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If you can float it, you can boat it: Franklin Rotary spearheads RiverFest on the Little Tennessee

out frWhen Franklin RiverFest’s Anything That Floats Raft Regatta kicks off Aug. 23, Warren Cabe hopes to see the Franklin Fire Department cross the finish line first. The Macon County Emergency Services Director is holding the details of the team’s raft design close to his vest.

“I can’t tell you,” he said. “It’s top-secret.”

“The key is we don’t want to drown,” added fire department Captain Carey Patton. 

After a brainstorming session and some feasibility research via YouTube, the firefighters came up with a design and scared up as many barrels and scrap building materials as they could. They’re planning a test run before the big day — conducted away from prying eyes, of course, so as to preserve the element of surprise. 

Cabe did, however, release one big clue. 

“The only hint I’ll give you is that you never know what you’ll see float down the river, including a fire truck,” Cabe said. “You may even see a fire truck float down the river.” 

That’s the kind of enthusiasm that Lisa Leatherman, a Franklin Rotary Club member, was hoping for when she first floated the idea for a river festival in Franklin. She’d gotten the idea from a similar event in Asheville organized by RiverLink, a regional nonprofit supporting the French Broad River. She recalls seeing a “really fun” photograph of two women in an inflatable raft, all decked out for the contest, and wondering if something similar could succeed in Franklin. 

“We see this as having a potentially positive impact on the community, on Franklin,” Leatherman said, “draw people in and have this be an annual event the club can sustain.”

This year’s event will feature a 5K run on the Little Tennessee Greenway, a duck derby race for prizes, an array of local vendors and, of course, the raft race. 

Contenders in the raft regatta will start off from the Tassee Shelter boat launch on Lake Emory and continue about 1.5 miles downstream. Leatherman has no idea what to expect from the entries — the possibilities are, quite literally, limitless — but she’s hoping to see a lot of creative ideas. Though any vessel can float in the race, only craft made from items not commercially sold for floating or boating will be eligible to win a prize. 

“We’re volunteers and we help the community, but we also enjoy the community we work in,” Patton said. “We see this as a fun activity.”

And the winner’s glory won’t just go to captains of the fastest rafts. Titles up for grabs include Most Creative Vessel, Green Machine for use of recycled materials, Unique Design for best engineering and Most Entertaining Entry in addition to a prize for the first to cross the finish line. Those titles will come with prizes totaling $1,500. 

The Rotary Club is also hoping to make money on the deal , because the festival will double as a fundraiser to fund the club’s support of a slate of local and international charities. 

“Most of the funds will stay here in the local community, but within Rotary we do support an annual international project,” Leatherman said. That project usually focuses on providing clean water in India or Africa. 

Leatherman’s other goal for RiverFest is to draw some attention to the recreational resource running straight through Franklin — that is, Lake Emory and the duo of the Little Tennessee and Cullasaja rivers. That’s a goal that Cabe supports. 

“The Franklin Fire Department saw the opportunity to use this as a team building effort for our folks, and we think it’s a good event for the community and it will bring awareness to the resources that actually go through the town of Franklin,” Cabe said. 

Leatherman’s hoping to see this inaugural year, which received funding from the Franklin Tourism Development Authority and the Franklin-Nantahala Tourism Development Commission, have enough success to return to Franklin every year around this time, the fourth Saturday in August. 

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm around this,” she said. 



When you go

8 a.m.: Registration opens for RiverFest 5K at Tassee Shelter

9 a.m.: RiverFest 5K begins at Tassee Shelter

10 a.m.: Vendors open at Big Bear Shelter

10:30 a.m.: Duck Derby begins at Town Bridge Raft Regatta registration opens at Tassee Shelter

12 p.m.: Raft Regatta begins at Tassee Boat Launch

3 p.m.: Festival ends

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