EDEN, N.C. -- The rivers flowing through Rockingham County power a multi-million dollar industry. Steve Rippey with Three Rivers Outfitters has seen the importance of the rivers grow every year.
"Ten years ago when we first started, hardly anyone was coming to Rockingham County to use the river. Now you stand along the highway and boats are on top of cars coming into the county," Rippey said.
But Rippey and other outfitters like Glenn Bozorth's Dan River Adventures thought Duke Energy's coal ash spill into the Dan River in February would ruin a growing water sports community.
"We've got phone calls wanting to know, ‘Can we still come out and float?’" he said.
The answer is yes. Tourism officials along with river guides and park rangers put their canoes and kayaks in the Dan River. Cindy Adams with the City of Eden hopes the trip will prove that a large stretch of the Dan River is safe and convince tourist to spend a part of their time away from the river in Eden.
"It's a way to get the word out that our waters have not been affected. It was downstream," she said.
The Dan River from Stokes County to just pass Eden is free of coal ash. But coal ash has been found at the bottom of the river at the Duke Energy Steam Station to Danville, Va. So with the vast majority of the Dan River free of ash, Rockingham County Tourism Development Authority Director Robin Yount says the county is ready for summer visitors.
"It's a big deal,” Yount said. “People come in and spend dollars at our hotels and buy gas and they come back and enjoy other activities as well."
Rockingham County tourists spent over $60 million in 2012.