A publication of Appalachian Voices


A publication of Appalachian Voices


Bethany Overfield

Kayaker in boat on water posing for picture

Photo by Ali Blair

More than a decade ago, Bethany Overfield saw a flyer for a kayaking clinic on the Nolichucky River. She had just lost her mother, had a long-term relationship end and was feeling lost. In her first year of kayaking, she racked up 150 days on the water.

“The thing that hooked me was the release I felt when I was on the water,” says Overfield. “I didn’t have time to think about anything that was going on in my life; I could only think about eddy hopping and making my way down the river, and that came as an immense relief to me.”

“I also loved navigating through the world in a boat,” she continues. “I am completely amazed by rivers and by the geologic time it takes rivers to cut through a landform. I’m just in awe of it; and I think being in awe is a good place to be.”

The unique geology of Kentucky draws Overfield to creeks and rivers that are less traveled. Among her favorites in Appalachia are the Little River in the Smoky Mountains and the Big South Fork of the Cumberland.

In December 2018, Overfield decided to leave her career as a research geologist and become the membership director of American Whitewater, a nonprofit organization dedicated to river conservation.

Working to benefit the boating community is familiar territory. For the past 10 years, Bethany has volunteered in almost every role for the National Paddling Film Festival, which raises money for river conservation and access.

Overfield has also volunteered for the past seven years with the Kentucky River Watershed Watch, a citizen-science water monitoring effort. Now she serves on the group’s board of directors and teaches volunteers how to measure water quality and how to take samples for lab analysis.

“The goal is to get people engaged in their waterways — we have so many waterways in Kentucky,” says Overfield. “The best way to keep tabs on them is to have folks on the ground looking out for them.”

“Kayaking has never been about the adrenaline for me — sure, it’s fun to tackle hard rapids and it’s fun to drop over waterfalls, but the thing I love the most about it is the ability to use the river as a superhighway to see the natural world,” she says.

“People are only willing to conserve and protect the things that they find of value,” she continues. “We desperately need the next generation to find value in wild places. We need wild places — we need places where we can disconnect from screens and where we can learn about each other and where we can learn about our surroundings.” – By Hannah McAlister

Back to The Whitewater Spirit: Women making a difference

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2019 — June/July

2019 — June/July




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