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for the Hiwassee, Nottely, and Valley Rivers
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Frequently Asked Questions about Water-Based Recreation in the Hiwassee River Watershed

1. Are there significant rapids on the rivers, and where are they?

The Clay County section of Hiwassee River between Tusquittee Road and Sweetwater Park, particularly from the Lance Cove Road area downstream, has significant rapids (Class II+ & III) when TVA is operating Chatuge Dam at full generation capacity. This beautiful section offers thrills, but also serious hazards, and should not be attempted by beginning canoeists or kayakers at high flow. Rafters too, must take caution, and anyone floating this section should make sure to launch under safe conditions.

At high water, there is one Class IV rapid in the "Paradise" section of Hiwassee River between Mission Dam and Wells Bridge in Cherokee County. Immediately below Mission Dam, the rapids are Class II+ at high flow.

There is a series of Class II & III rapids for several hundred yards below Nottely Dam when TVA is generating electricity.

The "Ranger to Rominger" section of the Nottely River has many Class II rapids from "Die Bend" to the lake. It is a quarter mile float on the lake in summer to the take out at Rominger Creek. There is not yet signage, but the landmark is an old railroad trestle crossing the creek. Take care not to miss it. This section is quite difficult to float at low water (when TVA is not discharging from Nottely Dam). There are no take-outs on this 4.4-mile section, so assess the river conditions before committing to this float.

Likewise, the "Lance Cove Road area" of the Hiwassee River (Clay County) is fairly shallow at low flow. [Please note that the bank of the Hiwassee River at Lance Cove Rd. is private property (even though the road that is very close to the river is public) and the landowners do not want the property used for river access.]

The Valley River above the G. Forest Hargett River Access Area is only navigable with canoes and kayaks at high flow. Beware of a strand of barbed wire across the river below Main Street in Andrews. This wire can be electrically charged and is very dangerous.

2. What portages or obstacles should I be aware of?

There are four dams on the Hiwassee River. Three of the dams are large TVA hydropower dams with no provisions for portage. Chatuge and Apalachia both have significant dewatered reaches immediately below them, making portage even more difficult. Hiwassee Dam is one of the highest overspill dams in the world.

Mission Dam is a smaller, run-of-river hydropower dam owned and operated by Duke Energy. It is between Chatuge and Hiwassee Dams near the Cherokee/Clay county line. There is a 1,300-foot (0.2 mi) portage trail around this dam, constructed and maintained by the company. The portage trail follows a portion of the old Peavine Railroad bed.

Other obstacles: Be aware of strainers (any obstacle that water can pass through, but people and boats cannot), which can be quite dangerous to paddlers, especially during high water. Strainers are most often made up of recently fallen trees, or logjams. The section of Hiwassee River from "The Y" to Tusquittee Road is notorious for strainers. Extra caution should be used, particularly at high flow. Valley River is also prone to strainers, however, local people are more apt to clear them on that river.

3. Where can I get information about river levels and flows?

The Valley River is the only major river that is not impounded by a dam and is limited only by rainfall and runoff. There is a USGS gaging station at Tomotla (0350000) with real-time flow information for the river: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nc/nwis/uv?site_no=03550000 TVA provides a very limited amount of information about predicted power generation schedules and observed discharge data (from the dams - not river flows) in the Hiwassee River watershed. Data is available for each dam by choosing the dam of interest from the drop-down menu at this site: http://www.tva.com/river/lakeinfo/index.htm. A free mobile app called "TVA Lake Info" is also available for this information. Chatuge and Nottely each only have one generator; however, TVA has the ability to run the Chatuge generator at half capacity resulting in two discharge levels (roughly 740 and 1430 cfs).

Stream flow information is available for the Hiwassee River ABOVE Lake Chatuge in Towns County, GA and the Nottely River ABOVE Lake Nottely in Union County, GA at the following site: http://www.tva.com/lakes/streams.htm.

TVA does not currently adhere to any set schedule for discharges/flow releases from any of its Hiwassee River watershed dams. There are no "recreation releases" and the information found online is sometimes inconsistent with actual practice. Boaters must use caution when planning trips on the Nottely River and on the Clay County reach of the Hiwassee River. On the Hiwassee River in Clay County in particular, the "river rises rapidly without warning" signs are an understatement and when the dam is operating at full generation (1,400 cfs out of the dam), the effects are still very serious at Sweetwater Park nearly 14 miles downstream!

4. I don't have a lot of paddling experience, but would like to take a float trip in the Hiwassee River watershed. Where would be good to go?

The Hiwassee River from Wells Bridge to the Hiwassee Street or Payne Street boat ramps in Murphy at any flow level is a good float trip for less experienced canoeists and kayakers. The lower end of the Valley River is also easy (Black & Gold Bridge to Payne Street), but in the summer months, Hiwassee Lake makes half the trip from Konehete Park to Payne Street flat water. Going with a guide is a good way for people without much paddling experience to get to know the rivers of the Hiwassee watershed (See question 5 below).

5. Are there outfitters providing float trips on rivers in the Hiwassee River watershed?

Wood's Outdoor Adventures offers guided canoe trips on the rivers and lakes, as well as fly fishing, hiking, and other outdoor adventures. Wood's Outdoor Adventures currently has private arrangements for put-in and take-out along the Valley River and can offer shorter float trips (and float fishing trips) in the 11-mile midsection where no public access is currently available. There are no large commercial outfitters in the Hiwassee River watershed at the present time. Other water-sports companies that operate primarily on lakes in the watershed include:
6. Can I fish, swim, or drink the water?

Valley River from Vengeance Creek (near NC 141 in the Marble Community) to the Hiwassee River at Murphy and Hiwassee River from Tusquittee Creek (Hayesville) to Calhoun Creek below and including Mission Reservoir are impaired for bacteria and therefore are considered unsafe for swimming. Swimming in other areas should be done at your own risk.

Avoid drinking river or lake water, as natural waters can contain pathogens and pollutants. Water can be filtered from the river, but it is a better idea to bring extra water. If the river is muddy, it can make filtering water very difficult.

Fishing is excellent on rivers and lakes in the Hiwassee River watershed, but don't forget to get your NC, GA and/or TN fishing license to do so legally. Valley River is Hatchery-Supported Trout Waters from Andrews to Murphy.

7. What animals and plants should I be aware of for safety reasons?

The Hiwassee River watershed is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the southeast. There are two species of poisonous snakes in our area, copperheads and timber rattlesnakes. Bears are found throughout Western North Carolina, but it is unlikely that you will see one along the rivers. Poison ivy is widespread in the Hiwassee River watershed; stinging nettle is also a nuisance plant.

Copperheads are tan to brown snakes with darker hourglass-shaped crossbands down the length of the body with large, triangular heads and elliptical pupils (cat eyes). In the mountains, copperheads are most common on dry rocky hillsides and sometimes den communally with timber rattlesnakes on open, south-facing hillsides. Fortunately their venom is not very potent and human deaths from copperhead bites are exceedingly rare. Pets are more susceptible to serious injury and death. Most snake bites occur when someone tries to kill or harass a snake, so the best way to avoid a bite is to leave any snake you find alone.

Timber Rattlesnakes can be found in a variety of habitats including rocky outcrops and deciduous forests. Their venom can be fatal. Seek immediate medical attention if you are bitten by a rattlesnake.

Poison Ivy is a plant that causes a skin rash if the plant makes contact with skin. The rash is caused by contact with oil (urushiol). The oil is present in all parts of the plants, including the leaves, stems, flowers, berries, and roots. Familiarize yourself with this plant and avoid walking through or touching it. Do not burn it - smoke inhalation can also cause an allergic reaction. If you touch poison ivy, wash contacted skin and/or clothing immediately after contact to prevent skin reaction.

Black Bears are widespread and common throughout the Hiwassee River watershed. Please be aware, even though it is unlikely you will see one. If camping, avoid leaving food out overnight and store away from tent.

8. What wildlife might I see while paddling on rivers and lakes in the Hiwassee River watershed?

The rivers of the Hiwassee River basin flow through a great diversity of habitats and ecosystems. Beavers are common and have been known to startle paddlers by slapping their tails on the water. Deer and muskrats are also common, particularly along the Hiwassee River; and river otters can also be seen, especially in Apalachia Lake.

Some of the notable bird species include great blue herons, green herons, kingfishers, Canada geese, wood ducks, mallards, ospreys, hawks and bald eagles.

In terms of aquatic ecology, the Valley River and Hiwassee River in Cherokee County are the most biodiverse, with dozens of species of fish, including six species of redhorse, as well as hellbenders (giant salamanders) and rare mussel and crayfish species.

9. What are Leave No Trace Practices and Principles?

There are seven (7) principles:
  1. Plan Ahead and Be Prepared
    • Learn about river-specific issues, regulations, and permits.
    • Use maps to plan your trip.
    • Schedule your trip so that you encounter appropriate river flows for your group's ability.
    • Repackage food to minimize waste.
    • Know river skills and carry necessary equipment to minimize your impact.
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
    • Durable surfaces include rock, gravel, and sand above the high water line.
    • Focus activity where vegetation is absent.
    • Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
    • Leave campsites clean and natural looking.
    • When on day hikes in the river corridor, walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when muddy.
    • In pristine areas, disperse use to prevent creation of new trails or campsites.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
    • Pack it in, pack it out.
    • Use washable, reusable toilet or other approved method to pack out human waste, toilet paper and tampons. http://www.cleanwaste.com/wag-bag
    • Scatter liquid waste 200 ft. from water, campsites, and trails.
    • Use a tarp in the kitchen to catch food and trash.
    • Pack out all small food particles and trash.
  4. Leave What you Find
    • Appreciate ancient structures, artifacts, rock art, and other natural objects, but leave them undisturbed.
    • Do not build structures or dig trenches in campsites.
    • Avoid introducing non-native species, including live bait, by cleaning equipment between trips.
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
    • Minimize campfire impacts by using camp stoves.
    • Use a fire pan or designated fire ring for open fires and charcoal.
    • Elevate fire pan and use fire blanket to catch embers.
    • Use dead and downed wood.
    • Burn all wood and charcoal to ash.
  6. Respect Wildlife
    • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
    • Never feed wildlife; it damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
    • Protect wildlife by storing food and trash securely.
    • Control pets or leave them at home.
    • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, or when food is scarce.
  7. Be Considerate of Others
    • Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
    • Communicate with other river visitors about your floating and camping plans.
    • Leave larger campsites for large groups, or share the space.
    • Avoid camping or eating near major rapids where scouting and portaging take place.
    • Non-motorized crafts usually have right-of-way over powerboats; slower boats should keep to the right.
    • Upstream boat has right-of-way.
    • Let nature's sounds prevail.

10. What does class III rapids mean? How do they categorize river rapids?

The International Scale of River Difficulty is a standardized scale used to rate the safety of a stretch of river, or a single rapid. The grade reflects the technical difficulty and skill level required associated with the section of river. There are six levels each referred to as "Grade" or "Class" followed by a number. The scale is not linear, nor is it fixed. For instance, there can be hard grade twos, easy grade threes, and so on. The grade of a river may change with the level of flow. Often a river or rapid will be given a numerical grade, and then a plus (+) or minus (-) to indicate if it is in the higher or lower end of the difficulty level.

Class I: Easy
Waves small; passages clear; no serious obstacles.

Class II: Medium
Rapids of moderate difficulty with passages clear. Requires experience plus suitable outfit and boat.

Class III: Difficult
Waves numerous, high, irregular; rocks; eddies; rapids with passages clear though narrow, requiring expertise in maneuvering; scouting usually needed. Requires good operator and boat.

Class IV: Very Difficult
Long rapids; waves high, irregular; dangerous rocks; boiling eddies; best passages difficult to scout; scouting mandatory first time; powerful and precise maneuvering required. Demands expert boatman and excellent boat and good quality equipment.

Class V: Extremely Difficult
Exceedingly difficult, long and violent rapids, following each other almost without interruption; riverbed extremely obstructed; big drops; violent current; very steep gradient; close study essential but often difficult. Requires best person, boat, and outfit suited to the situation. All possible precautions must be taken.

Class U or VI: Unraftable
Formerly classified as unrunnable by any craft. This classification has now been redefined as "unraftable" due to people having recently kayaked multiple Class VI around the world. (Some consider rafting on a class VI river suicidal, and only extreme luck or skill will allow you through).

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