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Community group pushes for ecotourism attraction

Elizabethton IDEAS group members are promoting Surf Betsy, a whitewater feature to go in the Watauga River. (WCYB/Caleb Perhne)

A community group in Elizabethton is pushing to add a whitewater feature to the Watauga River. Their goal is to promote ecotourism in the area.

"As a citizen's group we saw a large need to bring people into our community," member Chris Little said.

The Elizabethton IDEAS group calls the project “Surf Betsy.” It would involve adding rocks to create a constant wave in the river. Now, a current usable for rafting and kayaking is dependent on the water level.

"To have that rapid where it would be a reliable rapid daily, is huge,” IDEAS group member Metin Eryasa.

The group hopes the project will allow Elizabethton to host kayaking and rafting competitions and generate millions of tourism dollars.

The project is still in its early stages. The group is working with the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership. River Restoration, a Colorado company, is studying locations for Surf Betsy.

Any plan will need Elizabethton city council support.

"There's a lot of planning, a lot of people have to get on the table to champion a project like this,” NETREP CEO Mitch Miller said. “but we want to be a leader and try to help them see that become a reality."

The IDEAS group is optimistic. They pointed to successes like Green Bridge Landing, a park in Hampton converted from an old illegal dump site.

Group members said they see projects like this as a "win-win” by creating an economic benefit for Elizabethton and the Tri-Cities as a whole.

The project uses natural resources other cities have manufactured.

"Charlotte is a great example,” Miller said. “They have a whitewater center that ultimately is manmade. We've got the real stuff right here in Northeast Tennessee."

Surf Betsy is one of nine projects the Elizabethton IDEAS group is working on this year. They hope to also add several fishing ramps in Carter County.

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