Environmental Integrity

The Economic Impact of the French Broad River Watershed

A Study by the French Broad River Partnership

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TITLE: The Economic Impact of the French Broad River Watershed

AUTHOR: Anne E. Keller, Ph.D., RiverLink Board of Directors and French Broad River Partnership Steering Committee

SOURCE:  French Broad River Partnership

PERMISSION TO PUBLISH granted by Anne E. Keller. All rights reserved.

We humans often make choices or decisions based on how much we value one thing compared to another. For example, while a river and the ecosystem it creates are enjoyable and soothing – feelings which are inherently valuable to many people – for decision-makers and others who have budgets to consider, beauty and esoteric factors may not be so important in setting priorities or comparing investments.  Realizing this, the French Broad River Partnership (FBRP), now a 4½-year old collaborative organization spanning the eight-county region that comprises the watershed of the French Broad River (FBR) in North Carolina, set out to measure the economic impact of the river in Western North Carolina.  New conversations about the river’s relative importance could be had with that data in hand.

The study, begun in 2020, was conducted by economist Dr. Steve Ha from Western Carolina University, and was funded by the Community Foundation of WNC, Duke Power and the Ecology Wildlife Foundation Fund.  Data were gathered via interviews of visitors, business owners and residents of the area, using scientifically based questions about how much they spent on what, how important the river is to them, and how much they would contribute to keep it healthy.  When Covid hit the region and precluded in-person meetings, information gathering continued via an online survey for several months. Then, as the threat lifted, more interviews were conducted.  Valid data collected from 111 businesses and 450 visitor/residents provided a statistically valid basis for the study.  

The results, finalized in late 2021, amazed everyone who read the accounts. Including…

·      the actual flow of money through the economy because of visitors enjoying our river, forests, views, food, hiking, fishing, etc.;

·      the amount of money interviewees said they would pay to keep the FBR healthy for the coming generations; and

·      the value they assigned to just “knowing the river is there” regardless of whether they use it or can even see it

…the economic impact totals $3.8 Billion annually.  How does that compare to other major attractions? The FBR supports 38,500 jobs in the region and contributes over $500,000 to state, federal and local tax revenues.  This is nearly three times as much as either the Blue Ridge Parkway or Great Smoky Mountain National Park contributes to the economy, and over twice as many jobs as either one supports!

The French Broad River is a defining feature of our area and way of life. We can use this information to protect our ancient, beautiful river by informing our elected officials, neighbors, businesses, and visitors about its value, so that decisions concerning how we develop our communities and use the river help protect it.  The FBRP has been talking with Chambers of Commerce, Outdoor Economy Conference participants, elected officials, outfitters, local governments, and others.  We welcome your participation in this forever effort.  As Wilma Dykeman said: "There is only one respectable course for a free citizen and that is to shoulder his (her) share of the responsibility for the 'killing,' for the pollution.  Because, just as the river belongs to no one, it belongs to everyone, and everyone is held accountable for its health and condition."  Learn about us and read the report at: http://frenchbroadriver.org.

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