By K.M. Collins
In the past 50 years, we have learned—all too slowly, I think—to prize and protect God’s precious gifts. Because we have, our own children and grandchildren will come to know and come to love the great forests and the wild rivers that we have protected and left to them . . . An unspoiled river is a very rare thing in this Nation today. Their flow and vitality have been harnessed by dams and too often they have been turned into open sewers by communities and by industries. It makes us all very fearful that all rivers will go this way unless somebody acts now to try to balance our river development.
– President Lyndon Johnson on signing the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, October 2, 1968
Many would argue the most outstanding Wild and Scenic River experience available to the general public on the west coast is floating the Rogue River, in Southern Oregon. Likewise for the east coast, the top Wild and Scenic River experience is named as rafting the Chattooga River in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Why were these rivers chosen for Wild and Scenic designations and why are they at the top of rafting wish lists for Guests and guides across the nation (and world)? Read on to find out…
East Coast versus West Coast
Although the Wild and Scenic Act was passed over fifty years ago, its ripple effect and how it has been implemented is very different coast to coast. The resulting number of Wild and Scenic River miles on the Pacific versus the Atlantic sides of the country vary greatly. North Carolina, the state that lays claim to the headwaters of the Chattooga, has around about 37,853 miles of river, total, of which 145 miles are designated as Wild & Scenic. Less than 0.5% of the state’s river miles. In contrast, Oregon, which lays claim to the Rogue, possesses something like 110,994 miles of river, total, of which 2,700ish miles are designated Wild & Scenic. Almost 2.4% of the state’s river miles. But don’t let percentages fool you. 145 Wild and Scenic River miles versus 2,700 miles is an order of magnitude different.
Why raft the Wild and Scenic Chattooga?
To be eligible to be considered as a Wild and Scenic River, a particular river segment needs to have at least one ‘Outstandingly Remarkable Value.’ The Chattooga has five: Recreation, biology, scenery, geology and history. For these reasons the Chattooga is a spectacularly beautiful place that appeals to rafters, hikers, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts of all types.
Woody Woodruff of Wildwater outfitters explains the Wild and Scenic value of the Chattooga to guests saying, “ The French Broad, Ocoee, Nolachuckey and many others are all great rivers in the SE, however, they have visible roads and/or railroad tracks. On the Chattooga, the Wild and Scenic corridor protects the river in every direction for a quartermile therefore no roads or railroads are visible while rafting.
“It’s one of the few places in this region, where a person can have a remote and Wild and Scenic experience 2 hours from Atlanta. If you draw a circle and include many major southern metro areas, city goers can get to the Chattooga in a matter of hours to escape the hustle and bustle. 12 million + people from Atlanta, Charlot, Greenville and Knoxville have access. Since there are only three permanent outfitters on this stretch and we launch every 45 minutes in solitude, it’s rare to see another group on the river at all.”
Zach Collier, river advocate and owner of Northwest Rafting Company which leads commercial trips on Wild and Scenic Rivers like the Rogue, Middle Fork of the Salmon, Illinois, Owyhee and Chetco says less protected river miles on the east coast makes the miles that are protected (like the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River) more desirable for Guests to experience.
“Although I haven’t yet been able to travel from the PNW to the Chattooga River, I have worked with many guides and management from the Wildwater operation (who’s been running commercial trips on the Chattooga since the 70s). They are wonderful people who love boating and love running great trips. The Chattooga is at the top of my list for Wild and Scenic zones to visit outside of the west coast.”
Why raft the Rogue River?
Like the Chattooga, the Rogue possesses endless ‘Outstandingly Remarkable Values.’ The ones that qualify it for Wild and Scenic protections are natural scenic qualities, fisheries resources, and recreational opportunities. Everyone from explorers, gold seekers, sports persons and hunters to rafters, hikers and families seeking splash and giggle experiences are drawn to the Rogue.
Woodruff says the lodges are lush green forest are what set the Rogue apart for him. Because the river was designated Wild and Scenic after a network of lodges where already in play (and jet boats) these operations were grandfathered in. In terms of forestation, many Wild and Scenic Rivers in the west are in high desert localities. The rich flora of madrone, oak, manzanita and wild azalea in the spring, surrounding the Rogue is a top notch selling point.
Rafting the Rogue with Woodruff in 2022 was a pleasure. Watching him and the Wildwater crew enjoy the splendor and beauty of the Rogue was an absolute delight. The author can’t wait to boat with both Collier and Woodruff again soon!
For more reading and conversation from the author on Wild and Scenic Rivers:
River Democracy, Source Weekly
Wild and Scenic Rodhouse: A new wave of female paddlers, NRS Duct Tape Diaries