Students reflect on river’s cultural importance

Photo by Tina Langford - Staff Writer
Photo by Tina Langford – Staff Writer

By Tina Langford – [email protected] – Staff Writer | Aug. 27, 2014 |
Whether gazing out of a window from the third floor of Overlook or racing across the Quad to make it to class, an ever-present view of beautiful skylines surrounds the UNC Asheville campus.
The French Broad River runs right through Asheville, abundant with life and culture. The 200-mile stretch of watercourse flows only a block from campus, right along Riverside Drive and the River Arts District.
“Floating on the French Broad was one of the highlights of my summer,” said Eliane Coates, a senior at UNC Asheville. “With just a $10 tube, we basically transformed our backyard into a personal lazy river.”
Early North Carolina settlers coined the river the French Broad due to it being the widest river in French territory at the time. Locals joke the river’s name changed from Marie Antoinette to the French Broad.
Not only the largest river in Western North Carolina, but it also holds the title of third oldest river in the world.
Running from Rosman all the way through Brevard, Asheville and Hot Springs, the French Broad stretches for miles and ranges from calm waters to Class II and III rapids.
With such convenient river access, many students enjoyed the French Broad River and what it has to offer this summer.
Coates said she and her fellow peers traveled several times down the French Broad this summer, usually from where the River Arts District begins to just past The Bywater.
“When you’re on the river, it’s almost like a small community. Everyone is happy enjoying their day, exchanging laughter and positive vibes,” Coates said.
This area already hosts numerous hot spots for students, home to The Wedge Brewery, White Duck Taco, The Bywater and many other local favorites.
During the Industrial Revolution, Riverside Drive was lined with textile factories and cotton mills. After technology advanced and the businesses shut down years later, the area transformed.
The abandoned factories now function as revitalized art studios, restaurants and bars.
“I love the fact that there are bars right off of the river,” said Caitlin Vaughn, a junior at UNCA. “There is so much culture and diversity in the River Arts District, it’s incredible.”
Covered with a mix of vintage advertisements and graffiti, this community transformed in recent years and boasts a rich past, just as its neighboring French Broad.
However, the French Broad River wasn’t always clean enough to swim and float on as it is now. In fact, during the time where this area was used more industrially, there was too much waste and runoff for the river to be people-safe.
In the 1970s, The Land of the Sky Regional Council mandated a river clean up for the French Broad and continues improving in cleanliness ever since.
Tori Best, a former UNCA student and Asheville native, remembers not having the luxury of swimming in river during her youth.
“Within the past 10 years, the French Broad has transformed immensely. I remember spending afternoons by the river as a child, knowing that I could only get my feet wet. Now it’s always an adventure when I go to the river,” Best said.
Best also said she enjoyed tubing down the river this summer and visiting the local businesses surrounding the French Broad.
“The River Arts district has exploded since I graduated from high school several years ago,” said Best. “With new restaurants, galleries and shops opening every month. There is always somewhere new I can look forward to visiting. I love that I live in a city that has such a passion for art and outdoor living.”