If you’re going to break the rules at Yellowstone National Park, 4:30 a.m. is a great time to do so. The guard stations are closed and the roads deserted save for some shaggy bison and early-rising wildlife watchers. So it was in the wee hours of a July morning that a red Toyota van passed unnoticed beneath the Yellowstone Arch in Gardiner, Mont. The van carried three young men and their 11-foot kayaks, on their way to paddle a remote stretch of whitewater on the Yellowstone River.

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Sitting alongside the river during the race this year, the whole spectacle of what this event has become completely overwhelmed me. The first ever Green River Narrows race featured sixteen competitors and a smattering of their friends who weathered the steep hike into Gorilla. Ten years before that, everyone thought the river itself wholly unrunnable. And then, this year, more than 140 paddlers went as hard as they could through the crux of the Green’s whitewater and boulder gardens.

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Columbus Whitewater Park estimated to create 700 jobs, $2 million in sales tax revenue and bring in 1.5 million people!

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If there is a place where kayaking’s collective lack of social controls is being tested, it might be the Green River in North Carolina. For how steep it is, the Green is an unbelievably forgiving run. But that forgiveness is routinely being tested by huge crowds of paddlers, some seemingly lacking the basic skills to run any river safely.

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Zak Podmore reports on how healthy rivers pump billions of dollars into the U.S. economy through recreational opportunities like rafting, fishing and whitewater parks.

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