It’s an old family tradition

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist

It has been strangely odd, in some ways, that twice in the last couple weeks rescuers have been called to scenic Rocky Fork Creek Gorge to rescue stranded kayakers in the Highland Nature Sanctuary area. Both times, Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District personnel and others have been able to rescue kayakers without anyone being seriously injured.

Now, before I get any deeper into this story, let me say that we are lucky to have emergency personnel and equipment capable of pulling off such a feat where they say cliffs on both sides reach 80 or more feet high.

It makes you wonder what might have happened to the kayakers if the rescue personnel had not been able to reach them.

If you have never been down in the gorge, and have an appreciation for God’s handiwork, it just might be the most gorgeous spot in Highland County. It’s definitely worth the trip in a kayak or canoe. But unless you are quite experienced, don’t be naive enough to try it when the water is high.

Once, when I was young and less fearful than I am now, I made a canoe trip from just below the Rocky Fork dam to the roadside rest on U.S. Route 50 just west of Bainbridge. It was a beautiful daylong trip, and I remember it vividly some 30 years later.

But the water was quite high that day and I was not by any means experienced (although my partner somewhat was). Since I have written about it before I will spare you the details. But I will tell you that we got dumped more than once, the current was fast enough to suck a shoe off my foot, and we were probably lucky to make it through the day with no more than a lost tennis shoe and some dents in our canoe.

More recently, like within the last month, my sons have taken a liking to kayaking down the gorge – the youngest has been through it three times. Thankfully, they have chosen days when the water was pretty mild. But when they came home after one trip they showed pictures of them jumping off a cliff into Rocky Fork Creek. Now mind you, they were not the really tall cliffs, but 25 to 30 feet is high enough.

What is odd is that when I saw their pictures, the location looked strangely familiar.

If you have read this column much, you know I have a deep passion for the old Seven Caves area, now known as the Highland Nature Sanctuary. If you have not, just to fill you in, I worked there one summer and some really good friends owned The Caves for several years. To say I spent a good bit of time there is an understatement.

I had lots of adventures there, repelling down the cliffs, wading in the creek and other streams, exploring the caves (sometimes in the middle of the night), hiking, fishing and much more.

When I saw the pictures of my sons jumping off the cliffs, images of those days fishing in the gorge came storming back. But I could only see one side of the creek. So I described the other side to them and sure enough, they were jumping into what used to be my favorite fishing hole at The Seven Caves. Back then we called it the Musset Hole, and there are likely many of you who will recognize the name.

I never jumped off any cliffs at The Seven Caves, but I swam in the Musset Hole a time or two. So when I saw my sons enjoying the same place I did so many years ago – although warnings of caution were the first words out of my mouth – it gave me a special feeling to know that they are enjoying the same place that meant so much to me all those years ago.

I know, there are probably those of you thinking I’m not much of a parent saying it was cool to see my kids jumping off cliffs into unclear water. But they say they check the hole for hazards before they jump, and I’d rather see them kayaking and jumping into a creek a thousand times before watching them set in a room playing a video game.

I have made similar jumps with them at locations in the Smokey Mountains, and given the chance would likely make the leap into the Musset Hole.

Do I worry about them kayaking down creeks and jumping off cliffs? Of course. Just like I worry every time they head down the road in a vehicle.

But you can only hold a child’s hand for so long before you have to let them fly, and then hope that somewhere along the line you taught them to made good decisions.

And anyway, when it comes down to it, I guess they’re really just carrying on an old family tradition.

Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or [email protected]

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist Gilliland Staff columnist