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Nantahala Outdoor Center renowned paddling school wins Winner's Circle award

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Governor Pat McCrory and the NC Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development announced today that Horace Holden, Aurelia Kennedy and Payson Kennedy, founders of the Nantahala Outdoor Center, were recipients of the Winner's Circle award.

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“These awards are given annually since 2004 to people who have made significant and continuing contributions to the growth and success of North Carolina's tourism industry.”

"We congratulate this year's recipients for their lasting impact on tourism in the state." Tourism is such an important economic driver for us, and it's visionaries like these who have helped develop all the diverse and unique attractions we enjoy in North Carolina. Tourism is an industry that touches every county in North Carolina."

Horace Holden, Aurelia Kennedy and Payson Kennedy founded Nantahala Outdoor Center in 1972, the same whitewater kayaking debuted as an Olympic sport.

(1972 was the year the movie Deliverance was released and also the year Richard Nixon was re-elected president by a landslide.)

It was not long before Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) became one of the world's premier guide services in Western North Carolina. In the past 42-years, it has become an inspiration for generations of outdoor adventurers, including more than 20 Olympic athletes.

One of those 20 athletes was Horace P. Holden, Jr., an American slalom canoer. He finished 11th in the C-2 event at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

Fueled passion for the river and outdoor recreation, NOC include treks on the Nantahala and six other rivers.

With over 40 years’ experience, NOC has shared the outdoors with millions of guests on whitewater rafting trips and countless other activities from family-friendly trips to action-packed adventures.

“Our world-class staff leads whitewater rafting trips on the Southeast's best rivers, including the Chattooga River, Cheoah River, French Broad River, Nantahala River, Nolichucky River, Ocoee River, and Pigeon River.”

At NOC, you can “Learn to whitewater paddle from the pros in our renowned canoe and kayak Paddling School. We also offer adventure-learning programs for groups, a zip line adventure park, wilderness medicine courses, and many other activities.”

Along with the Paddling School, NOC offers kayak tours, bike rentals, fly-fishing, and hiking, in the shadows of the Appalachian Trail.

There is the River's End Restaurant. “The restaurant was founded in 1972, when husband and wife Payson and Aurelia Kennedy and their business partner, Horace Holden Sr., purchased the property that would become the Nantahala Outdoor Center.”

In 2005, Payson Kennedy earned a spot in the first class of the International Whitewater Hall of Fame. The trio's labor of love reached new heights with the NOC's successful bid to host the ICF Freestyle World Championship in the Nantahala Gorge in September 2013, and coming in 2015, the IFC Wildwater Canoeing Junior World Championships.

John G Hall
Charlotte Canoeing Examiner

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