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    Heather Cotton  Donate to Heather



    Nothing more than a state of mind


    Years Paddled: 

    Rookie 2017


    Married for 12 years to my loving and supportive husband Nate Pennington. Nate supports my adventurous spirit by staying home to care for our four-legged child named Storm. (Really it’s just an excuse to stay home and play in the garden, which I affectionally refer to as my husband’s “Precious”.)


    Where she’s from:

    I was born in South Florida, and spent most of my childhood living in the Florida Keys.  I was uprooted from paradise at the age of 13, and moved with my parents to Western North Carolina to a very small unincorporated place in the middle of the woods called Otto.  I stayed in the area through college, and then moved to Knoxville TN to attend graduate school.  After college, my husband and I moved back to the Florida Keys for three years, but eight consecutive hurricanes between 2004-2005 drove us back to the mountains.  We landed in Black Mountain NC, which has become our permanent base camp.


    I double majored in parks and recreation management and anthropology at Western Carolina University with the dream of working for the National Park Service.  After countless applications and no employment prospects in the park service, I decided to return to school.  I attended the University of Tennessee where I received a Masters of Urban and Regional Planning.


    I am a certified planner, and I have been working for the City of Marion NC as their Planning and Development Director for over ten years.  

    What has influenced his life:

    My grandfather, David Van Harlingen was the greatest influence in my life.  He taught me to take pride in my work and in myself, and to never give up on my dreams. My only wish is that he were here today to see everything that I have accomplish. I know he would have been so very proud. My mom is also a huge influence in my life. Working as a flight attendant for over 20 years, she turned me in to a seasoned traveler at a very young age. I credit her for planting the seed and cultivating my adventurous spirit. 

    Fun Fact:

    I am an expert donkey impersonator

    Essential Paddling Gear:

    Duct tape

    In his own words: 

    In April 2016, I was diagnosed with having Actinic Keratosis, which I let go untreated for years thinking it was eczema. I felt stupid for ignoring something that had been staring back at me in the mirror for years.  When I found out that it had progressed I panicked, but not about treatment or next steps.  I panicked about all the things I still wanted to accomplish, and suddenly I felt like I had a deadline. That is when I decided to hike the NC Mountains to Sea Trail. Hiking a long distance trail has been on my bucket list, but I’ve never had the time off to support such an adventure. After hearing about the MST, I realized living in NC would allow me to hike the trail during weekends and holidays.  I quickly started planning my trek, and that is when I found Hope Floats NC and I knew instantly that this adventure was meant to be.


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