Polk County’s got cool

Published 9:18am Wednesday, May 15, 2013

This month, The Gorge will celebrate its grand opening.

In a stroke a genius, owners Tim and Sara Bell of Saluda have selected as their inaugural zipper, Bonnie Zelinskie, 84, of Tryon Estates. Why would an 84-year-old want to take the plunge on a two and a half hour ride under the old growth forest on the Green River Gorge? According to Ms. Zelinskie, “it sounded so cool…”

The Gorge marks another milestone in the growing outdoor adventure industry in western North Carolina. The Bells also own the highly successful Green River Adventures, which takes adventure seekers on Green River kayak rides as well as waterfall rappelling and hikes. The Bells moved their business off the river and on to Main Street in Saluda two years ago and area merchants could not be happier. After a few hours of having mega fun on the river, guests are deposited back to the Green River Adventures outpost downtown, ready to eat and shop – how convenient.

The Bells are not the only ones seeing a significant rise in outdoor activities in Polk County. Brooke Walton opened Terra on Trade a few months back, with outdoor equipment, apparel and bike and kayak rentals. As the weather has continued to warm up, so have sales. Walton believes we are in such a perfect spot for the outdoor industry.

“We (Polk County) are surrounded by so much to do plus the untapped, natural assets are awesome,” Walton said.

Up the mountain, Bike and Hike has also opened in Saluda, catering to a growing tourism segment that wants to do more than sit on the porch at the inn and look at the mountains. They want to really experience the mountains – huffing and puffing and sweating.

Overall, the outdoor industry in NC annually contributes more than $19.2 billion in direct spending, supports 191,500 jobs, generates $1.3 billion in state and local tax revenue and produces $5.6 billion in wages. Polk County has a slice of that pie. It’s interesting to note that the outdoor industry is growing and thriving in a down economy and has left other growth sectors in the dust. 

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