By Emma Castleberry | Photos by Jeff Rich
From July 31 through August 2, MountainTrue will host the annual French Broad Riverkeeper Float. The three-day camping and paddling trip is a fundraiser for MountainTrue’s French Broad Riverkeeper programs. “This trip highlights the work we’ve done to help protect and improve the water quality of the French Broad,” says Anna Alsobrook, watershed outreach coordinator for MountainTrue. “It helps fund the programs we do that continue to protect the river. We also discuss in detail the plants, animals, geology and history around the river.”
Twelve years ago, French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson paddled the length of the French Broad River. When he returned, he received many inquiries about his trip. “From there, he began working on creating campsites and the paddle trail map,” says Alsobrook. This became the French Broad River Paddle Trail, a series of campsites connecting about 140 miles of the French Broad River. “In the past, we use to do the whole river, from Rosman to Douglas Lake, in one big, nine-day trip,” says Alsobrook. “We’ve since evolved with many iterations. Some trips are all flat water with stops at breweries, some incorporate the whitewater we have on the French Broad. This year, we’ll be on the whitewater section, starting in Hot Springs, and floating north across the Tennessee border.”
On July 31, the group, capped at about 30 guests, will launch boats near Hot Springs. The trip will meander through scenic areas of the river and over some easy rapids before finishing up at the river access near Highway 25/70. The trip’s guides will provide information about the Riverkeeper’s work to protect and clean the French Broad and other waterways in Western North Carolina. “We try to have some other cool, educational activities for each campsite, too,” says Alsobrook. “We’ve had astronomy, a bluegrass band and SUP Yoga in the past. We also have lots of donated local beers and a good corn-hole and Kan Jam tournament at the campsites.”
The French Broad Riverkeeper Float is beginner-friendly. Guests can rent duckies (inflatable kayaks), but seasoned boaters are welcome to bring their own gear. Well-mannered dogs and children are also welcome. “We’d like kids to know how to swim, and be okay in a boat all day,” says Alsobrook. “That usually equates to about seven years old, but we’re open to kids who are open to this kind of trip.” All meals will be provided by MountainTrue staff. All camping gear and clothing will be transported by staff as well. “You just have to go downstream,” says Alsobrook.
For the very adventurous, MountainTrue has added a one-day rafting trip of French Broad River’s Section 9 on July 30. This section starts in Barnard and flows through the Pisgah National Forest. Paddlers will enjoy Class II and III rapids throughout the trip, closing out the day with a Class IV rapid called Frank Bells. The trip will end in Hot Springs, where the full float will launch the following day.
Ray Jones, who has been paddling for more than 20 years, has been a regular attendee of the float trip since its beginning. “It is very laid back,” Jones says of the trip. “There are all levels of paddlers, from first-time paddlers to Olympic-class canoeists. The people who run it are great, and they really care about the river and the folks who use it.” Jones says that early trips on the paddle trail, before the campsites became well-established, were a little more challenging. “It has been great to see the campsites improve to the point where they are today,” he says. “It is a really good time, and you don’t have to be an experienced paddler to participate. It’s a great opportunity to learn about the French Broad River, and to have a great time doing it.”
There are still many spaces left on this year’s float trip. For more information or to register, visit MountainTrue.org/EventsCalendar