River Recreation: Spurring Economic Development and Cultivating a Sense of Place


Rivers revitalize communities. Not only do they provide a pretty spectacular backdrop for biking, hiking and various water recreation activities, but they also promote tourism, spur economic development and create an even stronger sense of place within communities.

In 2009, the City of Rockingham nestled along Hitchcock Creek in North Carolina decided to take back their local stream. As part of a long process to revitalize and reconnect the local community to the river, the city worked with local partners including American Rivers to begin the transformational process. Starting with the removal of the Steeles Mill Dam, this outdated dam had for over 100 years blocked access for families wanting to boat or fish, and caused stagnant conditions along the river. After the dam was removed, the City of Rockingham continued their revitalization plan, recognizing the amazing potential they had to turn the creek into a recreational center for the community. By improving access and protecting the natural setting of Hitchcock Creek, a once forgotten stream now allows for thousands to use and connect with Hitchcock Creek.

Rockingham recreational life now bustles along the protected Hitchcock Creek. Numerous access points, new parks and open spaces surround this once forgotten creek, transforming it back to the heart of Rockingham. Since revitalizing the creek, the City of Rockingham has seen great development because of the revitalized Hitchcock Creek. A new outfitter opened along the river and business hasn’t slowed down! Today, anyone can get out along Hitchcock Creek and hike, bike, fish or paddle this special place.

River recreation is not only good fun; it’s good business, too. Three out of every four Americans participate in active outdoor recreation each year and paddle sports are among the fastest growing segments of the industry. All of this outdoor activity generates 1.6 million jobs in industries including manufacturing, leisure and hospitality, transportation, and wholesale and retail trade. That’s why the increasing popularity of recreational river trails all over the country is a good thing for our economy.

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