Parents who once enjoyed the adventure of canoing down the Little Tennessee River are now carrying on the 35-year tradition, sharing that adventure with their children.
The concept of an annual river float was begun by Dr. Lloyd Swift in 1976 in an effort to bring more aquatic programs to the local Boy Scouts. Over the years the program has grown to now include several towns in the region, including Franklin and Highlands, Hayesville, Clyde, Cherokee, and Waynesville. In this region alone, more than 700 kids are involved in scouts.
Saturday's canoe trip included approximately 40 scouts, seven of which were girls. The scouts spent May 13-15 camping in the Tellico community, taking time to canoe or kayak down the Little Tennessee River on the 14th. They kicked off the float at Iotla's Lost Bridge at 9 a.m. Kelly Littlejohn, a professional river guide and supervisor of the event for the Cataloochee District in Macon County, said the float took about three hours and then the scouts pulled out for a cookout lunch at their campsite.
The canoe float trip is a fun annual event that “sort of kicks off more summer adventures,” said Littlejohn. He explained the canoe trip is not a requirement for the scouts but they do receive a special badge if they participate.
Several parents accompanied their children on the trip. Joshua Gardner has participated in the Boy Scouts since he was a kid and today he was attending the canoe float with his oldest daughter, Jordyn.
Bill Lawrence, the senior district executive of the Daniel Boone Council, considered himself a relative newcomer to this event although he has attended several times. Lawrence brought several scouts who had never canoed the Little Tennessee river before. They were particularly excited to be canoeing.
Each scout had a buddy that they prepared their canoe with. The “buddy system” was particularly stressed to the scouts in case they were to get into trouble. However, Littlejohn explained that one reason the Little Tennessee river was chosen for the float is that the rapids are not too rough for the kids, especially the beginners, but they are choppy enough to make it fun for them.
He said that there is usually at least one canoe that capsizes on these trips, but the kids are in no real danger because the water is not very deep and there are no swift currents. The Little Tennessee River is a gentle river, and the worst thing that would happen to them is that they would get wet, Littlejohn pointed out.
The scouts understand the need for safety and preparation, but overall, there was a feeling of excitement for the adventure and they couldn’t wait to get into the water.