Explore Boone sat down with Kelly McCoy of RiverGirl Fishing Company to find out how she practices the 7 Leave No Trace principles in her daily life as a fly fishing, kayak, canoe, and tubing outfitter. She also offers helpful tips for getting on the river in the High Country, the best time of year to visit, and how she makes picking up trash a fun and exciting adventure.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Best places in the Boone area to spend outdoors? 

My No. 1 spot is at the South Fork of the New River. 

What is the best season to spend in the area? 

I love spring because you’re waking up from the dead winter. I absolutely love fall, even better than spring! We work so hard during the summer, so fall is our respite. It’s our time to rest and get ready to wake back up in the spring. 

What attracted you to North Carolina or the Boone area? 

Believe it or not, my ex-partner and I came up following a spiritual guru who did channeling, and you would leave with this peaceful feeling. He was living in Florida, where we were at the time, and he said, “Oh, I’m doing a retreat up in Boone,” so we came up. There was an outfitter called Appalachian Adventures at the time, and whenever I went anywhere, I wanted to go float a river and get out and do something recreational and fun, so we came and floated this river and I just fell in love with it. I’m originally from Alabama and I spent my summers in Georgia, so this reminded me of Rome, Georgia, just a little colder. There were a lot of the same species of plants; it reminded me of my grandmother and just felt like home. 



How long should you plan on visiting? 

If you want to experience all that Boone has, you need to be here at least a week. You need to do something really fun and hardcore one day, and then you need to have a low-key day the next day. A lot of people go on vacation and they do something every single day and they come home and need a vacation from their vacation. So come and do the river, go biking, go zip lining, go caving or gem mining – stuff like that – but you need a good week. 

What level of experience is needed for outdoor activities in the Boone area? 

If you don’t feel comfortable going down the river in a kayak, you can go down in an inner tube. You don’t need any experience to go zip lining, and they train you how to do everything with caving too. If you come and bike places like Railroad Grade Road in Todd, it’s flat so you just need to know how to spin the wheels. It’s just flat up and down the river. 

How do you plan or prepare for your outdoor activities? 

First and foremost, when we do something outside, we always bring a wrapper or a plastic bottle with our water in it. So come with a garbage bag! Take your own stuff out and – if you can – bring a few other things too. There are times when you go to some areas and it’s really bad, but you can’t spend your whole day picking up garbage. But if everyone spent some time picking up a couple of pieces each, you could leave it looking very natural and undisturbed.  

What piece of gear is your must-have? 

Probably sunscreen. I’m big on first aid, so I make sure I have a first aid kit on me. If I’m going to be outside for a while, checking the weather forecast and maybe packing one of those flimsy ponchos just in case. If the weather shifts and it starts pouring rain, it can ruin your whole day. But just having a plastic sheet over you can keep you warm and dry. 



How do you practice the Leave No Trace principles? 

Just talking about it. Some people think about it, but they don’t have that little push to do it. So whenever I’m out with folks, sometimes you lead by example. They see you picking up trash, and maybe they do it the next time they're out. Unless you educate folks, some people just don’t know! It’s not their fault if they weren’t taught that as a kid from their parents, then they have to learn it as an adult.  

Make it fun! We do trashy Tuesdays, where we put out all the boats on the water for free and whoever brings back the most garbage gets a free fly fishing lesson. Whoever comes back with the coolest piece of garbage gets a free T-shirt. That way people are fighting over the garbage. Parents are sending their kids down for beer cans and I’m like, “Make sure you shake it out, because that’s a condominium for a crawfish!” If you can do fun stuff like that and put a prize at the end of it, then they go out and do it and it’s not even like they worked. They had fun. 

So, what's the coolest piece of trash you’ve had come out of the river? 

Our tip jar that sits on the front counter, a Spiderman jack-o'-lantern, was the first unique piece of trash that was brought back after we started doing trashy Tuesdays. Inside the building we have baby doll heads, Homer Simpson dolls, there’s a typewriter – you never know what you’re going to pull out of the river. 

What is unique about Boone? 

The climate. I tell people when they’re coming up for a few days: You need to bring shorts, a T-shirt, sweatpants, a sweatshirt and a rain jacket, and maybe you’ll be equipped for all the seasons. We can start in the morning with a fire and get to midday and start peeling off clothes because you’re warming up. The wildlife we have and the species of trees and things we have – we have things that exist here that exist nowhere else in the world. We have the bog turtle; this is his home and he doesn’t exist anywhere else but here. We have the hellbender, a giant salamander that grows about a foot long, and people are like, “I’m floating with that out there?” 



Where do you like to go after you spend time outdoors? 

Every afternoon I take a reboot, just putting the phone away and finding someplace to hide and – not meditate – but chill and get ready for whatever you’re going to do the rest of the evening. We like going to town to get something to eat or going to a friend’s house to hang. We’re really community-oriented so we usually like hanging out with friends at Cobo or Lost Province

Cool places to stay? 

Get on AirBnB and put in “Todd,” because there are so many people offering up their places. Just across the street from RiverGirl, there’s a tiny home that’s on AirBnB. I guess it’s a yurt, but it’s clear! You can sleep in it and see the stars. There are places tucked around where you don’t have to stay in a hotel. For families who can come up and bring their kids to stay in a log cabin where the kids can play like Daniel Boone, that’s more special. 

What is your can’t-miss experience while in the area? 

If you have young kids, I would definitely say take them to Tweetsie Railroad, and some of the shows are even fun for adults. They also have a petting zoo! There’s Grandfather Trout Farm, so go there if you definitely want to catch a fish. I’ll teach people how to fish and take people fishing, but we’re not guaranteed a fish, so we have to hunt for them and try to figure out what they’re eating. Grandfather Trout Farm is a great place to take kids to where you can just pull a fish right out. They have three different ponds: one pond has big fish, the next pond has medium-sized fish and the pond that’s farther away from the building has the smaller fish. Make the effort to go to the small pond so you can pull more fish out and they’ll taste better. They’ll clean them for you so you can bring them home to eat. 

Gem mining is really fun for the kids and the adults – you find a sapphire and places like Doc’s Rocks will put it into a necklace for you. Horseback riding with Dutch Creek TrailsZip lining is fun too.



Visit our Sustainability page and Outdoor NC for additional tips on how to connect with nature and help preserve the natural beauty of our state.