Op-Ed

Beauty, check. Grandeur, check. For tourism dollars, just add water.

Brent Austin runs El Horrendo on the Russell Fork of the Big Sandy.
Brent Austin runs El Horrendo on the Russell Fork of the Big Sandy.

I have been thinking about this. First, I am as Kentuckian as you can get with grandparents and their grandparents and beyond from all over the state, east to west. Second, I like Larry Webster, personally, and in addition to being a good lawyer, I think he is colorful, a good historian and a heck of a musician.

That said, while I know him from seeing him at the Russell Fork River in the past, I don’t know him well. But, in my view, he is very personable and is well connected in the community there.

I have a lot of respect for Larry. I think it would be safe to say that he too recognizes that the Russell Fork river through the Breaks is a world class resource that shares its features with both Kentucky and Virginia.

Now, I do take exception to the idea that the resource is closed off, in a sense, to all other Kentuckians (myself included) who enjoy it, for the benefit of, instead, those in the immediate area. That does not seem fair.

And, personally, I think all you have to do is see the traffic rolling through Elkhorn City, Ky. and Haysi, Va. to appreciate the tourism impact of paddlers flocking to the river in October each year.

I have been coming to and paddling in the Russell Fork river for almost 30 years now, am one of the area’s staunchest long-term fans with lifetime close friends that live there, and I am pretty sure the locals are happy to see that crowd come to the area each year.

And October, when the water is high on weekends is when paddlers from all over the country and the world show up. Not just a dozen as Larry suggests, (hyperbole?) but more than 100 racers the past two years in the Lord of the Fork race, not to mention the hundreds more who attended and were there in a single weekend.

I do not believe the local grumbling in October about the water being too high for the swimming hole is palpable, if even heard at all. Of course, the river is way higher in the winter and spring. Come a big rain in the summer, the gates are opened, as they should be to accomplish the purpose of flood control. So, I am not sure I see what the point is unless it is to get a rise out of folks, and, that would seem like something Larry would do, which makes me giggle.

Perhaps we should invite Larry back to the Russell Fork Rendezvous to play music? He has done so in the past, so maybe he would come back and hang out with a bunch of Kentuckians and others who enjoy the river and love to come to his backyard because of it? I bet great minds can think alike and, in the end, if you want to see real economic activity happen on the tourism front in a place whose beauty and grandeur is exceeded by none, then just add water.

J. Brent Austin, an attorney in Lexington, serves on the board of directors of American Whitewater, a nonprofit that advocates for the preservation and protection of whitewater rivers.

  Comments