Competitors take on Green River Games Sept. 6 – 8

Published 6:56 pm Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Brianna Molchan tests out the Stand Up Paddle Board course earlier this summer in preparation of this weekend’s Green River Games. The event runs Friday, Sept. 6 through Sunday, Sept. 8 in Saluda. (photo from Green River Games’ facebook page)

Brianna Molchan tests out the Stand Up Paddle Board course earlier this summer in preparation of this weekend’s Green River Games. The event runs Friday, Sept. 6 through Sunday, Sept. 8 in Saluda. (photo from Green River Games’ facebook page)

Outdoor adventurists – about 100 of them – seeking an ultimate competition have loaded up their bikes, kayaks and running shoes headed for Saluda and the first Green River Games.

Plans for this event, which will be held Sept. 6-8 in the Green River game lands, began rushing through organizer John Grace’s head three years ago.

Grace, who also organizes the infamous Green River Narrows Race held each November, has competed in and photographed similar world-class competitions in places like Vail, Colo. What he experienced at those events led him to dream up what he hopes to build in Saluda.

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“I know what is there [in the Green River game lands], but a lot of people don’t by any means. Not even a lot of people in Polk County know what we have right here… It’s just remote and rugged enough to be unspoiled,” Grace said. “Having been to all of those other places before, I knew from a competitor’s standpoint the Green River is better.”

The Green River game lands are comprised of 18,639 acres in Henderson and Polk counties. Grace worked with NC Wildlife to use about 200 acres of the area for this weekend’s event.

At its most impressive point, the Green River  drops 400 feet in a distance of one and a half miles and runs through a six-foot wide crevice known as “the Narrows.” Pulliam Creek, around which much of the games are centered, cuts a deep ravine near the Green River, forming several small falls and slides.

About 100 world-class kayakers already trek to Saluda each year to run the treacherous class V rapids of the Narrows. The Green River Games add to that a rugged 8-mile mountain bike course and an 8-mile trail run.

Grace has solid credentials to back up his plans. In 2005, National Geographic named Grace and three fellow kayakers to its list of 10 Adventurers of the Year after they tackled the Grand Canyon of the Stikine River in northern British Columbia. The four coursed down rapids rated Class V+, the highest survivable rating for a river. Between 1981 and 2005, fewer than 40 paddlers had braved the river. Grace and the other three kayakers ran it in 9 hours and 50 minutes.

Tackling the Green by water, foot and pedal will take endurance. For Saturday’s Sierra Nevada Switchback, Grace said a time of around 5 hours should win it.

According to Grace, almost 100 racers were registered for the games as of Tuesday afternoon; 21 for the signature Switchback event. Grace’s goal is to have 100 competitors total.

Partners for this event include national brands such as Sierra Nevada and REI, as well as regional companies such as Sycamore Cycles in Hendersonville, Jus’ Running and Foot RX in Asheville and The Gorge, right here in Saluda.

Sara Bell, who owns Green River Adventures and The Gorge zipline with husband, Tim, said she sees economic development and education being the positive outcomes of events such as the Green River Games.

“To do all of those activities in one spot is definitely not common for recreational areas, so I think we’ll start to see more users of the game lands,” Bell said. “The [Green River] game lands are sort of an undiscovered playground… I think people’s fear is that this untouched natural resource would be affected in a negative way. But traditionally these outdoor recreationalists are very protective of the land – it’s a healthy group.”

Austin Parsons, service manager for Sycamore Cycles’ Hendersonville location, said it made sense for the company to help out with the event.

“Our bike shop is really known for mountain biking – we specialize in suspension set up and are really familiar with that type of terrain,” Parsons said. “We’re excited about the new trails down there. It’s definitely not for novices, but the riders who regularly go out to Pisgah Forest will love these trails.”

Grace said the trails were previously open to the public but not maintained in such a way that mountain bikers or even hikers could easily use. The games’ trail crew put in 410 man hours to get the course ready. Grace said trail maintenance will be an ongoing effort.

“Now that we can maintain them, we hope to get more people out there to experience it,” Grace said. “It’s something to be proud of right there in Polk County.”

To experience the race as a spectator, Grace encourages people to head out to Wilderness Cove Campground around mid afternoon Saturday to see transitions of the Silverback race or head out to the Reggae and Beer Festival at The Party Place and Event Center in Saluda Saturday night from 4-8 p.m. to see footage from all of the events, listen to live music and sip locally brewed beers (21 and up).

See for more information.