23 Apr Opening the Outdoor Spirit in 2021
The weather is warming up and things are blooming in the mountains. As everyone begins to shake off a tough winter, many are beginning to make their plans to enjoy the beauty and serenity that the outdoors can provide. One group based in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains here in Unicoi County has been hard at work preparing for visitors from around the world that want to experience the world-class natural resources of our region. USA Raft has been a key destination for visitors that want to have a one-of-a-kind outdoor experience since 1972. The original founder offered his Brand Manager, Matt Moses, the opportunity to buy the property–as well as another property called The French Broad Outpost in Marshall, NC–because of his passion for the outdoors and personal investment in the business in Unicoi County.
Matt was born and raised in Greensboro, NC and has always had a passion for all things outdoor adventure. He attended college in Vermont and received his degree in Outdoor Recreation and Facilities Management so that he could marry his love for outdoor adventure and his entrepreneurial spirit. While still in Vermont, Matt started his career as a white water and cave guide.
“I’ve always loved helping people discover their own passion for the many natural wonders that are around them. Helping others become empowered to strike out and enjoy the wild places around them has always been tremendously satisfying for me,” explains Matt. “As I finished school, I wanted to move back down to the south to be closer to my family and begin developing my own guide business in the mountains I grew up in. I’ve always loved the Tennessee side of the mountains, so I began looking for an opportunity to build an amazing outdoor adventure resort right in the heart of one of the world’s best white water resources–the Nolichucky River.”
Making Unicoi County the Home for USA Raft
After having owned and managed businesses in both Tennessee and North Carolina, Matt ultimately decided to move all his business attention to the USA Raft resort in Unicoi County. “The natural resources that are so accessible on the Tennessee side of the mountains was a huge draw for me as both an outdoor enthusiast and as a business owner,” says Matt. “Cherokee National Forest (the main federally managed public land area on the Tennessee side) has a lot more multi-use land, which makes it great for outdoor adventurers that want to have different experiences in the same area. You will see mountain bikers, hikers, dog walkers, and a variety of day adventurers all on the same trail on a regular basis, which is great for meeting new people and making the most of your time in the outdoors.”
The outdoor areas in Unicoi County are much more open and accepting of a diverse list of outdoor recreation uses. It gives visitors, and locals, the ability to congregate and share their passion together. It’s a much more interconnected community in the region by design, and by necessity–creating a strong cultural tie with each other and the outdoors.
Matt Moses has a tremendous amount of experience as an outdoor adventure guide business owner on both sides of the Appalachian Mountains. When he decided to consolidate his business in Unicoi, it was because he was confident it was the right move for his business, employees, and guests. “It’s the support for businesses like mine that I’ve received from the county leadership here in Unicoi County all the way up to the state legislation,” says Matt. “It’s so much more friendly to business owners like myself compared to other cities and states within which I’ve been a business owner.”
2021 Events at USA Raft
The USA Raft team has already started running their daily raft trips. The solid amount of regular rain we’ve received has meant that the rivers are healthy and running well, so guests can look forward to an amazing experience anywhere along the legendary Nolichucky River–on the banks of which USA Raft’s resort is located. Professional certified guides are always there to provide training for first-time rafters and to provide help and information to make sure everyone has an amazing experience, no matter what skill level they may be at.
What many people may not know is that USA Raft also has extensive trip packages for caving, hiking, fishing, rock climbing, and other outdoor activities as well. They are offering daily cave trips with experienced guides that are perfect for any date no matter what the weather is like!
Their tubing trips are one of their most popular activities every year, offering a leisurely experience to float down the river and take in all the sites, sounds, and spirit of the surrounding mountain beauty. USA Raft has invested in new rafts and new routes to be sure to offer a fresh experience even to those that have been tubing with them for years. “My goal with our tubing trips is to give people a convenient, and closer, option to the tubing excursions available in Asheville, NC. Our trips are less crowded and offer fast currents and more pristine waters to tube in,” says Matt.
The biggest event each year at USA Raft is their famous “Nolifest” which is a mix of live music, great food, and outdoor activities that draws guests from around the world. This year’s event has been “officially” cancelled due to persistent issues with the COVID pandemic, however they’ve had very few people cancel their reservations and the USA Raft staff are still planning on having many of their events as planned–just with a smaller crowd. “We’ve had very few people that have decided not to come back this year for Nolifest,” assures Matt. “We will still be having our famous kayak race, live concerts every night, and enjoying some fun camp activities. We’re just not going to have the regular vendor booths and other features that are more difficult to manage safely in a socially distanced situation. All our concerts will have designated areas for all guests to stay within, or to wear their mask as they come and go outside their area.”
You can find a full list of weekly events on the USA Raft website (www.usaraft.com).
New Excursion for 2021
Many people may not know that Matt and his team work to add new excursions and amenities each year to continue to grow their outdoor adventure opportunities for guests. This year is an especially exciting time for the resort as they are partnering with the newest Tennessee State Park, Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park, to offer their guests guided rock climbing adventures.
Matt has partnered with Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park Ranger, Tim Pharis, to create a unique and fulfilling rock climbing experience that is immensely more convenient for those that don’t want to travel hours. The trip is minutes from the USA Raft Adventure Resort campus, and does not include a grueling hike in order to access the rock faces. It’s an easy walk from the main parking lot of only about 12 minutes and then you’re climbing! These are bolted rock faces for safety, and each party is made up of one group. So, the guides will be focusing all their attention on your family or friend group rather than having a large mixed group of strangers to attend to.
The climbing programs last from 2 to 6 hours (the most popular package is the 4 hour climb) and the varied rock faces offer a wide range of difficulties to match with any level of climbing experience. Options range from extremely beginner climbers to much more technical climbers that want to work on new skill sets.
New Amenities for 2021
Aside from all the new activities that can be enjoyed at USA Raft, their team has also added a number of new amenities to make your resort stay an enjoyable experience. Matt has added a take-out bar and grill to the property to give visitors an on-site option for enjoying some great food and drinks. It is open 7 days a week and offers a unique experience for dining on their outdoor covered deck–which has been doubled in size–that overlooks the flowing Nolichucky River.
USA Raft has also added a number of new “glamping” options through their partnership with The Sophisticated Nomad–a custom canvas safari bell tent manufacturer based in Jonesborough, TN. These new luxury tent camping options will be available right along the Nolichucky River and will offer; electrical power access, full beds, housekeeping services, and WiFi access. No TVs are available in the tents, but who needs a TV with real views like these?!
The adventure resort also offers well-kept bath houses on the property for their guests–one even has a sauna. USA Raft prides itself on being very family-friendly, offering camp activities, classes, and experiences for visitors of all ages. There is also direct access to the Appalachian Trail from the resort access for premier hiking opportunities minutes from your campsite.
Matt has worked hard to create one of the most comprehensive and premium outdoor adventure experiences for his guests. He’s proud to offer all these activities right here in Unicoi County, and is always promoting the other businesses in the area to help grow the local economy. Matt explained, “We really enjoy partnering with other local companies. It’s very important to me as a business owner to keep as many of my dollars local as I possibly can.”
If you’re ready to plan your big outdoor adventure in 2021, be sure to visit www.usaraft.com and let Matt and his team help you find the perfect package to make the most of our Unicoi County mountain home.