What’s the French Broad River Worth to Our Communities?

On any August Saturday afternoon, beer drinkers stand on the New Belgium patio looking down as scores, even hundreds, of tubers drift by on the French Broad River. It’s a scene that didn’t exist ten years ago, and one reflective of the increasing importance of the French Broad River.

A newly-formed organization, the French Broad River Partnership, is leading the effort to put a monetary value on the French Broad River – both the very real figure of money spent enjoying the river, and the worth of the less tangible services the river provides.

“In recent years, two parallel and related phenomena have been happening,” said Garrett Artz, executive director of RiverLink, and co-chair of the river partnership. “Asheville’s popularity as a destination and as a place to live has skyrocketed; and the importance of the French Broad River – to new businesses and to recreationists – has come into its own. Moving forward, we want to be sure people have a clear understanding of how important that river is to our region. Capturing it in monetary terms puts it in a language everyone, from every sector, can easily understand.”

Acting on behalf of the partnership, RiverLink recently received a grant from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina to calculate the value of the river. The work will be done by Dr. Steve Ha from Western Carolina University. and will be broken into two parts:

  1. The first portion will measure the recreational value of the river – both direct spending on businesses like outfitters, and the extended economic impact as people spend money on equipment, food, lodging and other supplies associated with their recreation.
  2. The second portion of the study will evaluate the value of biological diversity, flood management, stream health, and other “non-market” goods provided by the watershed.

“One thing we want to accomplish with this project is to help people, including all the organizations working to improve the river, see the French Broad River basin as a whole – crossing multiple counties and municipalities, and including several smaller watersheds,” said Maria Wise, partnership co-chair and director, Mills River Partnership. “Flowing from that mindset, we hope to encourage regional jurisdictions to work together.”

The effort will look at the North Carolina portion of the French Broad River basin as a whole, which includes not only the Transylvania, Henderson, Buncombe, and Madison counties, through which the French Broad River flows; but also Haywood County, home to the Pigeon River; and Avery, Mitchell, and Yancey counties, home to the Upper Nolichucky River System. The Pigeon and the Nolichuky Rivers both flow into the French Broad River in Tennessee. Work on the effort will take approximately a year.

The French Broad River Partnership was formed in October, 2018, and includes non-profits, government agencies, private industry, and citizens with a shared interest in the well-being of the French Broad River. For more information about the partnership, visit www.FrenchBroadRiver.org.