By Dave Russell
The Tuckaseigee River has joined six other U.S. waterways in an elite club. American Rivers, a nonprofit working to preserve and protect the nation’s river, announced last week the Tuck has earned the Blue Trail designation. A Sunday cleanup of Scotts Creek and a celebration to follow will mark the occasion.
“The Tuckasegee River Blue Trail meanders for nearly 60 miles from the headwaters in Panthertown Valley through Cullowhee, Dillsboro and Bryson City ultimately joining the Little Tennessee River,” a new interactive online map says. “Just as hiking trails are designed to help people explore the land, Blue Trails help people discover rivers. Blue Trails provide a fun, exciting way to get kids outdoors, connect communities to treasured landscapes, benefit local businesses and contribute to a high quality of life.”
The map shows rapids, outfitters, dams, access points and other features along the way, such as RV parks and campgrounds.
The Tuckaseigee is the seventh stream to receive the designation, and the second in North Carolina, joining Hitchcock Creek in Richmond County, according to Gail Lazaras, American Rivers’ associate director for Southern Appalachia.
South Carolina’s Wateree, Ashley and Waccamaw; the Verde in Arizona and the Eagle in Colorado are the other designations in the American Rivers program.
It’s hard to say what exactly it means for the region, as each Blue Trail designation brings something different, Lazaras said.
“So much about the Blue Trail is community driven, so it’s going to be a little bit different with each community,” she said. “Each waterway is different, too. You’re going to be marketing something different in Colorado than you would, say, the Waccamaw in South Carolina.
“The Blue Trail gives a river wider visibility and helps to get people to partner in the area,” she said. “It helps promote environmental improvements for the area too.”
The Blue Trail program is a program of American Rivers and the locals who work for it.
“All you need is the desire to do so,” Lazaras said. “If a community feels they want to have a Blue Trail, they can contact the Blue Trail folks, partners in the area and other organizations. The Blue Trail organization would help coordinate and make it happen, just like it did here in the Tuck.”
American Rivers is partnering with the Watershed Association of the Tuckaseigee River, the Town of Sylva and others to implement strategies and best management practices to keep the Tuck and its tributaries clean, said Erin McCombs, conservation director For Southern Appalachia.
McCombs points to Hitchcock Creek as a Blue Trail success story.
“The creek was dammed and neglected and the community came together to make it a focus,” she said.
The dam was removed in 2009 and the City of Rockingham worked to clean it up. It became a Blue Trail in 2014.
It was virtually unused and is now an economic driver, as outfitters have popped up to supply visitors and locals with watercraft, she said. With visitors comes business opportunities to supply them with food and other amenities.
The Blue Trail process for the Tuckaseigee began about five years ago, she said.
Maps will be available at the meeting Sunday.
“They’re waterproof and ready for adventure,” she said.
The maps will be available at select spots around the region in the future. There will be .pdf versions in addition to the interactive map.
“The Tuck, as it’s known by locals, is one of the county’s greatest assets, and the Blue Trail map by American Rivers helps highlight key points of interest,” said Nick Breedlove, executive director of the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority. “We think our residents and visitors will really appreciate this handy guide.”
The TDA provided American Rivers with photographs and other key assets, he said. He also made sure the map and designation highlighted the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail, a product of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce.
“The Blue Trail designation is another wonderful way to encourage water adventurists of all ages and abilities to take advantage of the awesome rivers and streams in our area, and to take pride in the preservation process through participation in clean up efforts,” Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Director Julie Spiro said.