AW fights for paddling access on Chattooga headwaters

American Whitewater (AW) is going head-to-head with the U.S. Forest Service to open access to the headwaters of the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River for paddlesports enthusiasts, and plans to submit an appeal on April 29.

American Whitewater (AW) is going head-to-head with the U.S. Forest Service to open access to the headwaters of the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River for paddlesports enthusiasts, and plans to submit an appeal on April 29.

At issue is a 20-mile section of the Chattooga above the Highway 28 bridge which has been banned to paddlers since 1976. Since the mid-90s, AW has been requesting access and has been continually denied. Recently, a new forest plan for the area was being drawn up and the non-profit felt the time was right to make paddlers part of the user groups allowed access to the river. Despite 1,000 letters of support, the Forest Service upheld its ban based on possible search and rescue expenses, environmental impact and the potential loss of solitude for other users -- mainly anglers.

Regional Forester Robert Jacobs said in his report: "Remoteness and solitude are both integral values associated with experiences above Highway 28, particularly in the Ellicott Rock Wilderness Area. Achieving solitude in these areas has become increasingly difficult for hikers, backpackers, anglers, and others as use increases. Adding a new user group would make this even more difficult to achieve. It is likely that boating above Highway 28 would disturb users who have become accustomed to or who have come to expect the absence of boaters."

Kevin Colburn, eastern conservation and access director for AW, said the Forest Service performed a lengthy, but unreferenced study of paddling and angling on the headwaters, essentially saying that the two activities are incompatible.

"The Forest Service is going to great lengths to lay down a lot of rhetoric into the public record without any substantiation whatsoever," Colburn said. "The primary reason they gave, really at the heart of their argument, is about conflicts with backcountry anglers. The conflict they say is a loss of solitude for this group. That's their statement: Paddling reduces the solitude of this user group."

Colburn disagrees with the Forest Service's assessment and said anglers and paddlers are both good river stewards who work together all the time. Last November, AW sponsored a conference with Trout Unlimited in Los Angeles to foster more partnerships on rivers.

"The Forest Service has created the very conflict they're attempting to manage against. There is no conflict on rivers where boaters and anglers co-exist and share the resource. On this one river it's very contentious and a wedge has been driven between these two user groups," he said.

More important than the issue of the continued ban of paddlers on the Chattooga's headwaters is the ramification it may have in other areas.

"Basically, what this (ban) says is that it's OK -- acceptable -- to ban one use while allowing another. If they make this case and it passes into public policy, other land/river managers are going to say, 'Oh, wow, these aren't compatible uses,' and start banning them. Anglers are going to lose because they'll get banned from rivers where managers think paddling is more important and (vice versa). What you'll have land managers doing potentially is divvying up the rivers across the country."

AW is filing a 70-page document, which will include legal and scientific arguments, equitability and ethical arguments, on April 29 to the chief of the Forest Service in Washington, D.C. The Forest Service has 160 days to review the document and issue a recommendation to the original forester to either re-do the decision or let it stand.

Colburn said AW is very confident that the ban will be lifted. "One, the entire Forest Service 'analysis' of the issue is unreferenced, undocumented and it's only opinions. They have no data. Second, we're certain they broke multiple laws in making the decision, including violating the Wilderness Act. Thirdly, it's just discriminatory. Look at the inequalities of it: why should one group of American citizens have total access to a river while another is banned? There's no reason."

Colburn said that if the ban isn't repealed, AW will take the case to court.


Access Fund continues fight to allow climbing at Cave Rock

After a federal judge upheld the U.S. Forest Service's ban on climbing at Cave Rock, a multi-use recreational area in Nevada, the Access Fund board of directors voted to appeal the ruling. The Access Fund said it believes the climbing ban violates the First Amendment of the U.S. more

Paddlers File Suit Against US Forest Service

GAINESVILLE, GEORGIA - American Whitewater, the nation's leading non-profit whitewater river conservation organization, filed suit today to restore the public's ability to paddle the headwaters region of the 52-mile Wild and Scenic Chattooga River. The American Canoe Association, more

Paddlers Secure Chattooga Conservation, Paddling Remains Limited

Late last week, the US Forest Service released a Draft Environmental Assessment that proposes to continue denying the American public the simple right to float in canoes and kayaks down the Wild and Scenic Upper Chattooga River for most or all of the year depending on the section more

Lowepro Photo Sport 200 AW

When we hit the trail for a day hike, we try to pack as lightweight as possible – some rain gear, a small lunch, first aid and a water reservoir. And … then there’s the eight-pound DSLR camera and zoom lens to capture all the beautiful scenery. Whoops, not so light. We're left more

Did you hear?... AW and Teva partner on a series of 13 top whitewater events

American Whitewater and Teva are partnering on a series of 13 top whitewater events, all culminating with the first ever national championships -- one that is also sanctioned by the U.S. Freestyle Kayak Association. The series includes a completely restructured competition more

Team completes first legal upper Chattooga descent

January 5th and 6th of 2007 marked the first legal descent of the upper Wild and Scenic Chattooga River in over 30 years. A team of kayakers and canoeists took two days to explore the river, traversing countless rapids and small waterfalls as they traveled through a remote and more

Did you hear?... Nantahala Outdoor Center is AW's first Gold Level Corporate Sponsor

Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) of Bryson City, North Carolina, has become American Whitewater's first Gold Level Corporate Sponsor, contributing $10,000 in 2002 to "save, restore and protect access to whitewater rivers in the United States." For more information on participating more

Did you hear?... Werner Paddles announces $10,000 donation to American Whitewater

Werner Paddles has announced that it will make a donation of $10,000 to American Whitewater, supporting both specific efforts to secure access on the Skykomish River in Washington State, and to grow American Whitewater's access efforts nationwide. "This is an exciting shift in more

Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '08: Kayaks, canoes, apparel, PFDs, paddles and more

It really is amazing how fishing remains the big story in the paddlesports market. But the effort to target anglers reflects a broader trend -- all sorts of outdoor companies are seeking a broader audience. In the past, if a person didn't participate in one of a few core more