Snorkeling at the greenway in Marion?
It’s an activity that both local and state officials are encouraging here and throughout western North Carolina to highlight the area’s rich and varied aquatic life.
Marion City Council recently gave their support for the Joseph McDowell Historical Catawba Greenway to join the state’s burgeoning Blue Ridge Snorkel Trail.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) wants the Marion greenway to be one of 10 initial sites on the designated trail. Wildlife officials have identified 30 unique snorkel sites across western North Carolina.
The first phase of the Blue Ridge Snorkel Trail will establish a network of 10 snorkel sites on publicly accessible land, each in a different county. The city of Marion would partner with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to install kiosks with basic information along the greenway.
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Each site will be identified with an educational sign, which provides safety information, a description of notable species at the site and a map of the snorkel trail which will note the location of all sites across western N.C. Additional information on the fish that can be found at each site will be provided in a link to the North Carolina Fishes website.
That is expected to cost the city around $1,000, said City Planner Heather Cotton.
More about the project
“The Blue Ridge Snorkel Trail is an innovative education project that will link together a set of publicly accessible river sites where people can safely snorkel to experience the underwater world of streams and rivers of western North Carolina,” Andrea Leslie, Mountain Habitat Conservation coordinator for NCWRC, said in an email to The McDowell News.
The snorkel trail project is the result of a partnership among of NCWRC, Mainspring Conservation Trust in Franklin and MountainTrue.
“We have been working together for the past year with towns, the N.C. Division of State Parks, the U.S. Forest Service, and others to identify pilot sites for the program,” she said. “Marion was an ideal location, as the Catawba River can be easily accessed by the Marion greenway.
How popular is snorkeling in WNC?
Luke Etchinson, Western Region Aquatic Wildlife Diversity coordinator, said snorkeling in WNC is a growing alternative to traditional uses of rivers and lakes in WNC, like fishing, kayaking and tubing.
“River snorkeling in WNC has increased dramatically over the years with different businesses and organizations leading groups of people on guided trips in western North Carolina,” Etchinson said.
As popularity has increased, so have opportunities in WNC through businesses and organizations like Oxbow River Snorkeling in Rosman, Mainspring Conservation Trust in Franklin and U.S. Forest Service snorkeling programs.
Snorkeling in this area is unique due to high amount of protected land in WNC, according to enthusiasts.
“Our water is often clear and clean and is the home to unique biodiversity only found in the WNC mountains and foothills,” Etchinson said.
Those who choose to go below the surface will encounter crayfish, mussels, aquatic snails, salamanders, aquatic insects and fish not normally seen.
“River snorkelers will get to experience our rivers through our fishes’ eyes and explore all of the unique and beautiful species that are hidden just under the surface,” Etchinson said.
Mike Conley contributed to this story.