The Nantahala River is a mecca for whitewater rafting enthusiasts. Because of the hydroelectric dams in the area, rapids can be controlled, allowing rafters access to some of the nation's most acclaimed rapids. During power production, the discharge from the Nantahala plant is 586 cubic feet per second. It fills the Lower Nantahala Gorge and allows it to play host to fisherman and whitewater enthusiasts alike. Rafting outfitters began offering commercial trips during the early 1970s. Today, an estimated 160,000 people a year float the river in rafts alone. With over 20 named rapids, the Nantahala River is a perfect recreation river. Nantahala Lake has a 29-mile shoreline and offers fishing and boating. The lake is ideal for the fishermen seeking walleye, crappie, sunfish, trout, and bass.

NP&L has taken many steps to ensure the safety of the environment. There are minimum flow releases at or below 7 of NP&L's 13 dams (Cedar Cliff, Tuckasegee, and Nantahala, Franklin, Dillsboro, Bryson City, and Mission). Abandonment of water generation at Dick's Creek and Diamond Valley has improved the habitat in 8 miles of the Nantahala River. Franklin Dam, which creates nearby Lake Emory, has helped preserve a long stretch of the Little Tennessee by retaining sediment. NP&L also minimized lake level fluctuations during spawning seasons in spring and early summer by moving annual maintenance of Thorpe on the Tuckasegee from April to September.

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