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Chattooga River Access
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Chattooga River. Photo Courtesy of Mark Singleton.February 27, 2013 - US District Court - Spartanburg, SC

  • Honorable Mary Lewis - presiding
  • America Whitewater Plaintiff
  • American Canoe Association Co- plaintiff
  • USFS Defendant

Plaintiff arguments:

1) USFS ban on boating is inconsistent with the way other rivers are managed

2) USFS purported conflicts between fishermen are unsubstantiated and are not a basis for a ban. AW-ACA attorney argued that the two activities are compatible and some fisherman prefer to fish from their boat.

3) The Chattooga River was among the first Wild and Scenic rivers to be designated. At the time boating was described as one of the unique recreational uses in the general attributes which lead to the designation as Wild & Scenic.

4) The semantic of an "Outstanding Remarkable Value” is used today to describe high value recreation activities. This terminology did not exist at the time the Chattooga was designated as Wild and Scenic, it was implied.

5) USFS may not limit boating unless the activity interferes with or degrades the main values of: a) geology b) biology c) scenery d) recreation e) history.

6) USFS Chief said in a statement in 2005 that the ban was wrong and illegal.

7) USFS boating ban is a violation of the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution under the "equal protection” clause and was described as "arbitrary and capricious” by the AW-ACA attorney.

8) Plaintiffs are seeking the following relief: a) declaration –the boating ban is illegal b) injunction – cease publishing the ban and cease enforcement of same c) remand – USFS must make a new decision within a one year time frame d) – reimbursement of legal fees and costs.

USFS arguments:

1) 2012 upper Chattooga usage statistics – 16 days and 99 boaters. Boating is not banned for 365 days a year, flow requirements of 350+ CFS.

2) USFS is charged with managing the resource with an appropriate balance between recreational uses. USFS charge is also to "protect and enhance” the resource.

3) Boating is only one aspect of the recreational values and is not a specific "Outstanding Remarkable Value.”

4) Boating and fishing are not compatible due to: a) interference - i.e. "scares the fish” and interrupts the "solitude” experience and quoted an incident from 1976.

5) USFS denies statement from USFS Chief in 2005.

6) USFS is accommodating boaters by allowing boating in the best months for boating.

Honorable Mary Lewis' concerns:

1) Would like to see proof that boating is a legitimate "ORV.”

2) The early documents emphasized the importance of fishing on the Chattooga and the judge understands why fisherman do not want boater interference.

3) Judge does not see how limiting boating enhances and protects the ORVs of the Chattooga.

4) USFS may not have the appropriate data to back up their argument.

Overall, the plaintiffs presented a clear case that was well documented and executed. The attorneys were masterful in answering the judge's questions and kept on point with the key aspects of their case. The USFS was on the defensive and weak on the main points of boating limits, bans and the aspect of actual interference with the anglers.

"The paddlers had their day in court, presented a strong case, which hopefully will set a good precedent for the future." - Respectfully submitted by ACA Board member Sam Fowlkes


Chattooga River - Bull Sluice RapidMarch 14, 2012 - Boating Ban Lifted - Mountain Rest, SC

Today, the US Forest Service announced that beginning Friday, March 16, 2012, boaters with permits may float the upper segment of the Chattooga River, for the first time in 36 years, when flows are high enough.

"As soon as the weather cooperates and provides suitable flows, we anticipate that boaters will be floating the upper Chattooga,” said Paul Bradley, forest supervisor for the Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests. 'I want to emphasize, though, that this section of the river is not a place for most boaters – floating in this area at high, fast flows will be dangerous for people who don't have specialized skills and experience.” - 
USFS Press Release

The ACA, along with AW and other conservation partners, have been working for decades to get access for paddlers on the Upper Chattooga. While it is not complete access, this is a big push in the right direction.

According to the USFS Press Release, boating is allowed:

  • On the main stem of the upper segment of the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River between the confluence of Green Creek in North Carolina and one-quarter mile downstream of the Lick Log Creek confluence in South Carolina.
  • From December 1 to April 30.
  • From the time that flows reach 350 cfs or greater at the USGS Burrells Ford gauge during daylight hours. Daylight hours will be 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset.Once boating is allowed, it may continue until 30 minutes after official sunset that same day.
  • With a self-registration boating permit.
  • Using tandem/single capacity hard boats or tandem/single capacity inflatable boats.
  • Starting or ending only at specific put-ins and takeouts as outlined on the self-registration permit:
  • Put-ins: downstream of the Green Creek confluence in North Carolina; Norton Mill Creek confluence in North Carolina; Bullpen Bridge in North Carolina; and Burrells Ford Bridge in Georgia.
  • Takeouts: Norton Mill Creek confluence in North Carolina; Bullpen Bridge in North Carolina; Burrells Ford Bridge in Georgia; and Lick Log Creek confluence in South Carolina.
  • With a minimum of two craft and a maximum of six people per boating group.

Boaters and other users can confirm water flows on the upper segment of the Chattooga River at the USGS gauge at Burrells Ford.

Before visiting, boaters should check with the Forest Service for the most current information on where to pick up boater registration permits, parking, access and the decisions related to recreation uses on the upper segment of the Chattooga River.

August 2011

The ACA signed AW's letter to the United States Forest Service opposing the environmental assessment (EA) titled "Managing Recreation Uses in the Upper Segment of the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River Corridor.” The EA violates many basic laws, regulations, and policies regarding land and resource management, and "transparently aims to reach a predetermined goal of limiting paddling." We will continue to work with AW to try to bring equality to the recreational use of the Chattooga and open its waters to boaters.


Chattooga River. Photo Courtesy of AWDecember 2, 2010 - South Carolina

For years the ACA has partnered with American Whitewater in an effort to open the Chattooga River headwaters to boaters. Recently, we jointly sued the U.S. Forest Service seeking to overturn a 2009 rule continuing the boating ban.

On December 2, 2010 a judge in South Carolina issued a decision that rejected the USFS's motion to dismiss the case. This will allow the case to move forward and AW and ACA will have the opportunity to present evidence of why the ban is unjustified.

Both ACA Executive Director Wade Blackwood and AW Executive Director Mark Singleton attended the hearing in South Carolina. 

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