Leave it to a couple of boaters known as the River Gypsies to dream up a whitewater festival on a waterway 2,900 miles from their home. Asheville, N.C.-based whitewater guidebook authors Leland and Andria Davis are helping to organize the Callaghan Creek Festival and Extreme Race on July 24 near Whistler, British Columbia. Leland Davis says that the goal of Callaghan Fest is to make B.C. a household name among paddlers – a lofty objective that might be the salvation of some of the best whitewater on the planet.
Currently, the Callaghan is among hundreds of B.C. rivers and creeks that could be destroyed by the province’s practically carte blanche policy governing the production and export of so-called “green” energy. “There are lots of people working on the demand side for the power,” says Davis. “But we want to raise interest in the beauty and value of letting these creeks flow free.”
At closer glance, the bustling ski resort town of Whistler seems like a shrewd choice to host a whitewater festival. If the value of whitewater paddling on scenic, challenging and free-flowing rivers is ever to be recognized as a viable alternative to hydroelectricity, Whistler – a community that appreciates the economic benefits of tourism – is a good place to start.
Proceeds of the Callaghan Fest go to the grassroots B.C. Creeks Protection Society, a conservation group aiming to raise public awareness of the environmental and recreational consequences of the province’s wholesale dam-building efforts, and U.S. heavy hitter American Whitewater. AW is presently working to convince the state of California – the primary buyer of B.C.-produced hydropower – that so-called “green” energy imposes a suite of irreversible ecological effects stemming from the construction of thousands of miles of roads and transmission corridors in virgin wilderness to the “dewatering” of prime salmon rivers and grizzly bear feeding areas. “Right now, California reaps benefits for buying this power because it’s said to be ‘green,'” says Davis. “But this type of power generation wouldn’t qualify for these incentives if it was produced in the U.S. [because of its environmental impacts].”
The cornerstone of the festival promises to be a two-mile-long downriver race for teams of two to three boaters, organized by local paddler Steve Arns. The course involves Class IV boulder gardens, 15- and 23-foot drops and an infamous, portage-worthy Class V known as “Dirty Old Bastard.” “It’s a long race, and by doing it in teams it will be more like a regular river run,” says Davis. “You and your team have to problem-solve all the way down and provide your own safety.”
When he first paddled Callaghan Creek in 2002, Davis hardly imagined that he’d help organize a festival on it eight years later. But he hopes that his efforts will stoke demand for wild rivers. “[Callaghan Creek] has become one of our favorites,” says Davis. “In years when we have only one place to go and paddle it’s always B.C. Not enough people realize that this great whitewater exists.” – Conor Mihell