A temporary release of greater water flow on the Upper Nantahala River in late September provided recreational boaters with an opportunity for a thrill – and provided students and faculty members in the Parks and Recreation Management Program an opportunity to survey their satisfaction with it.
The program’s Maurice Phipps, Ben Tholkes and Cass Morgan guided the design of the survey distributed and collected by the students during the two-day event, as well as the collation of data into a report titled “First Upper Nantahala River Recreational Water Release: A Whitewater Boater Experience Evaluation.” Students Jordan Grant, Cody Jones, Stephen Parsons and Zedron Porter participated, and Morgan supervised the study.
Recreational releases of water are mandated eight days a year by the federal government’s license to Duke Energy for operation of hydroelectric dams on the river, issued last February. Increases in flow from these first releases – totaling as much as 425 cubic feet per second – provided between Class III and Class V water conditions on the Upper Nantahala and Cascades runs for advanced paddlers of kayaks, inflatable rafts and other whitewater craft. Difficulty in whitewater navigation is ranked by class, with Class I generally regarded as navigable by novice floaters and Class V (sometimes VI) very difficult to almost impassable by expert/experienced paddlers.
Because large numbers of paddlers were expected Saturday, Sept. 29, and Sunday, Sept. 30, free shuttle service to facilitate multiple runs was provided by Nantahala Outdoor Center. An outdoor recreation treat (a Clif Bar) was provided by another sponsor, American Whitewater, as an incentive to respond to the survey. Students administered the nine-question, one-page surveys in the powerhouse area in Beechertown both days. In all, 328 surveys were collected and 252 fully completed surveys were available for data analysis. Phipps estimated that 750 to 800 paddlers participated in the event.
The surveys queried demographics, type of craft used, area of the river covered (and how many runs), plus opinions on flow level, difficulty, acceptability of river characteristics and satisfaction with shuttle service.
Almost 100 percent of respondents felt that the experience met their expectations. About two-thirds selected “outstanding” as a description of their overall experience.
Comments included observations about the runs, suggestions and a few criticisms that were factored into conclusions and recommendations of the report written by the survey group from WCU.
“The research was good experience for the students and good service to the region,” said Phipps.
Future recreational releases will be scheduled on the Nantahala River for a Saturday and Sunday in April, plus four summer afternoons in addition to the two-day autumn release each year. Recreational releases also are planned for the dam at Lake Glenville on the Tuckaseigee River. Duke Energy posts PDF calendars of scheduled releases for the two rivers at the website page http://www.duke-energy.com/lakes/nantahala/nan-scheduled-flow-releases .
By Keith Brenton