30 kids aged 6 to 16 paddled the Little Tennessee River near Bryson City yesterday as part of the Nantahala Kids Club (NKC) Spring Session. NKC is a six-week community outdoor recreation program hosted by Nantahala Racing Club that introduces local youth to whitewater kayaking in a fun, safe setting. It is part of a larger NRC project, Young Rhinos Whitewater Development, that seeks to eliminate the barriers to youth participation in whitewater sport and create an outlet for healthy outdoor recreation for local families.
Nantahala Racing Club has always relied heavily on community support to host the Nantahala Kids Club. Local outfitters, Endless River Adventures and Nantahala Outdoor Center, send equipment and instruction staff to eliminate the costly investment of equipment that most beginners face when deciding to pursue whitewater sport. Juliet Kastorf, co-owner of Endless River Adventure, and one of the original partners of NKC, sums up her businesses support in the following way: “It is important for ERA to see kids being active and involved in a sport that helps them build confidence in themselves and brings them outside with their family, enjoying something that they can do together as a family. Our hope is that years from today, a couple of kids from this NKC session will be kayak instructors at Endless River because kayaking is a lifetime sport.”
However, the Spring 2014 NKC Session has enjoyed increased support from other community partners as well. “In this session, we have seen a resurgence of community support and parent involvement, both from parents that kayak and those that don’t,” said Juliet Kastorf.
New partners include the Snowbird Recreation Department, which provides transportation, and administrative support, and Smoky Mountain Jet Boats, which provides transportation and instruction staff. With the help of these new partners, local youth from both Robbinsville and Bryson City are able to attend NKC afterschool programming even if their parents can’t leave work early to drive them to the river. “Our goal at NRC is to make kayaking more accessible to kids in our community,” said Maria Noakes, co-owner of Smoky Mountain Jet Boats. “Helping to drive kids after school is a tangible way in which we can move closer to that goal.”
While the kids are paddling, NRC volunteers and staff are working behind the scenes to build and strengthen relationships with local, regional and national partners to make more programming like this possible. Kastorf says it’s worth every minute: “NKC makes me feel that there is hope for kids spending time outdoors and enjoying the outdoors – putting down their computers and learning to explore the wilderness that is right here in their backyards. ”