This episode features a conversation with Jack & Becky Wise from Wildwater.
Jack is the CEO of Wildwater and Becky writes the company’s blog and takes care of various duties to help run the company.
Wildwater, the oldest whitewater outfitter in the Southeast, started on the Chattooga River in 1971. Becky’s parents, Jim and Jeanette Greiner, pioneered the company, along with the help of their four children.
In 1971, Jim Greiner was at a conference in Alabama when heard the movie “Deliverance” was filming on a river somewhere in the southeast. He made a detour home from the conference to where he suspected the movie location was — the Chattooga River. He saw the movie crew filming and was intrigued enough to run the river himself. He was hooked! Soon afterward he started a commercial rafting business. He worked full time elsewhere, so his wife Jeanette relocated with her four young children to South Carolina during the summer months to run the business. Jim would drive over on the weekends to help raft guide. Becky started taking phone reservations when she was 10 years old and has remained involved in the business ever since.
After a few years of operating on the Chattooga more people were coming to the area and there was a growing concern that the river would be “loved to death”. Several people including Payson Kennedy (founder of Nantahala Outdoor Center ) and Claude Terry (founder of Southeastern Expeditions) took local congressmen down the river to show them the river gorge. Soon afterward they were successful in their pleas to then Georgia governor, Jimmy Carter, to seek Wild & Scenic designation.
The Chattooga River was designated by Congress in 1974 to be Wild and Scenic.
What does this mean? A river that earns designation as a National Wild and Scenic River becomes protected against development along its banks or in the river, must be free-flowing (no dams), has limitations on the size of trips going down at any one time for numbers of boats, and times between trip launches (for example only 7 rafts per trip, launched an hour apart), among other things.
The Chattooga is protected into perpetuity and is under the jurisdiction of the US Forest Service. There are just three outfitters permitted to operate on the Chattooga: Wildwater, Nantahala Outdoor Center and Southeastern Expeditions.
Excerpt from Becky’s blog
“The Chattooga River is the only National Wild and Scenic River in Georgia and South Carolina. It is a prized natural resource flowing from northeast to southwest through a protected wilderness corridor for 59 miles along the Georgia/South Carolina border in the southern Appalachian Mountains.
The Chattooga River is legendary for its intense rapids and rugged scenery and abounds with untouched wilderness, incredible sights as the gorge walls rise above you, and exciting rapids full of drops and whitewater!”
There is a 1/4 mile boundary on each side where there can be no construction, no roads, no motor vehicles or other man-made structures.
There are two roadways that cross the river, Highway 76 from South Carolina into Georgia; and Highway 28 from South Carolina into North Carolina. On the Georgia side of the river, Rabun County officials wanted to appease their local constituents and allowed existing access points into the river to remain open. Cars can drive into Earls Ford and Sandy Ford on the Georgia side.
For rafting guests, recreational paddlers, anglers, hikers, swimmers, etc., the 1/4 mile buffer means that all boats, gear, coolers and necessities must be hauled to and from the river. The reward of having this buffer is the wonderfully wild and scenic time on the river visitors experience!
There are four sections of the river.
Section I – mostly flat water great for fishing
Section II – starts from Hwy. 28 – Earls Ford, good for canoeing and kayaking
Section III – Earls Ford to Hwy. 76 gradient gets steeper and rapids increase
Section IV – Hwy. 76 to Lake Tugalo this section has 7-8 big rapids that are Class IV-V
Wildwater offers guided trips on Section III & IV
Its not the typical crazy, crowded trip down the river. The Chattooga is serene, beautiful and enjoyable with plenty of action for the adrenaline junkies. Note: the Chattooga is a dangerous river and it is recommended to go with a professional guide service or experienced paddlers.
In 2018, America celebrates 50 years of setting aside these incredible waterways for the enjoyment of all. It started with eight rivers in 1968 and today the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act protects over 200 stretches of river in 40 states and Puerto Rico.
True to their roots, Wildwater is based out of Long Creek, SC near the Chattooga. Their main office, reservation center and gift shop are located there. The Chattooga outpost offers 15-20 different adventures in Oconee County including: zip-line canopy tours, climbing walls, stand up paddle board instruction, and more. They also have some of the only places to stay near the the Chattooga. Their on-site lodging includes upscale rental cabins and group yurts. Check the website for more information.
They’ve come a long way since opening in 1971! Wildwater has rafting locations on 4 other rivers. They run trips on the Pigeon River (TN), Ocoee River (TN), Nantahala River (NC) and French Broad River (NC). They also have an areal adventure park in Asheville (NC).
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