How You Too Can Help Protect Rivers in Our National Forests

Cold, clear and undammed, the stunning Chattooga River originates in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Its highly technical Class III–V whitewater rushes through the rugged Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests, attracting anglers and expert paddlers, and slows eventually as it winds south, forming the border of Georgia and South Carolina and ending 57 miles later in Lake Tugalo.

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In 1974, Congress officially recognized the intrinsic value of the Chattooga by designating it a national Wild and Scenic River.

The most remote and wild part of the Chattooga is the 21-mile-long upper stretch of the river that flows through dense forest, rocky gorges and designated wilderness. If you’re a kayaker or fly fisher, access from a road to a put-in on the river can sometimes take the form of bushwhacking. On the approach to the river, quite a few primitive trails have formed over the years along the banks; these trails harm the riparian ecosystem—the trampled vegetation dies and bare dirt quickly turns to mud in this rainy region, washing sediment into the trout-filled river.

“Rogue user-created trails and even the actual access points are heavily impacted,” said Mark Shelley, the National Forest Foundation Director of the Eastern Region. “We need to firm up the trails and reduce ecological damage.”

Keeping the river running clear not only benefits the trout but the many people who love to fish, hike, paddle, guide, hunt and mountain bike in this beautiful area, as well.

Luckily, the Chattooga has an ardent advocate in the nonprofit National Forest Foundation (NFF), which works closely with the U.S. Forest Service and local partners to help restore and enhance our national forests. Recently the NFF included the Upper Chattooga River Scenic Corridor in its Treasured Landscapes, Unforgettable Experiences program. The program focuses on select national forest and grasslands sites around the country and brings resources and attention to these sites. As a result of being included, the river is deemed a critical resource deserving of serious financial and stewardship investment.

NFF’s Mark Shelley, based in Asheville, N.C., stated, “For western North Carolinians, a strong connection to our great outdoors is part of our identity. [Many] of us rely on this region’s bountiful natural resources for our livelihoods and recreation.” Shelley said the Treasured Landscapes campaign will allow local groups to come together to share in the restoration and stewardship of the Nantahala National Forest and the Chattooga River.

In the spring of 2018, the NFF, in partnership with the Forest Service and community partners, plans to improve three access points on the upper Chattooga: at Green Creek, Norton Mill and Bull Pen Bridge. For example, a 300-foot-long sustainable trail (a low-maintenance trail good for users and the environment) will be constructed below the Bull Pen Bridge; this will both greatly reduce erosion and allow kayakers to bypass the challenging rapids they’d immediately encounter if they put in at the existing launch area.

REI is donating $170,000 to the NFF for the creation of sustainable trails and multiple-use access launches at these three points. This amount is part of a larger donation, up to $1 million,* that the co-op is making to the NFF—for projects across the nation—through REI members using their REI Co-op Mastercard®.

To help block rogue trails, build new sustainable trails and put up educational signage, the NFF intends to work with the North Carolina Youth Conservation Corps. Paid crews of eight to 10 young people will work on each of the three access areas. The youth work seven hours per day, then spend an hour as a group learning about conservation, job and life skills, leadership and more. The NFF will hire professional contractors to tackle the more technical aspects of trail work, such as creating steps out of stone that will lead directly into the water.

It’s fitting that this work on the Chattooga will take place in 2018, the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. If you’re in the Asheville area, contact the NFF office to find out about volunteer opportunities on the river. If you do volunteer, make sure to give yourself extra time—once you experience the enchanting Chattooga, you’ll be tempted to sign up with a local outfitter for a guided fly-fishing or paddling tour as well.


Did you know?

Each time REI members make a purchase with their REI Co-op Mastercard, REI will make a donation to the National Forest Foundation—up to $1 million.* As the nonprofit partner of the U.S. Forest Service, the NFF works to restore and enhance ecosystems, trails, rivers, campsites and more in our treasured national forests. If you’re a cardmember, you can feel good knowing your purchases help make initiatives like this project possible.


*REI will donate $0.10 per REI Co-op Mastercard purchase transaction made between 4/1/2017 and 12/31/2017 to the National Forest Foundation, up to $1 million. Non-Purchase transactions, including cash advances, convenience checks, balance transfer, and other advance transactions as defined in the Cardmember Agreement, as well as interest charges and fees, do not qualify. Transactions occurring in late 2017 may be donated in 2018. REI may change the benefit or named charity in future years. REI is solely responsible for making the donation.

The creditor and issuer of the REI Co-op Mastercard® is U.S. Bank National Association, pursuant to a license from Mastercard International Incorporated.

©2017 U.S. Bank ©2017 Recreational Equipment Incorporated. All rights reserved.

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