Nantahala River reopens

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The Nantahala River in the Nantahala Gorge has reopened to the public for all uses. A technical team assessed the river for potential hazards from the recent landslides yesterday, Tuesday, Sept. 3, and did not find any areas of concern. The team included U.S. Forest Service staff and partners with...

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The Nantahala River in the Nantahala Gorge has reopened to the public for all uses. A technical team assessed the river for potential hazards from the recent landslides yesterday, Tuesday, Sept. 3, and did not find any areas of concern. The team included U.S. Forest Service staff and partners with the Nantahala Gorge Association and American Whitewater.

The landslides occurred Saturday Aug. 25, and created significant damage and debris blockages on US Highway 19/74. North Carolina Department of Transportation cleared all debris from the highway and repaired damaged portions by that following Tuesday morning.

Once the road opened, U.S. Forest Service sent in a team to assess landslide impacts to the Nantahala River and the scale of the cleanup effort. Contractors were immediately mobilized and began to remove landslide debris from the Nantahala River on Wednesday, after a field review and opinion from US Fish and Wildlife and US Geological Survey. The debris removal operations in the river were completed by the end of Friday, Aug. 30, three days later.

Contractors worked 12-hour days with as many as 9 excavators and 9 dump trucks at any given time. Throughout the entire operation, approximately 7,600 tons of soil and rock was removed and approximately 150 loads of woody debris.

Duke Energy released water on Saturday, Aug. 31.They had not performed a release since before the landslides occurred in order to provide a safe environment for U.S. Forest Service contractors to perform debris removal operations. They proceeded to release water through the long weekend in order to draw down lake levels and move back toward normal operation. Duke Energy, North Carolina Department of Transportation, Swain County Emergency Management Services, and the USFS monitored the water release and did not observe any significant impacts.

On Tuesday, Sept. 3, the U.S. Forest Service conducted some chainsaw work to remove potential strainers, downed trees in the river.  This was followed up by a float trip down the river to identify and address any additional concerns. The float team included the USFS, representatives from the Nantahala Gorge Association and American Whitewater. During the assessment, the team did not identify any additional obvious hazards.

"The landslide cleanup in the Nantahala Gorge has been a success. I appreciate the public's patience with us as we worked through it. In the end, I couldn't be happier and more grateful for all the support from Duke Energy, Swain County Emergency Management, NC-Department of Transportation, Nantahala Gorge Association, American Whitewater, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and all the Forest Service employees that worked tirelessly. Thank you all," said David Perez, Acting Nantahala District Ranger.

Paddlers should be aware that the impact of the landslides changed the river in some places.

The suspension of commercial rafting permits on the Nantahala River is unprecedented and has caused significant interruption to businesses during a key visitation period. Nantahala Outdoor Center is appreciative of the NCDOT, USFS, local contractors, and local emergency management for dedicating time to the precious regional resource that is the Nantahala River, said Jan Wojtasinski, VP Marketing with Nantahala Outdoor Center in a press release Wednesday.