In 1999 RiverLink received funding to develop the River Access Map for the French Broad River. This map is separated by county and is available in waterproof print version at our store. This map is also available for purchase at several area outfitters — Asheville Adventure Rental, Black Dome and Diamond Brand — and at the RiverLink office at 170 Lyman Street in the River Arts District.
The French Broad River is this historic region’s lifeline, tying together dispersed communities and linking diverse natural and human-made wonders. Water source, play space, job creator and major attraction, the river is, above all, a living symbol of our common destiny.
Hikers, birders, picnickers, poets, boaters and fisherfolk can splash and play, kick back and dream, beside these flowing waters. Shoppers, students, artists and history buffs can glean tantalizing glimpses of the region’s diverse heritage, illuminating its storied past and dynamic present. Increasingly, local governments are rediscovering the value of this shared resource. And visionary entrepreneurs are helping the river regain its key position in the regional economy.
Like merging streams that feed the swelling waters, this budding synergy is shaping a brave future for the French Broad and its tributaries. RiverLink, the regional nonprofit that’s spearheading the river renaissance, invites you to launch your own voyage of discovery.
From the rugged slopes of some of the oldest mountains on earth, the French Broad River and its tributaries descend, carving lush, fertile valleys along the winding, 117-mile corridor through Western North Carolina.
The Cherokee and their predecessors knew the river well. They named it Agiqua (“Long Man”), and its tributaries were his “chattering children.” For thousands of years, these first inhabitants hunted the forested slopes of the French Broad River gorge, fished the river’s rushing waters, and farmed and built villages amid the rich bottom land. The Swannanoa, a major tributary, was also heavily settled. Today, the remains of more than 20 archaeological sites stand mute along the riverbanks, awaiting exploration.
Hernando De Soto’s expedition passed through the area in 1540, in search of gleaming gold. They never found it, and soon headed west. But in their wake came first a trickle and then a flood of other visitors.
Early European settlers dubbed the river the French Broad, because its wide waters flowed into what was then French territory to the west. In the 1780s, the first white settlers crossed the Blue Ridge: William Moore made a homestead on Hominy Creek, and Samuel Davidson farmed the rich land along the Swannanoa.
More settlers followed, drawn by the river’s song. In the 1820s, the Buncombe Turnpike was built, and farmers in Kentucky and Tennessee began driving livestock through the mountains, following the river’s course en route to the great ports of Charleston and Savannah, farther south. Drovers herded upward of 100,000 hogs a year along the busy road, traveling between “stands” that later grew into towns, and stagecoaches carried passengers and mail.
In the 1880s, the railroad arrived, opening the door to hordes of wealthy visitors who traveled the river corridor. One of them, George Vanderbilt, created the nation’s largest private residence and first school of forestry here. Other visionaries soon followed. By the turn of the century, Asheville’s Riverside Park had become the favored haunt of fashionable ladies and elegant gents. But a fire in 1915 badly damaged the park, and after the Great Flood of 1916, a battered city turned its back on the riverfront.
Today, however, the French Broad is regaining a central place in the life of this community, thanks to enhanced environmental awareness, renewed appreciation of the area’s unique heritage, and increased demand for recreational space.
A Place to Play
The Cherokee called the French Broad’s thrilling whitewater section Tahkeyostee (“where they race”). Today, private boaters and commercial outfitters are giving those words new meaning.
The French Broad River is a priceless recreational resource. From Champion Park in Rosman to Hominy Creek in Asheville, it is a designated North Carolina River Trail — the state’s first. And much of the river’s course lies within sight of national forest lands, providing opportunities for camping, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, fishing and hunting. A string of river access parks offer facilities for boating, fishing, picnicking, bird watching and quiet contemplation. (See map for locations. Most formal access sites include a parking area and a boat launch; some also offer picnic tables; few have restrooms). And RiverLink’s French Broad River Yacht Club, open to anyone who has been on the river even once, is opening many people’s eyes to the French Broad’s tremendous recreational potential.
The river is our teacher, our inspiration. It whispers to us of our shared past, and its rushing waters plunge ahead, embracing a shining future that they help create.
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