French Broad River delivers $3.8 billion each year

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — At 2,830 miles and $3.8 billion, the French Broad River’s impact in the state of North Carolina is enormous.


What You Need to Know:

  • The French Broad accounts for $3.8 billion each year
  • That’s more than the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway combined
  • Most of the money comes from tourism
  • The Asheville Adventure Company is one of the businesses who utilizes the river for water sports and biking


“I think it’s shocking,” Asheville Adventure Company tour guide Ben Crowe said from a canoe while floating down the river. “But at the same time, I absolutely see it because from the headwaters to the tail, over 200 miles of recreation for people from beginning to expert.”

In March, the French Broad River Partnership announced that it had undergone a study on the French Broad and found that it draws in $3.8 billion each year. That’s more than the Great Smoky Mountains National Park ($1.3 billion) and Blue Ridge Parkway ($1.4 billion) combined.

The FBRP researched and surveyed more than 450 people who use the river and over 100 businesses that use the river for some or all of the operations.


 From the FBRP:

  • The watershed receives 6.9 million river-influenced visitors each year. Visitors spend an average of $1,277 per visit (3.2 people), with most going to lodging, food and beverage, resulting in $2.7 billion annually in visitor spending.
  • The most common reasons for visiting the watershed are hiking (27.5% of visitors), whitewater rafting (23.1%) and kayaking (20%), followed by fishing (15.9%), jogging/walking (14.5%) and parks (14.2%).
  • River-reliant businesses create or maintain 38,554 jobs each year, bringing the region an estimated $273 million in annual federal tax revenue and $234 million in annual state and local tax revenue.


“The French Broad really is the lifeblood that runs through the city of Asheville, essentially,” Crowe’s coworker Grant Valstad said. “So many businesses run on this, people enjoy it in the summertime to really just cool off and relax.”

Crowe and Valstad have about a decade of time with the adventure company combined between them. Take one ride on the river with them and you can understand its popularity.

“It really is something special to be a part of someone’s memories, man,” Crowe said. “To be able to keep a five-star running business going on out here, it just means the world to me.”

The sentiment goes for thousands of Ashevillians and tourists around the country.

“It’s my retirement job, I couldn’t be happier,” Valstad said. “Being able to play on the water all day is really where I belong.”

Water sports aren’t the only thing the river gets utilized for. Eating food, ziplining and even biking are part of its daily grind.

“It’s a shocking number but it’s not like a huge surprise,” Harrison Johnston said.

Johnston works at the Asheville Adventure Company as a bike tour guide. He spends just about every day out on the trails.

“I really like seeing nature and just like kind of being outside, mostly being outside when it’s warm. So, I do enjoy the spring and summer seasons,” Johnston said. “But basically everything between whether it’s just exercising outside or just hanging out, I really like to spend time outdoors.”

He regularly used the French Broad but for leisure, not work. At least, not until COVID-19 changed everything.

“This was kind of like, my pandemic job. I really wanted to be outside. I was working for a local brewery for a while, which Asheville has plenty of,” Johnston said. “But really wanted to be outside, especially when it was getting nicer out, so, being a tour guide was the absolute perfect thing.”

The rest is history.

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