If you live in the Asheville area, you’ve probably heard Marc Hunt’s name before. A former city councilman and an instrumental person in the development of the Woodfin Whitewater Wave, Hunt has lived most of his life working on or supporting the protection of the rivers in our area. We connected with Hunt late this summer to ask him a few questions about his WNC roots and what he’s doing to support the vitality of the French Broad River.
How long have you been in the 828 and what keeps you rooted here?
It was the mid-80s and I’d been in the whitewater outfitting business on the Ocoee River in Tennessee. Nantahala Outdoor Center was becoming the worldwide epicenter of the whitewater sport, and moving there to join the scene cemented my love affair with WNC. Oh, and this woman who was there, that was a big part of it…and still is. The rivers, the lush green Blue Ridge Mountains, family, and community are what have kept me here and keep me in love with this area.
We know that you used to be on the Asheville City Council. What is one thing the public would never guess City Council members have to do?
I was struck by the amount of hard effort it takes to do the job well. On bigger issues, there is lots of homework to do – stakeholders to listen to, research to explore, and pitfalls to consider. By the time City Council votes on an important matter, a good Council member has invested hours and hours looking into it. It also requires a willingness to compromise, and some folks struggle with that part of it.
We understand you are behind the Buncombe County Better with Bonds referendum on the ballot this November. Tell us how the bonds work and why you are so committed to open space and affordable housing.
Two areas of crisis in our community are the unaffordability of housing for families and local workers and the ongoing loss of our farmland and natural rural landscapes. These bonds will pump $70 million into addressing those challenges and will also provide some funding for needed greenway projects.
For decades, I’ve worked in one way or another on these challenges and want to credit the Buncombe County Commission for getting the bonds to the ballot and for their plans to implement the bold programs that will follow. Bonds are a tried-and-true way for local communities to get big things done. They involve borrowing money now and repaying it over a twenty-year period – a little like a family using a home mortgage to brighten its own future. Perhaps the most important thing they do is expand the ability to leverage funding from federal, state, and other outside sources. The way Buncombe County is going about this, it’ll mean great outcomes for the community and the planet. But first, we’ve got to get the bonds approved at the polls.
Prior to getting into politics, you owned an outfitting business in the outdoor industry. What made you decide to leave that business and pursue politics?
As I learned in the ’70s when I quit college and started that whitewater outfitting company on the Ocoee, I’m an entrepreneur at heart. One thing that happened at Ocoee is that I found myself helping lead a huge political and legal battle to ensure water releases from federal dams upstream. Had we lost, the riverbed would have gone dry because of a hydropower diversion project. We won that fight, and it helped me see that there are bigger things to accomplish than the success of a tiny business.
After selling the business, I eventually shifted and began putting my passion into working for causes in the nonprofit sector and as a community volunteer. I see myself as a somewhat reluctant politician and was a bit unsettled when friends recruited me to run for City Council in 2011. Although I have no regrets about my time on City Council and am very proud of our accomplishments when I was in office, I think I get more done not being in elected office.
Word on the river is that you are one heck of a kayaker. Can you tell us one of the reasons the Woodfin Whitewater Wave project is important to you?
If being a “heck of a kayaker” just means I have tons of enthusiasm for the sport, I plead guilty. I’m passionate about taking care of the French Broad, but in the past, we have not done such a great job of doing so. The Wave, along with the parks and greenways going in beside it, will connect people to the river and will hopefully lead us to collectively become better stewards of the French Broad. Being right in the thick of the Woodfin community, the Wave will be a world-class year-round playboating feature that will provide different experiences for a range of skill levels. Currently, the design process is wrapping up, and we’re aiming to construct the Woodfin Whitewater Wave in 2023!
With your love of paddling, we must ask, creeking or playboating?
I’ve always been more of a playboater than a creeker. Paddling has always had a serious athletic appeal for me – racing, fitness, building playboating skills, etc. Plus, I am acrophobic and have always been a little queasy about paddling over the big vertical drops that modern creeking involves. I also love getting on wild rivers, whether that’s a multi-day trip out west or a remote stream in this part of the country.
What books are currently on your nightstand? Anything you’d recommend to others?
I’m into Through the Mountains by local author John Ross right now – a new book that covers the natural and human history of the French Broad River and its watershed. As the author intends, it makes a great complement to The French Broad by Wilma Dykeman, a book that originally helped fuel my passion for the French Broad. Both are great reads for anyone interested in our regional history and who feels a sense of duty to protect our environment.
And, since we live in Beer City, what’s your favorite spot to grab a pint?
I’ve got a soft spot for the original Wedge Brewery because of its legacy as one of our earliest craft beer venues and because of the many great community events hosted there over the years. Plus, I really love their Iron Rail IPA!
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