Despite the pandemic — and maybe in some ways because of the pandemic — 2021 is shaping up to be an extremely busy year for the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
By the numbers: Attendance is projected to be up about 30% over last year, which saw traffic similar to 2019, says Jesse Hyde, the center’s brand director.
The surge in popularity of the Whitewater Center follows a national trend: During the pandemic, Americans flocked to outdoor activities, from hiking to mountain biking to fishing.
- Locally, demand for bikes skyrocketed, and record crowds visited North Carolina state parks.
- “People wanted to get out of the house, and that led them our way,” Hyde said.
There were few alternatives for recreation available to the general public at the height of the shutdowns, Hyde notes. Movie theaters, concert venues and gyms were closed for months, pushing people to seek alternative forms of fun.
“We were one of the few options that was available in 2020,” Hyde says. “That prompted a lot of people to come and check us out for the first time.”
Driving the news: From Oct. 1-3, the Whitewater Center is hosting its popular Tuck Fest, a three-day outdoor festival filled with musical performances, yoga, athletic events and competitions. This is the seventh year of the highly anticipated festival, which was canceled last year.
Music: Past years’ Tuck Fests have drawn big-name artists, including Moon Taxi, Tyler Childers, Jason Isbell, Fantastic Negrito, Shakey Graves and Carolina Chocolate Drops. This year’s event similarly has a mix of acclaimed national and local artists such as Dawes, Hiss Golden Messenger and Steep Canyon Rangers.
The Whitewater Center uses several criteria to select artists, including availability and expense. Artists’ fees, Hyde says, are “of great consideration” given that all shows are free and non-ticketed.
- “Our goal is to always create a family-friendly experience and an accessible environment so that as many people as possible can enjoy being outside and listening to music,” Hyde said.
Pay for artists/teachers: Hyde declined to share how much the Whitewater Center pays artists and visiting instructors. The center, he said, makes investments in its programming in order to “increase access and lower barriers to the outdoor lifestyle.”
- Also, he said, while many businesses and individuals may be compensated to come, others also “pay, trade or volunteer to attend events” as a way of marketing themselves or their work.
Staffing challenges: While demand increases, the center is facing similar challenges to other industries like restaurants: Finding and keeping workers.
- Whitewater rafting has grown significantly in popularity, Hyde says. But its growth is limited for now; there are only so many staff members to take people out on the water.
What’s next: The Whitewater Center has a busy calendar over the next few months. There’s a Build Your Own Boat event, the Whitewater Film Series in October and 10 more Whitewater Race Series events. And this winter, expect to see an increase in “the size and quality” of the center’s popular ice skating, Hyde says.