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
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 rec.boats.paddle.
here for an account of the reaction!