RALEIGH -- The Neuse, Cape Fear and Nantahala are the most popular among North Carolina rivers for the fast-growing sport of paddling, with more kayakers and canoeists originating in the piedmont than any other region, according to a study released by the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.
And, the principal concerns of paddlers, who most often enjoy the sport within 50 miles of their homes, are the safety and convenience of access sites and water quality.
Those are among a broad range of findings from the 2008 Paddle Tourism Study conducted by the division?s State Trails Program in partnership with North Carolina State University?s School of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management. More than 2,000 online responses were collected from paddling enthusiasts and outdoor outfitters.
?Due to the popularity of paddling, local governments looking to develop eco-tourism are asking us for technical help in developing sustainable paddle trails and about grant assistance. That?s part of our mission,? said Darrell McBane, head of the State Trails Program. ?There?s a need to research the sport more thoroughly and gain a better understanding of the paddling community, which primarily communicates through the Internet and by word-of-mouth.?
The study was funded by a federal Recreational Trails Program grant, which established an internship at the university. The study?s author is Jennifer Beedle, who devised about a dozen methods of getting the survey to paddlers through informal networks.
The respondents listed 40 rivers and coastal sounds where they prefer to paddle, and almost 75 percent classify themselves as novice or recreational paddlers between 31 and 60 years of age. And, 86 percent of the respondents live in the piedmont. The piedmont was the most frequently paddled region of North Carolina, visited by 40 percent of respondents. The mountains drew 28 percent and coastal areas 27 percent while 5 percent of paddlers visited areas outside North Carolina.
The study found that North Carolina is a destination for paddlers from other states, primarily Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, and revealed that respondents who consider themselves avid paddlers took an average 17 paddle trips last year within 50 miles of home, with most paddlers preferring camping for overnight accommodations.
The results of the study will help the State Trails Program devise consistent standards for access areas and paddling trails, develop educational materials for local governments and create a forum for enthusiasts to share information and feedback on issues related to the sport.
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