By Susan Elliott
A Southeast native, Curtis England was encouraged to play in whitewater from a young age. "Our family did a lot of canoe and rafting trips on the Hiwassee River in Tennessee," he tells. "My parents encouraged us to swim and play in the rapids, so I developed a love for rivers from a young age." At age 10, he slipped into a whitewater kayak and has never looked back. "I knew I would find a way to paddle and explore rivers every chance I got."
At one point in his travels, he lived along the banks of the Nolichucky River, guiding by day and living the guide camp dream by night. The inspiration to take action to protect the Nolichucky River Gorge, however, didn't hit him until he sat thousands of miles away on the banks of Chile's rivers. There, he hung out with river activists that ignited a spark for him to do more. "I saw the power and impact that local communities could have when they stood together for a cause they believe in," he describes of the momentum that started in 2017 to protect the 7.2-mile section on the North Carolina-Tennessee border. "I started with an online petition, which quickly grew to over 20,000 signatures. I encouraged supporters to voice support to their senators and representatives. With the help of American Whitewater and countless other dedicated individuals, we can say that the momentum is really growing."
What is different about a Wild and Scenic River compared to most other rivers you've floated?
The undeveloped wild-ness, pristine beauty and solitude. There's a sense of adventure that comes with going into a Wild and Scenic River corridor that you usually don't get on more developed or crowded rivers. One of the requirements for the WSR act is that the stream be free-flowing. There's simply nothing better than paddling a river that's guaranteed to be a little different every time you go.
If you could protect another river as Wild and Scenic, which would it be and why?
The Nolichucky River on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee exhibits many 'outstandingly remarkable values' that make it well suited for the next Wild and Scenic River in the Southeast. The combination of free-flowing rapids, beautiful scenery, and delicate ecology make it unique amongst rivers in the region. A Wild and Scenic designation would invigorate the growing tourism economy of the local mountain towns and showcase one of our region's best rivers on a national level.
What is your favorite local Wild and Scenic River and why?
The Chattooga River. It's one of the few major rivers we have in the region that has been preserved close to its wild and natural state. You're sure to feel like you're on a real adventure when experiencing world-class rapids among the Chattooga's beautiful wilderness. So far, it's the only commercially rafted Wild and Scenic River in the East, and serves as a great success story in river stewardship.
MORE FROM C&K
— Read Part I in Voices for Wild and Scenic on Minnesota guide and river advocate Duncan Storlie.
— Check out Susan and Adam Elliott’s new ‘Paddling America’ guidebook, inspiring exploration of 200 protected U.S. rivers.