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ASHEVILLE – For Dave Donnell, owner of Asheville Outdoor Center (AOC), the vision of the French Broad River Paddle Trail is an exciting opportunity that is one step closer to reality thanks to a grant from REI to the Western North Carolina Alliance (WNCA).

Logo courtesy of Western North Carolina Alliance.

Donnell has been operating the AOC for 19 years and “would love to be able to offer overnight trips that would connect the Headwaters of the French Broad River with (his) business in Asheville. This would be another great way to enjoy the scenic French Broad River.”

Thanks to this grant, WNCA and REI will partner to construct the next campsite on Aug. 20. Employees from REI will be put to work during a service day to build the second of seven additional campsites that will connect over 120 miles of the French Broad River from Rosman, N.C., into Tennessee.

The first new campsite as part of the Paddle Trail was built in May in Etowah, N.C. with AmeriCorps Volunteers. This next addition in Little River will bring the Paddle Trail one step closer to Hendersonville and Asheville.

The campsite construction will involve building rock steps to access the river, clearing brush, treating invasive species, replanting native plants, and building a picnic table and fire ring. This site will eventually become part of the larger Paddle Trail that is being constructed and maintained by the WNCA. A reservation system will be established through WNCA, and volunteers will help maintain the series of campsites that will connect existing access and campsites along the river.

Currently, paddling for more than one day along the river is difficult, because the river is dominated by private land and public camping is very rare. The Paddle Trail, when complete, will be a combination of public and private land, strategically located between the few existing public campsites.

“These campsites offer an opportunity to get people on the river and increase the appreciation and stewardship of the river, but they also provide a significant economic boost to the region. Recent studies have shown paddle trails in eastern North Carolina had an economic impact of more than $100 million,” explains French Broad Riverkeeper, Hartwell Carson.

For almost 30 years, the Western North Carolina Alliance has been a trusted community partner, marshaling grassroots support to keep our forests healthy, our air and water clean, and our communities vibrant. The Alliance and its chapters throughout Western N.C. unleash the power of citizens’ voices to protect the natural heritage of our region to help ensure that people and the environment can thrive. For more information please visit www.wnca.org.

Kathleen O'Nan

Kathleen O'Nan is a contributing reporter to Carolina Public Press.

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