View Full Version : Say Goodbye to the Dragon!!!!!!

02-21-2005, 07:19 AM
Well we can all say goodbye to the Dragon as we know it now. Hwy 129 aka the Dragon will not be the same after this. NC is going to widened the section from Cheoah Dam to Santeelah Dam with more pulloffs as part of a plan to restore the river and encourage more tourism. This is the stretch between the Dragon and the Skyway. While this is not the Dragon itself it will affect traffic and means construction for several years, more LEOs, more tourists, rafting buses, etc. It was fun while it lasted! :eek: :mad: :( :hello:


Cheoah River set for rebirth
Rushing waters return in fall under new flow regime
By MORGAN SIMMONS, simmonsn@knews.com
February 21, 2005
For decades, whitewater paddlers and fishermen have stared at the steep, boulder-choked channel of the Cheoah River and dreamed of rushing water.
Located in the mountains of western North Carolina near Robbinsville, the river for half a century has been diverted through a pipe at Santeetlah Dam to produce hydroelectricity, leaving barely enough water downstream to form rivulets and pools.
This winter, after five years of intense negotiations, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a new 40-year license for four dams - Santeetlah, Cheoah, Calderwood and Chilhowee - owned by Tapoco, a subsidiary of Alcoa Aluminum Inc. The dams, which date back as far as 1919, provide power for Alcoa's aluminum plant in Blount County.
The FERC license calls on Alcoa to begin releasing water below Santeetlah Dam starting in September. Under the new flow regime, the Cheoah River will receive enough water on a continuous basis to jump-start the entire food chain, everything from stoneflies to smallmouth bass.
The license also requires Alcoa to provide 16 to 18 days of whitewater a year for canoeing, kayaking and commercial rafting. As part of the re-licensing package, U.S. Highway 129, which parallels the Cheoah River, is to be widened with roadside pull-offs, and the U.S. Forest Service is expected to build public access areas at the top and bottom of the nine-mile whitewater run.
The new license also stipulates that ecological monitoring of the river be paid for by the power company and that the recreational releases be provided free of charge.
This is a rare opportunity to create a whole new resource," said Kevin Colburn, eastern conservation and access director for American Whitewater. "Having boatable releases on the Cheoah River is really going to change whitewater recreation in the Southeast."
Last spring the FERC-relicensing process produced a settlement between Alcoa and nearly two dozen conservation groups and state and federal land managers that protects nearly 10,000 acres around Calderwood Lake between Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee National Forest.
Located about an hour and a half from Knoxville, the Cheoah River is surrounded by the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness Areas, as well as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In July 2000, a handful of paddlers were invited to run the Cheoah at various flows over four days to test the river's potential for angling and whitewater boating.
One of those who participated in the study was Chuck Estes, a longtime member of the East Tennessee Whitewater Club based in Oak Ridge. In terms of difficulty, Estes said the Cheoah is not to be taken lightly.
"Every river has its own qualities that set it apart, and the Cheoah is unique," Estes said. "It has a big-water feel like many western rivers, yet it has technical rapids like an eastern river. It's a wonderful resource but virtually unknown. I think it's going to draw a lot of attention from some serious paddlers."
An economic study completed during the relicensing process determined that the Cheoah River should pump about $155,000 a year into the coffers of Graham County, N.C., as a result of boating and fishing.
During the 16 to 18 days a year when enough water is released below Santeetlah Dam for whitewater paddling, the Cheoah River will resemble the Ocoee River. Otherwise, the river will be comparable to the Little River in the Smokies.
Alcoa's new license calls for a continuous flow ranging from 40 cubic feet per second to 100 cubic feet per second - a variation designed to simulate the natural pattern of high water in the winter and low water in the summer.
The base level of water in the river will increase, giving aquatic insects and small fish a chance to reproduce at levels unattainable over the last 50 years. Trees that have grown up in the dewatered river channel will be removed, and in some places sediment will be added to create spawning beds.
Species of native fish and mussels that cannot repopulate the river on their own will be introduced, and after five years of monitoring, the resource agencies can request additional water releases.
Biologists say the nine miles of Cheoah River impacted by the hydroelectric project supports about 16 species of fish. When water is put back into the channel, the species count is expected to increase to about 42.
Mark Cantrell, wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said that ecologically, the Cheoah River would be reborn.
"Just from a scientific standpoint, this is a tremendous opportunity," Cantrell said. "With the additional water, the productivity of the stream will increase, and we should see a response in a lot of species in a couple of years.
"We've studied the river as a depressed ecosystem, and we're excited about monitoring its recovery. It's going to be a fun place to work."
Morgan Simmons may be reached at 865-342-6321

02-21-2005, 04:58 PM
last June, at the 5th Anniv, we ran into said construction. We sat for over 5 minutes, as the road was down to one lane.:mad:

03-02-2005, 12:41 PM
As some of you know, I work for NCDOT in Raleigh NC. I specifically work for the Geotechnical Engineering Unit (part of Pre-Construction). Late last summer I had a conversation w/ a lady that is really high up w/ PDEA (Proj. Developemnt) and she said that when they looked into "improving" the North Carolina portion of US 129 through Deal's Gap, they met "great resistance" from an overwhelming amount of motorcycle and car clubs. I was told that NCDOT would not pursue any major projects on the NC portion of the Dragon because it is a tourist draw that brings folks to a remote area in NC. Tennessee may have decided differently and unfortunately the majority of the Dragon ride is in Tennessee. It would be a shame to "fix" something that is not broken.

03-02-2005, 01:04 PM
the construction we came across was on the NC side. It was only a small portion, but still backed up traffic.

03-02-2005, 05:56 PM
the construction we came across was on the NC side. It was only a small portion, but still backed up traffic.it was more than finished in october.

03-02-2005, 06:17 PM
I don't think that TN or NC plans to change the Dragon itself just the approaches. TN has announced that camping along 129 leading to the Dragon will no longer be allowed and that they are going to improve the lake accesses and picnic areas. NC is widening 129 from The dam just past Deal's Gap to Robbinsville. What these improvements will do is add to the traffic on the Dragon and the number of LEOs patroling. In my opinion this will mean that the Dragon as we know it will be gone! :mad:

RF Cobra
03-02-2005, 08:09 PM
it was more than finished in october.
Yeah, we just had obstables of the slow moving variety. We watched a turtle pass one of the rolling speed bumps encountered during the run.