Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2019 - 48

Before long, Johnson's job morphed
into a much more encompassing one. At
first, she balked at the notion of being the
outfitter's marketing manager and group
sales agent. "I was like, 'Well none of that
sounds like me,'" she says. "I'm kind of
bohemian, with the long hair. And I'm a
tomboy, not really the sit-at-the-computer
marketing kind of girl."
"Well what do you want to be?" her
boss asked. For the next few days, Johnson, her employer and his wife jokingly
tossed around possible titles. The Sunshine Grower, perhaps? Or The People
Person? Then one day the word "steward"
came up.
"I am a steward of this region," Johnson says. "I care about the tourism. I care
about the nonprofits. I care about the
kids, care about the trash on the side of
the road. And it hit me: Steward of Sunshine. Even when it's raining, I have to
make it fun."
The title now appears on her business
card and other official paperwork.
As president of Ocoee River Jam, the
community's only weekend-long music
festival, Johnson has also raised funds for
the local Boys and Girls Club, Ace Kayaking School and Operation Pillowcase, an
American Red Cross program that provides pillowcases full of essentials and toys
to kids displaced by house fires and other
disasters. The seventh annual Jam takes
place in July.
The bus bar, where a bonfire and live
music take place on weekends, is now a
visitor hot spot with craft beer, burgers
and pizza. In off season, Johnson spends
much of her time in her sales role. In summer, she works from dawn till late in the

night, guiding groups on the upper and
middle Ocoee. During the 10-mile, fullriver trip, she shares the Olympics story,
feeds her passengers a hot lunch by the
banks, and gives them what may be the
thrill of a lifetime.
"My job is to give guests the best experience they can have on the Ocoee," she
says. "We may be somebody's bucket list.
We may be their main thing for the summer. We may be the biggest thing they've
ever done, and we need to give them the
best treatment."
Many are complete novices. "I used
to say if you have two legs and two arms,
you can go rafting," Johnson says. "But I
can't say that anymore because I've taken
paraplegics, quadriplegics, amputees, people from China that do not speak English.
Now that's a trip, when you get people
in your boat that have a huge language
barrier. Overweight, underweight, underprivileged, overprivileged, doctors, lawyers, nurses, schoolteachers, janitors-you
name it, they come rafting."
And some leave a lasting impression
on Johnson. Two summers ago, while
floating through flat water at the end of
the trip, a 14-year-old girl with Down
syndrome turned around with a big grin
and tears in her eyes and said, "I want
to be just like you when I grow up, Miss
Julie."
"I feel like I make a difference in people's lives, and I get to meet families from
all over the world," Johnson says. "That's
the best part of the job, to actually get
to be in the back of a raft, splashing
through rapids, and see people go from
scared to confident. That's such a huge,
feel-good moment."

JULIE
JOHNSON'S
3 FAVORITE
SPOTS ON
THE OCOEE
RIVER:
BROKEN NOSE
"It's a Class IV rapid on
the middle Ocoee, and
one of the only rapids that
you can't see from the
road. You have to either
hike down from the road
to it or you have to be in
the river to see it. It's a
beautiful rapid."
PARKSVILLE LAKE
"The water from the
Ocoee flows to there, so
even though you're in
a pond or lake, you're
still in river water. It's the
best sunset in Ocoee,
Tennessee."
RHODODENDRON
TRAIL AT OCOEE
WHITEWATER CENTER
"It's a very easy hiking
trail that runs along
the side of the Ocoee.
The trail is covered with
rhododendron, both
sides, just green and lush,
and it makes you feel like
a little fairy. It's where
[my husband Jimmy and
I] said 'I do' last summer
while the rhododendron
were blooming. That's my
favorite spot in the whole
world."
-NH

TERESA PHILLIPS

Of Parksville Lake, Jules
Johnson says, "Even though
you're in a lake, you're still in
river water."

48

BLUERIDGECOUNTRY.COM



Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2019

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Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2019 - Intro
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2019 - Cover1
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