Kayaking and Service in the Appalachian Mountains, North Carolina

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14297A, Service/ Volunteer, Kayak


  • Kayak the beautiful Lake Santeetlah
  • Give back by completing service projects on the lake
  • Enjoy and explore the beauty of the western North Carolina mountains


  • All meals
  • All kayaking equipment (kayak, pfd, paddles)
  • Work tools, trash bags


DatesSep 7–13, 2014
StaffRebecca Dameron

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Lake Santeetlah is situated in the southern portion of the Appalachian Mountains, in the Nantahala National Forest.  This area was originally inhabited by the Cherokee Indians -- most of whom were forcibly removed from the area in the Trail of Tears in 1838.  Those who stayed behind in their beloved homeland now live in nearby Cherokee or the Snowbird community. 

“Santeetlah” is thought by some to be a Cherokee word meaning "sandy stream" -- and 100 years ago, that’s what the lake was. The 3,000-acre Lake Santeetlah was formed in 1928 with the construction of Santeetlah Dam by Alcoa.  We’ll be camping near the lake at a Nantahala National Forest campsite and carpooling daily to our launch site.

The Project

We’ll be kayaking along some of the seventy-six miles of mostly natural forested shoreline of Lake Santeetlah and working with the U.S. Forest Service on a to-be-determined project.  Last year, we put in two new tent pads using Pulaskis to prepare the sites, shovels to move lots of dirt, and strong arms to move long timbers for the edges. We also collected more than 1,000 lbs of trash.

The U.S. Forest Service personnel will assist us with their pontoon boat for trash pickup as well as for tool and material transport. Typical trash includes plastic bags, tires, plastic bottles, styrofoam, and fishing lines. The debris is an eyesore as well as a danger to fish and other wildlife around the lake. 

Also on the agenda will be swimming, relaxing, and hiking.


Day 1: We’ll gather Sunday afternoon by 4:00 p.m. at the campground, set up, and enjoy the afternoon getting to know each other. We’ll have an orientation meeting after dinner, our first meal together.

Day 2: Each day, we’ll have breakfast together at camp and then carpool to one of our launch points (4-15 miles away) using volunteer drivers and cars. This first work morning, we’ll help unload the boats, go over any kayaking instruction that is needed, and then start our trash pickup or campsite work. Along the way, or certainly at lunch, we’ll enjoy swimming and relaxing. After our work, we’ll come back to hot showers and a hearty meal.  One night we’ll have a talk about conservation issues in the area.

Day 3: We’ll continue our work on the lake.  We may break a bit early and then head to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest (a Wilderness area) for an afternoon hike. Joyce Kilmer is a beautiful old-growth forest (some trees over 450 years old) with a spectacular stand of tulip poplars, some of which are more than 20 feet in circumference and stand 100 feet tall.  

Day 4: After breakfast together, you have a day off to explore the area on your own.   

Days 5-6: These two days we’ll kayak and pick up debris or work on the campsites. Local music will be the entertainment one night.

Day 7: The trip ends this morning after breakfast. There is much to explore in the area and you should have no problem taking the long way home to enjoy nature around you.

Note: The leaders will make every reasonable effort to meet the goals outlined in the itinerary. Please keep in mind that weather or other conditions beyond our control may cause us to modify the itinerary in order to ensure the safety and well-being of the group.



Getting There

Transportation to the campsite will be on your own.  Rattler Ford Campground is about 13 miles west of Robbinsville, NC. Nearby airports include: Knoxville, Tennessee (75 miles); Atlanta, Georgia (180 miles); and Asheville, North Carolina (90 miles). Driving directions will be provided to registered participants. An email will be sent to all participants to see if folks want to coordinate transportation.

Accommodations and Food

We’ll be camping at the Rattler Ford campground, which has flush toilets and hot showers (though numbers are limited). Although the campsite has toilet facilities, be prepared for wilderness facilities when we are out working. You will need to bring a tent and sleeping bag (equipment list will be provided to participants). We will ask for volunteer drivers to carpool to the launching point every day. 

Breakfast and dinner will be cooked at the campsite, and lunch will be packed each morning for us to take with us.  The food will be vegetarian-friendly and those with dietary restrictions should let the leader know before the trip. Each day, volunteers will be recruited for kitchen duty (prepping, cooking, and cleaning).

Trip Difficulty

The kayaking and any hiking on the trip will be moderate.  The kayaking will be on flat water and the biggest concern may be leaning over while picking up the trash. There will be several occasions for people to get out of their boats to get trash, but that is not required.  How far we travel depends on our launch sites and the work sites, but we may paddle as much as 6-8 miles in a day.  

This trip is for any skill level of paddler. Guidance will be given on strokes and what to do if your boat flips. Rescues may be demonstrated and you can either watch or participate.

The work project will probably be similar to the project over the last three years, which means it will include some trash pickup and campsite work. The campsite work does involve more arduous tasks (shoveling, cutting roots, toting, etc) and so sturdy shoes, safety glasses, gloves, and long pants are suggested. No one will be asked to do anything beyond what he or she is capable of and comfortable with. We hope to know more about the exact nature of our work before the trip begins.

Because of the wide range of activities, we do ask that all participants be in good physical condition and be at least 16 years old.

Equipment and Clothing

You’ll need a variety of clothing for this trip -- for service, for kayaking, for hiking, and for lounging around the camp at night.  Swimsuits are great for kayaking. We’ll be able to stow sturdy work shoes, work gloves, or other work clothes in our kayaks while we paddle to our work sites.  

Evenings can get chilly and there is always a chance of rain, so come prepared with layers, a fleece jacket, and good rain gear.

Kayaks, paddles, and personal flotation devices (pfds) will be provided.  If you want to bring your own equipment, that’s great. Please let the leader know. 

Electronic devices are permitted as long as the use of them does not interfere with other participants' enjoyment of the trip.  There is no cell service at the campsite.



Two environmental issues that affect Lake Santeetlah and surrounding waters are high levels of mercury and the loss of hemlock trees. The mercury is believed to come from the acid rain that weather systems bring in from coal mining country. The wooly adelgid is killing off the native Carolina Hemlock trees, which provide shade for fish and habitat for other wildlife. We will discuss some of the ramifications of both concerns.  

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Rebecca Dameron is a lifetime member of the Sierra Club, enjoys the out of doors, hiking and loves being connected with the water in a kayak. She has kayaked in Alaska, North Carolina, Virginia, the Everglades, Scotland, New Zealand, Chile and Greenland. She believes in providing service in her own community as well as in places she visits to enjoy the natural surroundings and is happy to offer the opportunity to others.

Assistant Leader:

Danielle Tinker

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