From National Geographic’s What the River Knows: French Broad River, Asheville, North Carolina

Posted by Basia Irland in the Water Currents blog on the National Geographic website.

According to geologists, I am the third oldest river in the world, with the first and second places going to the River Nile and the New River (Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina). As an old-timer my gradient is low with slow erosion, whereas younger cousins flow more quickly, tumbling down to the sea carrying lots of sediment. My waters flow south to north for 218 miles (351 kilometers), and they helped to shape the Appalachian Mountains. I am the French Broad River, named by French settlers in the region centuries ago at a time when I was one of the two broad rivers in western North Carolina.

The Cherokee have a variety of names for me: Agiqua in the mountains, Zillicoah above Asheville, and Tahkeeosteh after Asheville. As with most indigenous groups around the world, the Cherokee go to the river to pray and perform submergence ceremonies. The phrase “going to water” in the Cherokee language is synonymous with the words for bathing and submerging. Historically, the tribe recognized my floods as a natural part of any river’s cycle, and did not attempt to dam or divert my waters. They knew, too, that I brought rich soil for agriculture when I flooded, and fresh sand for the dirt floors of their dwellings.

The second and third largest craft breweries in the United States (New Belgium and Sierra Nevada) are located on my shores. New Belgium and a local brewpub, Wedge Brewing Company, invite people to their facilities to enjoy a craft beer, and the two companies also collaborate on events to benefit greenways (undeveloped land set aside for recreational use or environmental protection). Since I flow right by the New Belgium facility, I witnessed the construction of their plant on a brownfield property, thereby revitalizing a former landfill and auto parts salvage yard.

Read the rest here.


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"The French Broad River is the third oldest river in the world."

Blue Ridge Heritage National Heritage Area