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Contested Case Closes Portion of Watauga River, AW Moves to Intervene (NC)

Posted: 06/24/2024
By: Kevin Colburn

American Whitewater has requested intervention in a contested case pending in the Office of Administrative Hearings challenging the rights of the public to recreate on sections of the Boone Fork and Watauga River, located near Boone, North Carolina. Our intervention is intended to provide the tribunal with factual evidence that the rivers are regularly paddled, legally and physically navigable, and thus open to the public for paddling. Paddlers that have run these sections are encouraged to contact American Whitewater through this form to help us document paddling use of these streams.

On June 6, 2024, Twin Rivers Property Owners’ Association, Inc filed a petition for a contested case hearing (a lawsuit) against the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission seeking a decision requiring the Commission to enforce fishing and wading prohibitions on the Watauga River and the Boone Fork as the rivers flow through Twin Rivers’ land. Among other assertions, Twin Rivers claims the streams are non-navigable and therefore not open to public trust recreational uses. While focused on angling, it appears likely that the case would also affect paddling rights and indeed already has. 

Twin Rivers’ navigability argument largely rests on false claims that the Boone Fork and Watauga could not be kayaked, are not kayaked, and are generally not navigable in their natural condition because they are too rocky and shallow. In North Carolina rivers that are capable of supporting kayaking are legally considered navigable and open to public use. Paddlers are well aware that the Boone Fork is in guidebooks and regularly paddled, and that this section of the Watauga River (just upstream of the Red Roof run) has also been paddled with regularity for decades. Both are Class II through the disputed reaches.  

Without the benefit of this information, the tribunal granted a Temporary Restraining Order indicating its initial assessment that Twin Rivers is likely to win the case. The result of this order is that for now these stream reaches are closed to public use and the Sheriff’s Office has been notified.  

American Whitewater has thankfully secured pro-bono counsel, Tom Blue, with the law firm of Ellis & Winters. We will work to secure our role as intervenors and, if permitted to intervene, to contribute factual information to the tribunal before a July 9th Preliminary Injunction hearing and a more overarching hearing scheduled for late September. This case has the potential to impact paddling rights elsewhere in the state by setting either positive or negative precedent.  

Paddlers - We Need Your Help 

American Whitewater needs affidavits from paddlers that have run the Boone Fork and/or the Watauga River upstream of the Red Roof section through the disputed reaches (See a Map). An affidavit is a signed and notarized letter that is submitted to the Court as evidence. We need this evidence to show the rivers are indeed recreationally navigable. If you are potentially willing to work with us to submit an affidavit please fill out this google form and we will be in touch. 

Donations to support this work are greatly appreciated. 


Kevin Colburn

Asheville, NC

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Associated Rivers

Boone Fork NC
Watauga River NC
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