Planning Commission looks for ways to reel in money from Watauga River

By Lesley Jenkins
Star Staff

   The Carter County Planning Commission met Tuesday afternoon for its regularly scheduled monthly meeting and discussed charging businesses a fee for coming into Carter County to conduct their business on the Watauga River.
   In the coming months, people will be seen lazily floating down the river on kayaks, fighting the small rapids, and casting their chances at reeling in a trophy fish to tell their friends about.
   Planning Commissioners have been discussing the subject of charging a fee for outfitting businesses that are based in other counties or states who migrate into Carter County to take dips in the water with customers.
   This practice is common in areas around the Nolichucky Rover, Pigeon River, and other rivers throughout the state.
   Teresa Nidiffer, owner of Watauga Kayak, based in Carter County, spoke to the commission in opposition to the discussion of the added fee. "We don't think the local businesses should be taxed. The people who are coming in without using anything in the county is the companies from Boone and Banner Elk (North Carolina)," she said.
   Commissioners were aware of businesses charging customers around $150 for a day of rafting, fishing and fun on the Watauga River. The customers are mainly from other towns and states, and were not spending any money in the county, even on lodging or food.
   Since the businesses are not physically located in the county, they are not purchasing a business license for Carter County, but they are reaping the benefits of the Watauga River.
   Nidiffer argued that her customers are lodging in the county and spending money in other areas, like food and temporary fishing licenses.
   "The only people who aren't bringing in a dime are the out-of-state rafters," she said.
   The Watauga River is classified by the American Whitewater Association as having Class 1 and Class 2 rapids, which boasts minimal risks to rafters. The Nolichucky River is classified as having Class 3 and Class 4 rapids.
   Nidiffer said this is the first year she will be offering whitewater rafting on the Watauga. She said during the summer an average of 20 rafts will be on the river on one day, but on the Nolichucky, more than 500 rafts travel it in one day.
   The commission listened to Nidiffer and decided to meet with her and other local outfitter companies to hear suggestions.