From instructor, to competitor, to community leader, Elizabeth “Bunny” Johns is something of the grande dame of paddling in WNC. Originally from Atlanta, she was part of the early Nantahala Gorge paddling community, first coming to the area as a counselor at Camp Merrie-Woode for girls in Sapphire in the early 1960s. In fact, it was there that she was introduced to paddling. She taught swimming at camp, and her students, in turn, taught her to paddle the lake in a canoe. Soon, she graduated from paddling lakes to white water, and learned to navigate Section III of the Chattooga River.
She took the plunge and moved to Bryson City to work as a manager at the kayak school. “At that time, the philosophy was that everybody did everything: clean rooms, kayak and raft guide, cook. After I burned the trout, they got me out of the kitchen,” she laughs.