Click for Asheville, North Carolina Forecast Olympics Moved to the
French Broad River

by Chris Bell


According to a reputable source within the whitewater racing community, the Olympic organizing committee is close to moving the slalom competitions from Tennessee's Ocoee River to Asheville's French Broad. The surprising turn of events was made necessary by UNC-Asheville environmental studies professor Richard Maas's discovery of a new species -- the cockaded copper-darter -- nesting at the Ocoee site.

The need for a change of venue became a foregone conclusion after Maas petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the copper-darter as endangered. This brilliantly-plumed yellow and red bird was first described by Maas in the Journal of Cryptozoology last fall.

Known to exist only on the Upper Ocoee between TVA dams 2 and 3, the copper-darter is a textbook case of evolutionary mimicry gone wrong. While its colors allow it to blend with its natural habitat, the male of the species has a fatal attraction for brightly colored floating objects between 1.5 and 2 meters long.

Said Maas, "I'm as big a fan of the Olympics as the next guy -- I cried when Dan won his gold and I cursed the East German judge when she cheated Nancy out of hers -- but the law is the law. The copper-darter mates in summer. Allowing all those boats in the world's only known copper-darter habitat would spell the end to the species."

Scott Shipley, top U.S. finisher in K-1 at Barcelona, doesn't share Maas's concern. Reached by Messing About for an exclusive interview, Shipley fumed, "this had better be a joke. I mean, I moved all the way from Washington state just to attend Georgia Tech and train on the Ocoee. If those birds can survive the chemical spills and Little Debbie cream-filled cakes, they can survive getting it on with my boat."

Recognizing that the loss of its planned venue had the potential to strike whitewater from the '96 Olympics (and knowing an opportunity when they see one), the shakers and movers in Asheville's racing community leapt to fill the void.

Last week Chuck Hines formed Bring Us North Carolinians Olympic Memories Before Eternity (BUNCOMBE), explaining that while long, the name was a clever triple-entendre evoking thoughts of the proposed venue's "location -- both state and county -- and its deep religious roots."

BUNCOMBE's Windy Gordon, together with RiverLink's Karen Cragnolin, made a closed presentation to the Asheville City Council Thursday. Cragnolin proposed building the $5.6 million artificial course required by the IOC in West Asheville. Though initially skeptical, the council was won over when Gordon disclosed that over $1 million would be spent bringing sidewalks and access roads "in this historically under-served neighborhood up to international standards."

Action on the change of venue is expected soon. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the copper-darter as endangered last month. A final decision is expected April 1, at which time the Olympic organizing committee will make the change official.

This article first appeared in the March-April, 1994 issue of Messing About, the newsletter of the Western Carolina Paddlers and was re-posted to the usenet newsgroup here for an account of the reaction!


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