Push for proposed federal designation for portion of the Nolichucky River to be given a closer look

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An eight-mile stretch of the Nolichucky River is being considered for a federal designation.

The portion of the river extends from Erwin, Tennessee to Poplar, North Carolina.

Last week, the Unicoi County Commission’s Rafting, Tourism and Economic Development Committee voted to table discussion on the “Wild and Scenic River” request for the Nolichucky River Gorge area.

Some private property owners and local farmers are wondering if this will put federal restrictions on that portion of the river.

“Whenever you put these classifications on there,” said Renea Rogers, President of the Unicoi Farm Bureau, “you open yourself up for so many things that are unattended consequences and that it could expand.”

Rogers said that can limit some farmers who rely on the water for irrigation.

“The may not have access to the river or imminent domain can come into impact with those property owners,” she said.

The movement for this initiative comes with support from the non-profit organization American Whitewater and other rafting organizations.

To date, more than 20,000 people have signed a petition to get the portion of the river declared wild and scenic.

“I think it would really benefit this community, both North Carolina and Tennessee,” said Matt Moses, President and CEO of USA Raft Adventure Resort, “simply by protecting it as we know it now.”

Moses said a “Wild and Scenic” designation would help preserve the recreation area for years to come.

“It basically assures that the river will not be dammed,” he said, “it also assures that things will be kept as they are, the Forest Service might change up their management plan a bit, keep a closer eye on things.”

The portion of river being considered is currently under management of the National Forest Service and would continue to be under the new designation.

“They can define a river corridor that includes private property, so that is an option,” said Matthew Rice, Unicoi County Commissioner and Chair of the Rafting, Tourism and Economic Development Committee, “but in this particular situation, that is not something that’s being pursued, the group is only interested in defining the corridor that is Forest Service Property on both sides of the river.”

Rice said the Rafting, Tourism and Economic Development Committee for Unicoi hopes answer more questions at a future meeting with state representatives and forest service officials.

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