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Why Whitewater Matters - Part I

by Vic Howie

August 3,2004

It started four years ago as an idea drawn on the back of a napkin. Soon this idea will be a reality. The U.S. National Whitewater Center will be a 307-acre outdoor adventure center providing the Charlotte region with the world’s most unique outdoor recreational and environmental learning experience. There is nothing else in the world that will compare to this facility when it opens in March 2006, and this gives Charlotte a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a truly unique experience!

The Center will be only 10 minutes from Uptown Charlotte, located along the Catawba River and Interstate 85 in western Mecklenburg County. Since it will be a public park, Olympic-caliber athletes, weekend warriors and casual observers will be able to share this world-class sports and training center. The masterpiece of the Center will be a 25-acre multiple channel artificial river that can be easily modified from "easy water" to more challenging rapids for all levels of rafting, canoeing and kayaking. Other sports and activities will include flat-water boating, 11 miles of mountain biking trails, an indoor-outdoor climbing facility, trail running, and a full compliment of dining options. Additionally, the Center will host the world’s most innovative swift-water rescue training facility, where our own Charlotte Fire Department will train themselves and many other fire and rescue squads from around the country to save lives.

So, why does the US National Whitewater Center matter and what does this mean for you? Three quick reasons are evident: 1) impact on the community, 2) economic impact, and 3) the Olympic factor.

First, the impact on the community will come in multiple ways. Most important are the youth and family activities and programming. The YMCA, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Police Athletic League, Boys and Girls Clubs, schools, and church groups are just some of the organizations that will benefit from programming and access to the Center. Teaching our youth the skills of whitewater paddling, climbing, and mountain biking under the care of exceptional leaders will expose them to skills so necessary to succeeding in the adult world: risk assessment, teamwork, leadership, knowing when to say no, and persistence in achieving a goal. It will also be a place for our community to get out and play — for families, grandparents with grandchildren, teenage youth, singles, couples, and anyone who wants to enjoy an active, outdoor experience.

Second, the economic impact of the Center is estimated at $37 million annually. We will create 690 new jobs, provide a world-class amenity for recruiting job talent nationally, be a major tourism destination and will add an incredibly unique venue to the amenity package for luring convention business to our city. The swift water rescue business will provide a consistent need for accommodations in our hotels. National and international Olympic- caliber kayak events could bring as many as 80 countries to our city for the competition – athletes, coaches, media, and fans who will experience our city and hospitality, and spend their money here.

Topping it off is the Olympic factor. We were successful in attracting our first Olympic sport governing body, USA Canoe and Kayak (USACK). This national group, located Uptown, is now fully staffed by Charlotte- based employees and is responsible for developing our national and Olympic level athletes to compete on the world circuit. Many of these athletes will be moving here to Charlotte to live, work, go to school, and train, and also to be involved in our schools and civic organizations. The Center will also be designated as a US Olympic Training Facility, and will be the ONLY one in the US where you can go play at a USOC training site right beside Olympic athletes.

From Day One, our founding team has stood by a dream that we feel will one day be a reality: an athlete from Charlotte will be standing on the platform in the Olympics, and with an Olympic medal around their neck, he or she will say “It all started in Charlotte.”

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