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Governor Cooper Visits Nantahala Outdoor Center To Talk WNC Outdoor Recreation

Cory Vailliancourt
At Nantahala Outdoor Center, Governor Roy Cooper speaks with one of the founders of the company, Payson Kennedy.

Additional reporting by Cory Vailliancourt


Governor Roy Cooper visited Nantahala Outdoors Center as a part of his Western North Carolina tour on Friday.


NOC is located in Swain County just outside of Bryson City. It has become a hub for whitewater rafting and kayakers in the region since it was founded in 1972 . Activities in local rivers from boating to swimming and fishing are just one piece of the outdoor recreation economy that brings in over $28 billion dollars to North Carolina. A big piece of that is from the western region, says Cooper.


“It’s hard to find a better view than in Western North Carolina and it’s hard to find a better outdoor experience than in Western North Carolina,” says Cooper. “So I think that state government can play a role in working with local government and private businesses to be successful in attracting more tourists to Western North Carolina.”

Cooper visited NOC as part of his tour touting expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. He says he sees healthcare and outdoor recreation as important parts of the regions economy.

“We know that this is a magnet for tourism and what we have to do is to do it the right way so that we can maximize the amount of money that we are putting in people’s pockets in Western North Carolina,” says Cooper.

NOC is the nation’s largest outdoor recreation company and the largest private employer in Swain County. The company brings millions of dollars of economic impact annually to the region.

“This is a very important location for the state and resource for the state. And we just wanted to have an opportunity to talk to him more about the opportunity for outdoor recreation in the state of North Carolina,” says William Irving, president of NOC.  “I think Governor Cooper is a big proponent for outdoor recreation in Western North Carolina and he is a big advocate for how we can grow that as well.”

Swain County Commissioners Roger Parsons and Kevin Seagle along with Swain County Economic Development Director Ken Mills joined the visit.

Swain County Manager Kevin King says that outdoor recreation is the biggest economy for the county thanks to the 28 outfitters along the Nantahala Gorge, the Smoky Mountain Railroad and more.

“The tourism industry is our biggest economic driver in our community and, of course, it’s our natural beauty that brings them here,” says King.

King says Cooper’s Hometown Strong program has increased communication between the rural communities and state government. Cooper also visited Robbinsville in Graham County with Hometown Strong on Friday.  

“Even though the governor might only come every other year,” says King. “He’s got folks here who help us continue on through the off years of the elections.”



Lilly Knoepp serves as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina. She is a native of Franklin, NC who returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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