Tag Archives: Big Sandy River

When it comes to Eco-Adventure Tourism; Elkhorn City has it all! So Let’s Get It Done!

This is a guest post by my friend Hunter Doerr.  He wrote this as a response to my last post  Our deepest Fear? Elkhorn City can be Powerful … Beyond Measure! A Mini Manifesto on Economic Development in Elkhorn City, Kentucky.
As a kayaker and backpacker I’ve had the luxury of traveling to some really neat and amazing places. Some of which you mentioned above.
Last time I was at theNantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), I took off after work with a friend and drove the 4 hours to purchase a new kayak. While there we were dining in a really cool little restaurant over the river,  it hit me. I’ve said along that Elkhorn City could be great, and we have discussed the possibilities for Elkhorn City, but sitting in this restaurant it really hit home. There is about a three hundred yard section of river that has been slightly tweaked to make the whitewater a little more ‘fun’. As we were eating we saw everything from a father teaching his very young son how to sit in boat, to advanced kayakers having a blast on the whitewater course. This change to the river is now the reason they host several national playboating competitions that bring in people from all over. The river flows under a bridge (almost identical to Elkhorn City’s layout) on either side of the bridge is the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), on the other side are the rafting companies and several places to stay the night. Everything from primitive camping to a nice cabin. As you drive upstream to the ‘put-in’, you pass at least 10/15 rafting companies that do great every summer and stay booked with business.
There are more restaurants and shops along the way as well. Sitting in this restaurant it really became apparent that not only can Elkhorn City do the exact same thing, but it’s crazy it’s not in progress already. We have everything the NOC has and even more in my opinion. The Russell Fork has it all, flat water activities like canoeing, and fishing. There is also some of the best whitewater in the country about ten miles upstream from Elkhorn City that people already travel to from other countries because of its beauty and challenge. Below that is a beginner/intermediate whitewater section as well. It’s like going to ski resort and having your choice of hitting the greens, blues, or blacks!! I really hope I am still around when Elkhorn starts to morph into one of these great little towns where the locals should be proud and share the towns attributes with everyone. Lets get on it!!!
Hunter Doerr

Endurance Athletes Converge on Breaks Interstate Park

Adventure Racing makes its debut in the area by testing racers over a grueling 15 hour course.

Elkhorn City, KY. April 13, 2013: Racers from across the U.S. compete in a challenging event beginning at Breaks Interstate Park. Over the 15 hour course, racers will run, bike and paddle all while using a map and compass to find their way through some of the toughest terrain the area has to offer. To complete the event, athletes will push themselves over 65 very challenging miles.
The Breakdown Adventure Race is bringing a collection of extreme athletes to the area imposingly dubbed, “The Grand Canyon of the South”. Starting in the immense and spectacular gorge area of Breaks Interstate Park, along the Kentucky/Virginia border, racers will begin an adventure with miles of mountain-high biking, scenic backcountry, and clear, gorgeous waters. For some, the goal will be just to reach the finish line, while others will be competing to qualify for a spot at the USARA National Adventure Racing Championships.
As a never-before raced venue, the inaugural Breakdown will hopefully introduce racers to what the area has to offer, and will grow each year with some really exciting prospects on the horizon.
Shawn Lemaster, one of the Race Directors for 361°Adventures, is excited about bringing a race of this caliber to an area that’s actively embracing and searching for eco-tourism type of activities. “Growing up in Kentucky, I kind of took for granted how beautiful and rugged my home turf was, but revisiting Breaks Park was incredible. It’s one of those places that’s so scenic it seems misplaced – like you should have to travel somewhere on vacation just to see.”
Lemaster also commented on the unbelievable amount of cooperation from all the local agencies involved in making this a reality, “Across the board, we’ve received nothing but warm welcome and support. Breaks, Elkhorn City, Haysi, the folks at Pine Mountain Trail, the Army Corps of Engineers, the East Kentucky Trackers… you name it, they’ve all been on board and invaluable to making this a success.”
The action begins the weekend of April 13, 2013.

Elkhorn City Growth? … Just Add Water!

This is a guest post by my good friend Brent Austin.  Brent is an attorney from Lexington, Kentucky.  Brent has been coming to Elkhorn City and the Russell Fork for years and has a unique perspective on how Elkhorn City can reach its true potential.


I have been recreating in the Breaks Interstate Park and enjoying the Russell Fork river, since the fall of 1989. Some of you may remember those days, especially in the early 90s when each fall, the towns of Elkhorn City, KY and Haysi, VA, would be jammed packed with “Rafters”, the term given for each and every person that “rode” the river, whether in a raft, kayak or canoe. We would sit in amazement while raft load after raft load came careening down El Horrendo and other rapids in the Gorge. Back then, the Gateway Motel was jam packed and you could not count on a room. The Breaks Park was filled with campers who had come to paddle the river from all over the world. The Rusty Fork Restaurant was not there yet, so many of us jammed in long lines at the Breaks Buffet waiting to eat. The room was usually filled with whitewater folks and it was clear that this area had promise. At that time, areas like Bryson City NC, home area of the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) and Fayetteville, WV, situated close to the New and Gauley Rivers, were just starting to grow from the tourism that the rivers in the area brought. And, so it seemed that the potential of Elkhorn City, KY could, too, become such an end target for the discerning whitewater and outdoor adventurer. Heck, even me and James Stapleton thought, for a moment, back in 1995 that the town was perfectly situated for our new outdoor recreation store we considered opening: Appalachian Outdoor Center. We even had Tee shirts and hats embroidered while I was on a kayaking trip in Nepal that year. All we needed was for the Army Corp of Engineers to do what they did at the Gauley River and boom! Instant presto, we would have water and a destination for paddlers all over the world, just like in Bryson City and in Fayetteville. Of course that was when we were a bit younger, less jaded, had that fire in our belly, and thought we could reason with the Army Corp to get managed releases.

Years later, with many gray hairs on my head and in my 50s, I now find myself heading to the Russell Fork from Lexington every chance I get, water level dependent. But, there are now newer, younger paddlers and we have had many studies performed, the river environment the subject of a doctoral thesis and even plans for a whitewater park, if we could get the ACOE to commit to provide us with 200 – 250 cfs, a few times a week for a few hours, during the summer. But, none of that has led to any change in the water management since the early 90s and today, with water management, other than in the first four weekends in October, erratic, undependable and impossible to predict for those not glued to the various gauges, lake levels and flow management criteria, folks look and they go elsewhere. Even then, other than those of us close enough to make a day trip, the RF remains off the radar for the bulk of the world’s whitewater paddlers, again, unless we are talking the first four weekends in October.

Recently, I have been frustrated because as I age, have a family and work responsibilities that keep me close to home, I really look forward to opportunities to go to the Breaks, paddle the river and do some of the activities in the area that my family would enjoy as well. This past Memorial Day is a perfect example. I wanted to go to the river and saw that the lake was a bit over summer pool and that it was not high enough to be a problem. If the ACOE had chosen to do so, they could have saved the 300 cfs release they started on a Tuesday and ended on a Thursday, for the weekend, thus guaranteeing that there would be flow for recreation over the weekend. A simple “call in” recording announcing the release for the weekend, would have spread like wildfire on Boater Talk and other paddling forums, and no doubt, the area would have seen a large influx of folks from all over. But, there was no water left by the weekend and that was not an opportunity for me and my family to come enjoy the river. As a result, we went to the Smoky Mountains where I paddled the Cheoah River and we spent our money eating out in Gatlinburg instead of in the Pike County area. It seems kinda simple for folks like me: Do you want to see Elkhorn City grow? If so, then “Just Add Water”. You will be stunned what will happen.

See you on the river,

Brent Austin

A Great Day to Get Wet!

Sunday, July 10th,  2011, was a beautiful day in Elkhorn City and a good day for our little tourism industry.  Ratliff’s Hole was full of people using the Russell Fork River.  I saw 42 different paddlers in the river and 50 plus swimmers.   The most interesting sight was the two folks using an air mattress and running down the river from the put in down to the play hole.  They were having a blast, as was everyone using the river that today.

Last week, I saw two boaters from Alaska eating at the Rusty Fork Cafe.  This morning I saw 13 boaters eating at the Rusty Fork.  Today the license plates in the parking lot where from Fayette County, Jefferson County, Letcher County, Boyd  County, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

     What amazes me about this is I saw about  8 locals at Ratliff’s Hole and only two of them using the river.  Everyone else was  out of county or out-of-state.  Just like a prophet is not known in his or her hometown, the cleanest and most beautiful river in the eastern United States isn’t either.  It makes me sad that we have such  a great asset and it seems that most of the local people have no appreciation for  it.  Well, I guess they are all in South Carolina keeping Myrtle Beach in business.  I heard that at the end of the month of July, South Carolina has  to bring in the heavy equipment just to get the coal dust off the beach!
     Another  area of adventure tourism Elkhorn City is seeing some benefits from is the Transamerica  76 cross-country bike Trail.   Today, I also saw 5 bicyclists coming through town on the Transamerica Trail.  Earlier in the week a group of 10 came through and a couple  of them had some mechanical breakdowns.  This has happened a lot this year.  It really points out the need for a small bicycle shop in town.  We used to have one back in the early 1990’s and it did pretty well.  In fact, I bought my bicycle from “Bike Mike” at the Mountain Bike Shop.  It was next to the post office on one side of the old Western Auto  building.
Today reinforced to me they need for the Elkhorn City to develop the Russell Fork River in its downtown.  The Elkhorn City Area Heritage Council has a detailed plan regarding a whitewater in river play park for the downtown area.  I can imagine 100 times  the activity I saw today at Ratliff’s Hole right in the middle  of  downtown Elkhorn City when it is completed.  You can find the plan here and it is well worth the read.  Take a look and let me know what you think.

Come see the Pretty Water

Breaks Canyon, located in Breaks Interstate Park.
Image via Wikipedia

On a beautiful Sunday morning in April, at 8:30 am I hear …”Pre wa wa daddy” …. “Pre wa wa daddy.”  At first I can’t make out what my, two year old, Tymee Jo is saying.  She just turned two on March 17th and single words have started to become simple sentences.  “What, baby girl?” I said.  “Pre wa wa, daddy!”  It then dawns on me that she wants to go see the pretty water.

She and I  have been taking a short drive up to Ratliff Hole on Saturday mornings, since the warm weather has begun,  and I have told her to look at the Pretty Water.  Ratliff Hole is the local name for the Breaks Interstate Park, river access area about a mile east of Elkhorn City, Kentucky.

She enjoys it and is content for up to half an hour setting in my lap and watching the in the pretty water.

Upon reflection, I have realized that she is content watching the pretty water because I am content watching the pretty water.  There is a cleansing that comes with watching the pretty water.  It seems that the ups and downs, bumps and bruises, and stress and strain of the week float away with the rush of river.  The sound of the water is soothing and the smell of spring is invigorating.

Often, time slows down when Tymee Jo and I go watch the pretty water. The hour we spend together at the river is a source of renewal and strength for me and an amazing time of wonder and discovery for her.  I sometimes look at Tymee Jo’s red hair reflecting against the clear green river and realize that all is perfect at this time in this place.

So if you ever need some time for reflection and renewal come and see the pretty water. You will probably see Tymee Jo and I sitting by the river.

The pretty water in this post is the Russell Fork of the Big Sandy River.  It is the

The Russell Fork with Pine Mountain in the background

most pristine waterway in the Commonwealth of Kentucky form the Virginia state line through Elkhorn City, Kentucky.  The Russell Fork is a destination for thousands of boaters, paddlers, fisherman and pretty water watchers like Tymee Jo and I.

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