The Southern Appalachian Paddlesports Museum encompasses only about 500 square feet within Black Dome Mountain Sports, an outdoor outfitter in Asheville, North Carolina. The space boasts a collection of old fiberglass kayaks, vintage gear and photographs of the people and places that helped make the sport what it is today.
"The museum is modest for now," says Chattanooga-born paddler Marc Hunt, a key player in the sport's regional history – first, as one of the earliest paddlers and champions of the Ocoee River in the 1970s, and now as chairperson of the museum's Hall of Fame selection committee.
Co-founded in 2019 by North Carolina Outward Bound pioneer Mike Fischesser, the volunteer-run museum eventually hopes to find a permanent home and expand its exhibit, says Hunt. But for now, the focus is on establishing its legacy.
In 2021, the museum announced its inaugural class of inductees, honoring those who have had a profound impact on paddling in the Southeast. Their roles and contributions run the gamut, from former President Jimmy Carter for his designation of the Chattooga as a wild and scenic river, to 34-year-old Adriene Levknecht, 12-time champion of the Class V Green River Narrows Race.
In November, the museum hosted a ceremony for its inductees, debuting its announcement video, which Hunt says has since been viewed more than 30,000 times.
"We've come to appreciate that much of our public presence is online," he says.
Among its first group of honorees are 60 individuals and four paddling clubs. Here, we spotlight just a few with Tennessee Valley connections.
Meet Southern Appalachian Paddlesports Museum's inaugural Hall of Fame inductees, including several from the Chattanooga area
As the governor of Tennessee from 1979-1987, Lamar Alexander championed the protection of the Ocoee River, expanded state protection for various other rivers and chaired President Ronald Reagan's Commission on Americans Outdoors, helping support public outdoor recreation. As a U.S. Senator, he was the driving force behind 2020's Great American Outdoors Act, which provided permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, as well as billions of dollars to maintain public lands.
Gary and Beth Harper
In the 1970s, Gary Harper was a pioneer of rafting on the Ocoee River, co-founding Ocoee Outdoors outfitter and naming seven rapids on the now world-famous river. Together, Gary and Beth founded the international whitewater gear company Man of Rubber River Gear and invented what is now known as Watershed Drybags.
In 1980, David Brown was the founding director of Ocoee River Council, a grassroots organization instrumental in securing the Ocoee's protection and its recreational releases. That same decade, he helped secure recreational water releases on West Virginia's Gauley River.
A Signal Mountain resident and former member of the U.S. Whitewater Slalom team, Carrie Ashton competed in the 1972 Munich Olympics. She was one of the first female paddling instructors at Nantahala Outdoor Center and a leader in outdoor programs for the University of the South.
Tennessee Valley Canoe Club
Founded in 1967, TVCC is one of the earliest paddling clubs in the Southern Appalachians. For more than 50 years, the volunteer-run organization has led instructional programs, organized trips, safety training, conservation efforts and community service projects throughout the Tennessee Valley.
To see a complete list of the inaugural inductees visit paddlingmuseum.org.