Wally Gagglers take to the river   

By Abby Morris
star staff
amorris@starhq.com

  More than thirty boats took part in the Wally Gaggle River Race on Saturday, taking their canoes, kayaks and rafts on a leisurely ride down the Watauga River.
  This was the fourth year the event was held in conjunction with the Covered Bridge Days celebration, according to Teresa Nidiffer, one of the event's coordinators. According to Nidiffer, of Watauga Kayak Tours and Outfitters which is one of the sponsors, the event's name of Wally Gaggle came from the River Ridge Campground and Fishing Area which co-sponsors the event.
  According to Webster's Dictionary, "wally" is an adjective meaning pleasing or agreeable and "gaggle" is a noun meaning group. So a Wally Gaggle is a pleasing or agreeable group.
  The boaters who took to the water as part of the Wally Gaggle on Saturday fit the definition perfectly, as lively conversations were struck up and helping hands were lent where they were needed.
  The group took to the water shortly after 11 a.m. at the Steel Bridge on Wilbur Dam Road and passed through two checkpoints before stopping for a cookout lunch at Watauga Kayak Tours and Outfitters. Following lunch, the group set out again and passed through two more checkpoints before ending the race in the Black Bottom community behind the Carmon Dugger Sports Complex where the Elizabethton Twins play.
  The Wally Gaggle is not your traditional race, according to Nidiffer. "Basically, the Wally Gaggle is just a fun way to float down the Watauga River," she said. "You don't have to be a speed demon or a great paddler to enter."
  Boaters are not pressured to reach checkpoints ahead of the group or to be the first to cross the finish line. At the end of the race, the captain of each boat draws a number from a bag representing each checkpoint and the finish line. Then, those numbers are added up to find the boat's total score. The person with the highest score wins first place and the person with the lowest score wins second place, according to Nidiffer.
  To ensure the safety of the Wally Gagglers on their trip down the Watauga River, members of the Carter County Rescue Squad's Swift Water Rescue Team escorted the group down the river. One rescue boat led the group, while two traveled inside the pack and a fourth boat acting as a sweeper followed behind the group.
  There was only one boating accident during the race, and no one was injured. A two-person kayak took on water and flipped in shallow water just up river from Watauga Kayak Tours and Outfitters. Rescue workers quickly reached the man and woman in the kayak to check on them and assist them in turning their kayak back over.
  At the most dangerous part of the race course, a stretch of rapids a short distance from where Stoney Creek joins the Watauga River, members of the Swift Water Rescue Team positioned themselves to help guide the boaters away from a dangerous current.
  During the heavy flooding that occurred in November 2003, a 25-year-old man drowned in that same stretch of river when a canoe he and two of his friends were riding in during the flood capsized and pinned him underwater against a tree.