Nashville Scene

Nashville Kayaking VS. NFL Draft - an update

Attention River Queens! We have an exciting update in the saga of Nashville Kayaks vs the NFL Draft. Check out this write up in the Nashville Scene to get the full scoop!

via the Nashville Scene…

Without a Paddle: NFL Draft Shuts Down River Outfitters for Three Weeks

Add riverine tours of the city to the victims list for this week's National Football League Player Selection Meeting.

During the draft (April 25-27 in downtown Nashville), holders of commercial outfitter permits — in other words, companies that provide kayak and canoe tours of the Cumberland River — are shut out from the downtown stretch of the river, which isn't terribly unusual. Though the oldest extant laws on Tennessee's books relate to free access and navigation of waterways — a cursory review of the TCA finds applicable laws on the matter dating back to the 1830s — the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard restrict waterside access during major events. That's presumably under the aegis of the PATRIOT Act, which as we all know trumps every constitutional amendment, regulation and statute passed since Hammurabi first took stylus to clay.

For example, for a week or so around the CMA Fest and the Fourth of July, the outfitters are barred from river usage. For the draft, though, they've been dry-docked since April 15 and won't be allowed back in the river until May 7, a whopping 22-day stretch. Given that the outfitters only operate for six months out of the year, three commerceless weeks (plus the aforementioned time off for the recurring downtown events) is no small matter.

Metro Parks issues kayak and canoe permits because they control the put-in and take-out points. The department also allows the companies to use the Stones River when the Cumberland River is blocked off, but as River Queen Voyages' Annie Klaver tells the Scene, customers are looking for that downtown experience ... and Instagrammable shot.

"The ... shot everyone wants is being in a kayak with the famous Nashville skyline in the background, so we have had a lot of disappointed potential customers the past few weeks," Klaver says. "People who are staying downtown don't want to travel to the Stones River — part of the appeal of our service is being able to get that great Instagram photo and then walk downtown right after your paddle."

But just like the cherry tree debacle was about more than the cherry trees, the kayak situation has an angle that's more philosophical than financial.

"If we have all these TV cameras and coverage in Nashville and no river activity, then the entire RQV raison d'être — to make Nashville a river town by being a place where you can be active outdoors — is erased from how locals, visitors and potential visitors see us," Klaver says. "I care about the lost revenue and exposure of course, but the philosophical piece disappoints me the most."

After some social media attention on the matter, Vice Mayor Jim Shulman connected Klaver with Convention and Visitors' Corporation CEO and room nights enthusiast Butch Spyridon. Metro-watchers in awe of his power may be surprised to learn that Spyridon does not have the ability to line-item veto provisions of the PATRIOT Act, but he nonetheless did what he could to make it right, apologizing personally and reimbursing RQV for its lost revenue and providing a gratis year membership in the CVC for the company. 

And that's great for the outfitters' bottom line, as presumably they'd have been up to their gunwales in business otherwise. But once again, Nashvillians must ask themselves at what price fame.

Klaver and others like her have a vision of Nashville as a river town, or at least one that could be experienced by river (for various reasons, Nashville wasn't ever really a "river town" in the sense that, say, Memphis or Cincinnati or even Paducah, Ky., was). It's a noble — and potentially lucrative — idea and provides both residents and tourists a wholly different experience from pedal taverns, or (for the less cynical) sightseeing by foot or bike or car. It's the kind of idea Nashville's tourist leviathan should embrace and encourage if it hopes to build a robust industry that will survive the bursting of the bachelorette bubble (which will come!). 

So kudos to Spyridon for doing what he could, but let's hope it provides an opportunity to see tourism opportunities beyond encouraging Lower Broadway debauchery and trying to draw giveaway-riddled high-profile events.

The Scene awarded River Queen, as it happens, with a Best of Nashville award for "Best View of the City" back in 2015.

Update, 5:14 p.m.: Spyridon offered the Scene the following statement:

Until the Vice Mayor brought this to my attention this morning, we were unaware of this circumstance. We reached out immediately, and I believe that, working with the NFL, we have come to a satisfactory resolution. She's been great to work with, and we want to do everything in the future to help her grow. The Cumberland River needs more activity like this, and we will look for ways to work with River Queen Voyage.