photographs by Tim Robison

“You never know who you’re going to meet at mile marker zero,” David Whitmire says. He’s standing beside the French Broad, right where the river takes on that name and just steps away from Headwaters Outfitters, the business that he and his wife, Debi, started in Rosman almost 30 years ago. Today, they share their love of the river with about 15,000 customers a year through tubing, guided canoe and kayak expeditions, and fly-fishing trips. On any given day, you might find three generations of a family launching canoes, or a group of hard-core paddlers starting a multiday kayak trip from the Headwaters beach.

All the gear to get started is available at the Headwaters shop, which feels like a mountain cabin with its vaulted ceiling and stone fireplace. A mounted muskie, caught by a beloved customer, stares dolefully at shoppers picking out everything from maps and water shoes to locally made honey and jewelry. At the Forks of the River Taproom, leather-jacketed bikers taking a break from the Blue Ridge Parkway join regulars in savoring a rotating selection of local beers, brewed exclusively with water from the French Broad watershed.

Area bluegrass musicians gather on the taproom porch every Tuesday for a pickin’ session. And once a year, almost 200 volunteers come together for a cleanup of the upper French Broad. “Especially now, with the outdoor recreation and beer industries growing in the area, people understand how important clean water is,” says Jessica, the Whitmires’ daughter and operations manager. “Everything here is connected to water, and to the French Broad.”

Headwaters Outfitters
25 Parkway Road
Rosman, NC 28772
(828) 877-3106

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C.A. Carlson is a writer and editor living in Asheville.