Tallulah Releases Cancelled
Southeast drought continues to plague paddlers
Hopes for boaters in the Southeast dried up even more recently with the recent cancellation of releases on the Tallulah River, capping the end of one of the worst paddling seasons in the Southeast on record.
“It’s been a horrible year everywhere down here, from the Chattooga to the Pigeon,” says American Whitewater Executive Director Mark Singleton, adding that next spring’s Tallulah releases might be in jeopardy as well. “I’ve never seen it this bad.”
With three weekend-long Tallulah releases coming only two times a year, in the spring and fall, the cancellation hit local drought-plagued kayakers especially hard. “A bunch of folks are totally bummed that Tallulah’s not running this year,” says Eskimo Team Manager Greg Lawrence of Birmingham, Alabama. “In a perfect season, the Green and Ocoee run consistently, and then Tallulah comes on line, and then natural flows bring things up. But there’s simply no where to boat around here.”
While dam-released power-generating flows on the Ocoee were constant enough to sustain private paddlers and commercial outfitters through the fall, elsewhere in the region flows were fickle. “The Chattooga was reading just 0.36 on the gauge,” says Wayne Dickert of the Nantahala Outdoor Center, one of three outfitters on the river. “That’s the lowest in recorded history—it’s the worst anyone here has ever seen it.”
While bookings were down, NOC still somehow managed to run trips on the section, reverting to smaller, 10-foot rafts to scrape their way down. “I don’t know how our guides did it, but they still managed to show everyone a good time,” says Dickert.
While the channelized Chattooga was still able to float boats, other rivers weren’t as accommodating. The Pigeon shut down in mid-August, about three weeks earlier than usual. The French Broad was dismally low all season, at one point forcing NOC to move its annual YMCA Indian Princesses group to the Nantahala instead. And the center didn’t run any trips at all this year on the Nolichucky. While the river out its back door, the Nantahala, had water all season, it saw about two hours less flow per day. “They cut it back both in the morning and afternoon,” says Dickert. “We were able to work around it, but just had less time to do so.”
Flatwater paddlers and even powerboaters saw the drought’s effects as well. Lake Fontana, which the Nantahala feeds into, is at the lowest level local boaters have ever seen. “Usually, we use it for roll clinics,” says Dickert, “but now it’s just mud flats. Motor boaters weren’t able to use it all year.”
Another lake suffering from the drought is Georgia’s Lake Lanier. The host of the 1996 Olympic’s flatwater paddling events is now a shadow of its former self, with long mud flats prohibiting access.
Sums up Eskimo’s Lawrence: “Can you send us some rain down this way?”