By Kendal Groner
Those with an interest in outdoor recreation will soon have a chance to develop an impressive skill set through the Nolichucky Outdoor Learning Institute (NOLI), which is located on the property of USA Raft/Mountain River Guides on the Nolichucky River in Erwin.
On June 7, Scott Fisher, owner of NOLI and former U.S. Army Infantry officer and ranger with years of experience in kayaking and swiftwater rescue, came before the Unicoi County Rafting Committee to discuss his business plans.
“Our mission is to celebrate the outdoors and help others to do the same,” Fisher said. “That’s what drives us. It’s a unique concept, I don’t think there’s anything else like this, certainly not in the region and really throughout the southeast.”
At NOLI, a team of 12 highly-trained and experienced individuals will lead instruction for kayaking, canoeing, water safety awareness, swiftwater rescue, wilderness medicine, survival, map reading and land navigation, leave no trace, nature hikes, youth day camps and outdoor photography and painting.
Fisher said he’s lived in this region for about 16 years and has about 20 years of experience with whitewater kayaking and as a swiftwater rescue instructor. For quite some time, Fisher said he and several friends have toyed with the idea of creating something like NOLI, but it wasn’t until now that they felt the time was right. With the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership (NETREP) and their attention to outdoor development, Fisher took note of an atmosphere being created that he believes will be supportive of the outdoor business venture.
“With this regional collaboration, there’s really newfound interest and support to make something like this work,” Fisher said. “It’s perfect timing.”
Just based on the initial interest in NOLI’s services thus far, Fisher said it is very promising and added that many people have already expressed a desire to sign up for many of the classes, most of which will be offered year-round.
“Our offerings are so broad,” Fisher said. “A good example of that is the wilderness first aid and CPR, that class we will offer all year, and there is a significant interest in that class.”
The survival class is another year-round class that will be offered, which Fisher described as family friendly. The one-to-two day class will allow participants to get their feet wet by wading to an island off of the Nolichucky Gorge Campground. Survival topics that will be covered include: fire starting, shelter building, water purification, map and compass usage, and leave no trace.
“We’re going to keep it fun and we’re going to keep it light,” he said.
For the kayaking, both flat and whitewater kayaking will be offered. Access points on the river will include Chestoa, Sawmill, Jackson Love and USA Raft for the whitewater kayaking. Half-day paddles will take place at regional lakes.
“That will include a trip to an island for a nice lunch,” Fisher said. “We are also going to offer flatwater paddling for senior citizens and for women specifically. We found there to be particularly a lot of interest in that.”
For the riverside painting classes, Fisher said they plan to bring in Peggy Root, an established artist in Jonesborough, for a two-day oil painting class called “Capturing the Nolichucky” that will take place in late July.
There will also be a “NOLI Flow” class where participants can bring a chair along with their favorite wine or beer and enjoy an art class on the bank of the Nolichucky with all supplies provided.
“It’s very community friendly and it’s for everyone with no experience required,” Fisher said.
“Then afterwards participants will be able to take home their canvas or picture.”
David Ramsey, a local professional photographer who was also a key player in the preservation of Rocky Fork State Park, will be teaching the outdoor photography classes that will cover wildlife landscape and action.
“All of these will start fairly soon,” Fisher said about the classes.
He expressed his excitement for being able to have an outdoor school stationed in Erwin and said that after traveling all over the world, this has been the first area Fisher says he has wanted to call home.
“It’s almost perfect,” Fisher said about Erwin and Unicoi County. “The natural resources we have here from an outdoor standpoint, it’s among the best in the country.”
Glenn White, Unicoi County Commissioner and Rafting Committee member, made a motion during last week’s meeting to approve Fisher’s license to put in the river. His motion was seconded by Unicoi County Commissioner and Rafting Committee Chairman Loren Thomas before it unanimously passed.
“It sounds very interesting and we’re excited to have you,” said Thomas
“Thanks a lot for coming to Unicoi County and doing business here,” White echoed.
For more information about NOLI and their upcoming courses, visit www.NoliLearn.org.