Paddling for her Life

A woman in her 50s walk through a creek surrounded by trees on the bank. She is pulling a kayak.

Ann Rose, a 57-year-old off-grid farmer and activist, will embark on a nearly 2,000-mile solo paddle trip on July 7 to raise awareness of the water woes affecting the region, which are linked to climate change. Photo by Joe Makarski

By Lorelei Goff

Ann Rose will leave her farm near Lansing, North Carolina, on July 7 to paddle nearly 2,000 miles solo in a last-ditch effort to save her way of life.

Rose, a 57-year-old off-grid farmer and activist, has farmed a rugged mountainside in Ashe County for the last 18 of the 30 years she’s lived there. That is, until hotter, drier weather began scorching the soil and drying up the springs on her rural property.

The problem has worsened over the last four years, according to Rose.

“The springs did dry up, but it was late August,” she says. “Then the year after that it was late July, and then it was early July. [This year] it’s the end of June, and I really don’t have enough water to keep crops alive.”

“I didn’t even plant two of my four high tunnels, because I knew I wouldn’t have the water to water them and it would have been a waste of seed,” she adds.

Rose also let all of her nursery plants go, and her plans for a “you-pick” berry patch will likely wither.

Putting in a well is out of the question.

“I would have to spend $60,000 to $100,000 on building a road that a well truck can get to, to put in a $20,000 well,” she says. “So that’s not even within my scope of possibilities right now.”

But heat and drought aren’t the only climate change issues the region, and Rose Mountain Farm, is experiencing. Research by Nicolas Zegre, an associate professor with West Virginia University’s Mountain Hydrology Laboratory, analyzed historical and future climate estimate variables across Appalachia and projects that seasons of low precipitation will alternate with episodes of extreme precipitation.

As the atmosphere continues to warm, more water evaporates from lakes, waterways, trees, crops and soil. That creates drier conditions in the soil, lowers water tables and causes springs to dry up. The water that is evaporated out gets trapped by high mountain ridges, increasing the amount of moisture in the air, which can then result in excessive rainfall that causes erosion and flooding.

A sad looking woman with downcast eyes stands beside a pond that is nearly dried up.

Ann Rose stands by a pond on Rose Mountain Farm in Ashe County, North Carolina, as she explains that she may lose the farm to climate-driven water woes. Photo by Haley Mellon

This dynamic is already wreaking havoc across the wider Appalachian region. In West Virginia, for example, 139 flood events were recorded between 2011 and 2016. From 2017 to 2022, that number jumped to 566, a 407% increase.

According to an article published by East Tennessee State University, historical climate data shows a trend toward increasing precipitation in the region.

““This may seem counter-intuitive, but precipitation may increase, overall, with more extreme precipitation days, followed by longer periods between rainfall,” said researcher Andrew Joyner, a member of ETSU’s geosciences department. “This could lead to more flash droughts, especially in the summer and fall months, which could have major agricultural implications. At the same time, we have seen a modest reduction in long-term drought periods.”

A cement watering trough stands empty and dry.

This watering trough on Ann Rose’s farm has been dry for three months. Photo by Ann Rose

Hard rains at Rose Mountain Farm during May and June washed away parts of the road through the farm.

“I had to have that dozed last week because my Toyota Tacoma, which practically would climb a tree, could not get over the gullies that were left behind from those downpours,” Rose says. “I just had that repaired and sowed grass seeds, but now it’s not rained since I sowed the grass seed, so that’s not sprouting. If we get a downpour, then all that work will have been in vain because it’ll just wash back out like it was.”

The economic impacts of both too little and too much rain have been devastating.

“The farm has been in the red for the last four years now, and this year it’s looking like I’m not going to be making my mortgage payment unless something changes drastically,” Rose says. “I’m on the verge of being homeless. So against some of my better judgment, I have decided to take this trip.”

Rose hatched a plan to bring awareness to Appalachia’s increasing water woes. She’ll embark on a solo kayak trek near Lansing, North Carolina, navigating from the headwaters of the New River, through the Kanawha, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers until she reaches the Gulf of Mexico. She hopes to bring awareness to critical water shortages and misuse.

“I want people to gain more awareness and acknowledge what a crisis we are in,” Rose explains. “I want people to come out of their houses and get off their phones and start to grow whatever they can, however they can, for themselves.”

“My vision of the future is quite bleak,” she adds. “I think that we are headed into a global food crisis.”

Gearing up

Rose will paddle a 10-and-a-half-foot sit-on-top kayak with a pedal system. She also made a small sail from an old tent fly and broken fishing pole that she hopes to use when there’s a good breeze.

She’ll carry about 30 pounds of gear with her.

“I’m going to do a troll line and fish as long as I’m in the cleaner water,” she says. “I will forage my greens and berries.”

She’ll also have a bag of freeze-dried meals with her, and plans to restock twice during the 1,895-mile journey, which she expects will take about 10 weeks. Rose plans to camp along the way.

She’ll have a small walkie-talkie to talk to the lock captains on the Kanawha, Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

“There’s probably going to be some hours where I have to sit and wait because the barges take precedence,” Rose says.

She doesn’t know whether she’ll have cell phone service throughout the trip, but she will be wearing a mini Garmin satellite tracker on her life vest that will allow selected people to track her location at all times. The Garmin works with an app on her cell phone that doesn’t require cell service and has an SOS button.

Rose will also conduct water quality tests each day that show the general health of the water, and indicate where additional testing for specific pollutants may be necessary.

The test results will be posted publicly online to support water quality and conservation efforts.

She’ll also be wearing Go-Pro cameras that freelance filmmaker Haley Mellon will use to make a documentary about Rose’s epic journey.

“If they produced a documentary and it gets sold, then I’ll have some money to make some corrective things with here on the farm, like building swales on the upper pastures, lining the pond, putting in some more rain catchment tanks, things like that that could get me back into the black on growing produce,” Rose says.

Rose will also be documenting her “thrills and spills and follies and, you know,
just daily things, daily routines, of my experience as I go,” which she will post on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.

A woman with gray hair paddles a canoe

Ann Rose is gearing up for a nearly 2,000-mile kayak trip to save her farm and raise awareness of how climate change is contributing to water problems. Photo by Joe Makarski

Rose invites businesses along the way, such as farmers markets and campgrounds, to mail stickers of their logos to her at P.O. Box 225, Lansing, NC 28643. She’ll cover her kayak with stickers received before her departure date, and do shout-outs to some of the businesses on her social media channels.

While she thinks the benefits of making the trip outweigh the risks, Rose is aware that it will be challenging.

“[People say] ‘Are you crazy?’” she says. “‘You can’t go by yourself! Are you taking a gun? You can’t do this! What if something happens?’

“I say, well, what if something happens? I mean, anything could happen. But if I don’t go, there’s no chance of me pulling myself out of the debt that I’m in. For me, this is just another life challenge.”

A fundraiser to help cover expenses for the trip and farm will be held at the Old Orchard Creek General Store in Lansing, North Carolina, on July 7.

Rose also has a GoFundMe account set up.The money will go towards maintaining the farm in her absence, including her mortgage, feed for the livestock and guardian dogs, the power bill at the farm stand, her cell phone bill, as well as anything she may need during her trip.

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  1. Dan Radmacher on July 12, 2024 at 1:34 pm

    Fixed the link. Thanks for pointing that out!

  2. Lisa Stansell on July 12, 2024 at 1:09 pm

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