Here’s the craft of choice for the dedicated angler. Super stable and smooth on the water, this canoe features a burly three-layer hull that can withstand the bumps of sleeping into small spaces. A kayak style set offers up comfort for paddling and casting and there’s plenty of room for gear in the boat. $1,100; oldtowncanoe.johnsonooutdoors.com
Advanced Elements AirVolution Drop-Stitch Kayak
This solo or tandem inflatable kayak features drop-stitch construction, which is more common on SUPs, and gives it all the guts and performance of a hard-shell boat. Injection-molded nose caps bolster the front and there’s even below-deck storage. Add it all up and you have an inflatable that’s easy to store and transport but just as reliable as a bulkier boat. $1,700; advancedelements.com
ADVANCED ELEMENTS AIRVOLUTION DROP-STITCH KAYAK
LEVEL SIX KING SPRAYSKIRT
Level Six King Sprayskirt
Stitched, not glued, for the best stretch in all conditions, and built with new thinner rand profile for a better fit on all styles of cockpit rims, this is a sprayskirt we can count on. Plus, burly neoprene panels give it longevity and lots of abrasion resistance. $160; levelsix.com
STIO WOMEN'S HYLAS HOODED PULLOVER AND CFS BOARD SHORTS
Columbia River Knife & Tool Minimalist Persian Based on a badass 17th-century Persian design, this compact fixed-blade knife could be a lifesaver on the river (or just a handy tool in camp). The ergonomic handle makes it easy to grasp and use even when wet. $40; crkt.com
HOBIE MIRAGE ITREK 11
COLUMBIA RIVER KNIFE & TOOL MINIMALIST PERSIAN
OLD TOWN DISCOVERY 119 SOLO SPORTSMAN
JUNE 2022 | BLUERIDGEOUTDOORS.COM
SONGS FOR SUMMER
DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS RELEASE THE NEW ALBUM, "WELCOME TO CLUB X III," ON JUNE 3. PHOTO BY BRANTLEY GUITIERREZ
Our Favorite New Music from the Blue Ridge and Beyond BY J E D D F E R R I S A N D DAV E S TA L L A R D
EVERY MONTH OUR EDITORS CURATE
a playlist of new music, mainly focusing on independent artists from the South. In June we’re highlighting new tunes from Bruce Hornsby, Angel Olsen, and Widespread Panic.
DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS “Welcome to Club X III” Drive-By Truckers keep on rolling. The longstanding Southern rocker crew released two albums in 2020, and now the group is dropping another this month. The title track is a swinging country-rock ode to an old honky tonk that band founders Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley played during their early days in Muscle Shoals. For an influential band that’s been together for nearly three decades, it’s a humorous look back at dive bars full of “penny beer and cheap cocaine.” The new album, out June 3, was produced by the band’s frequent collaborator David Barbe and features an appearance from Margo Price. – J.F.
Piano man Bruce Hornsby is continuing the experimental arc of his latecareer creative surge. After recent collaborations with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and yMusic, here he teams up with Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig on this oddly meditative track from the new album “’Flicted.” Among angular sonic textures that build into an enlightening melody, Hornsby and Koenig trade lyrics about processing the hysteria of the last few years. – J.F.
“Waves” Banditos recorded the tracks that would become “Right On” two years ago, before the pandemic but record label upheaval put the brakes on the project. Finally released last month, the record showcases the powerhouse vocals of Mary Beth Richardson, to whom the band has recently given sole lead singer duties. Richardson proves the decision a good one on “Waves.” Muted banjo, piano, and acoustic guitar wind beneath Richardson’s sultry vocals in the verses before she and the band erupt with soulful combustibility in the choruses. “Waves” simply explodes, soaring out with the pent-up energy of two years lost in limbo. – D.S.
“Barstools and Dreamers” In 1990, Widespread Panic dropped into John Keane’s studio in Athens, Ga., to record songs they had crafted on the road. The session demos, which show the quintet stretching the boundaries of its sound, were recently remastered and released. Panic is locked in on “Barstools and Dreamers,” which meanders from funky bass lines to jangly Southern rock to pockets of sonic space fit to be occupied only by Michael Houser’s guitar solos. This nearly nineminute journey shows that, after barely five years as a band, Panic was destined for the long haul. – D.S.
BRUCE HORNSBY “Sidelines”
BLUE RIDGE OUTDOORS
WILCO “Falling Apart (Right Now)” When Jeff Tweedy formed Wilco in the mid-90s, the group was quickly lumped
into the alt-country movement. But in the ensuing decades the band proved to be a much broader experimental rock outfit. Now, though, the members are embracing their earlier musical roots with the new album “Cruel Country.” Lead single “Falling Apart (Right Now)” is a boot-kicking shuffle with lyrics that feature traditional tropes about tears and heartbreak. But Wilco is trying to mold country in its own image; as Tweedy stated, “we’re finding it exhilarating to free ourselves within the form.” – J.F.
in the making, written by longtime frontman David Sickmen while he lived in Berlin a decade ago. More fiddledriven folk rock than bluegrass mayhem, Sickmen sings of big lies becoming truths over spunky mandolin and percussion provided by his son, Jonah, who has taken over charismo (an everevolving recycling center washboard) duties for the band. This song reminds listeners that songwriting, and not just frenzied live performances, have driven Hackensaw Boys forward for some 20 years. – D.S.
“Big Time” Angel Olsen, the inventive indie singersongwriter who has moved between confessional folk and dramatic synthrock, is also in a country state of mind. “Big Time,” the title track from the new album Olsen releases on June 3, is a twangy ballad laced with dusty piano and plaintive pedal steel about taking the long route to find true love. Olsen will soon start the collaborative Wild Heart summer tour with Sharon Van Etten and Julien Baker that includes regional stops in Virginia and North Carolina. – J.F.
“Frightened Whispers” Bear’s Den continues to explore a palette of sound well removed from the folky, acoustic melodies that rushed them into the indie music consciousness nearly 10 years ago. “Frightened Whispers” kicks off with lush electronic melodies and drumbeats before a rousing chorus grows and the jubilant harmonies of Andrew Davie and Kevin Jones bring a joyous, celebratory tone that deftly obscures the doubt, loss, and pain delivered in the lyrics. It takes a bit of artistry to balance the light with the dark in song, and Bear’s Den does it masterfully here. – D.S.
HACKENSAW BOYS “Mary Shelley” “Mary Shelley” is a song over 10 years
To hear these songs and more, follow the Blue Ridge Outdoors’ Trail Mix playlist on Spotify.
Blue Ridge Crafted Seed to Shelf BATH & SPA | EDIBLES | SUBLINGUALS | SMOKABLES
JUNE 2022 | BLUERIDGEOUTDOORS.COM
Your next paddling adventure awaits in Charlottesville & Albemarle County!
Paddle the calm waters of the Rivanna River, located in the heart of the city. Or visit the river town of Scottsville, situated along the mighty James. After your day of adventuring, explore one of the region’s 40+ wineries along the Monticello Wine Trail, or discover your new favorite craft beer on the Charlottesville Ale Trail. Then rest up and recharge at one of the area’s inns, bed & breakfasts, hotels, or resorts for another day of fun on the water.
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