7/5/2012 - Outdoors enthusiasts weigh in on Asheville as top River Town
by Karen Chavez - Asheville Citizen Times
What does Richmond, Va., have that Asheville doesn't?
That's what Asheville outdoors enthusiasts are trying to figure out. Especially since Richmond is whupping Asheville in Outside magazine's Best Outdoors Town contest, which launched last month on Facebook and continues through Tuesday.
Asheville and Richmond were among the Top 10 "Best River Towns in America," named by the largest outdoors lifestyle magazine, which runs the contest each year to determine the cities that offer a balance of great culture, perfect scenery, stress-free and reasonable cost of living, and easy access to the outdoors.
This year, for its 35th anniversary issue in October, Outside teamed up with the nonprofit American Rivers to identify the top 10 river towns in the U.S. The winning town will receive the official honor of Outside's "Best Town in America" and will be featured on the October 2012 magazine cover, Outside Online, and an exclusive segment on Outside TV.
"It's kind of embarrassing," Hartwell Carson, French Broad Riverkeeper, said of Asheville's poor showing to date in the Outside Facebook contest.
"If you look at the region around Asheville, there's an amazing amount of recreation opportunities on our rivers. "We have some of the top class 5 whitewater in the world on the Green River, class 4 and 5 boating on a bunch of great whitewater rivers with the Nolichucky, Nantahala and French Broad, and we have the French Broad River Paddle Trail that flows right through Asheville."
Asheville is home to one of the oldest rivers in the world -- the French Broad -- which flows north from Rosman through the heart of downtown Asheville and on to Tennessee. The French Broad Paddle Trail, which was officially opened July 1, offers paddlers the opportunity to float the length of the river and camp along the way.
Outfitters tout the ease of access to the river, with places such as Jean Webb, French Broad River Park and Ledges Whitewater Park, and businesses such as Asheville Outdoor Center and Asheville Adventure Rentals offering boat rentals, instruction and shuttle service.
The Biltmore Estate, which has about a million visitors a year, sits on the banks of the French Broad because when George Vanderbilt built it in the late 1800s, it reminded him of the Loire Valley in France, said the Biltmore's Chuck Pickering.
The river has continued to attract people to visit and live in the area through the centuries.
"You can see from the growth the river outfitters what a great area this is for rivers, and the French Broad is the key river in our area," Pickering said. "It has a huge watershed. The whole network of rivers in Asheville that connect to the French Broad offer some of the best canoeing, kayaking and fly-fishing in the country."
Asheville and Western North Carolina are home to numerous river festivals, paddle races and other river-centric events, and two breweries -- New Belgium and Sierra Nevada -- decided to bring business to Asheville in part because of the clean water the river provides.
But the area is also in the Outside magazine contest for its wealth of other outdoor resources, including Pisgah and Nantahala national forests, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the most visited national park site in the country, and for having a connected, caring, environmentally friendly community.
As part of the contest, the public can vote, submit photos, video and comments backing up their selection.
All voters will have a chance to win a five-day adventure to one of the top 10 towns. The winning town will be determined through a combination of total votes; overall support as a result of content submitted; and creativity. But you have to be in it to win it.
Following, Asheville enthusiasts give their take on why Asheville should be Outside's t op river town.
Nancy Hodges, RiverLink watershed resources manager
"The French Broad River is one of our most unique and inviting features. It's beloved. It's a drinking water source; it's part of our livelihood for recreation, tourism; it's a large portion of our economy. It also invites businesses here, like breweries and technical companies, that need that clean water," Hodges said.
"It's a defining feature of our landscape. It's unique -- it flows north, to the Mississippi, not to the Atlantic. Not many cities this size have a paddle trail, of this length. The French Broad is the only river where you paddle from headwaters (in Rosman) to a lake in Tennessee and have the ability to camp. It is significant to our region. People move here to enjoy it and to be closer to it."
Chris Manderson The Whitewater Sportsman
Chris Manderson has been running smallmouth bass fishing trips on the French Broad River with his business, the Whitewater Sportsman, for the past 11 years. About half of his clients come from Atlanta and Florida, he said.
"They're running from the heat," Manderson said. "But there's a lot going on. The French Broad is a wonderful river. There are a lot of options -- you can tube it down by the Bywater, in the slow section, you can fish it, you can run whitewater. And it's gotten a lot cleaner.
"There are tons of fish. We routinely catch sunfish, rock bass and catfish, but it is one of the premier smallmouth bass fisheries in the country. This (Facebook contest) is the kind of thing that can create more stakeholders in the river and help protect it going forward."
Hartwell Carson, French Broad Riverkeeper, WNC Alliance
"The River Arts District is cool but definitely getting cooler. The fishing is great. The French Broad is great for smallmouth bass, and the trout fishing on the Davidson, Mills River, North Fork of the French Broad, it has a huge economic impact in Western North Carolina," said Carson, who last month led the first group of paddlers down the French Broad Paddle Trail from Rosman to Tennessee.
"We have really amazing flatwater paddling, too, like the stretch through the Biltmore, and the stretch from the headwaters to Asheville, that is good for canoeing and tubing.
"We also have great restaurants, bars and other places that are great for tourists. It's not only a good river town, but Asheville has a lot of other cool stuff, like hiking and rock climbing, mountain biking and great swimming holes like Sliding Rock, and all the great places along the Blue Ridge Parkway."
Chuck Pickering, president of agriculture, government relations and land planning, Biltmore Estate
"The French Broad is one of the greatest rivers on the East Coast," Pickering said of the river that flows right through Biltmore Estate. "It's a combination of healthy waterways and the beautiful scenery of the mountains all around. When you're on the estate, you get great views of the house. Our guests love the river for kayaking and float trips, and the wildlife viewing is spectacular.
"A lot of people in the community have really worked hard to keep this river clean. The water resources are one of the main reason you're seeing a lot of the new industries move here like the beer and natural herb industries. They select this area because of the quality of water, and the river is a key part of that."
Melissa Bertenthal, co-owner Asheville Adventure Rentals, Riverside Drive
"There is the ease of access to our river, both in the sense that it runs right through our town and it offers the multitude of options, from flat water, to fishing, and if you're looking for something more exciting, 20 minutes outside of town, you have exciting whitewater. WNC has some of the best whitewater on the East Coast -- it's amazing," Bertenthal said.
"There's a passion that everyone has for our rivers. It's hard to drive down the road and not see a car with a kayak or a standup paddle board on the roof."
Dodie Stephens, senior communications manager, Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau
"From a tourism and marketing standpoint, accolades from trend-setters and taste-makers like Outside magazine are a perfect form to show off our active lifestyle," Stephens said.
"Their accolad es are a key part of bringing tourists to the region. But it's not even the win, but just being mentioned in great company is a great chance to share our amazing array of natural offerings with the world. We all feel lucky to live in a town where outdoor opportunities are so plentiful. It's a point of pride, and we're such a welcoming community that we want people to come and share in it."