Getting My Feet Wet Once Again

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Since returning to the area in September to work with Friends of the Cheat, I’ve been fortunate to spend many of my days reacquainting myself with familiar old reaches of the Cheat River, and exploring a few new ones as well.  I am again in awe of the diversity of the paddling opportunities awaiting the enterprising boater in this vast free-flowing drainage.  I am captivated by the raw, wild, mostly forgotten corners of the landscape that are waiting to help you find yourself, if you can first put yourself out there.  Each day on the river has brought me a new experience, a new perspective:   Autumn color swirling in eddies; spying on a sleepy, bashful black bear in his home turf; the cold, lonely winter evenings spent chasing daylight, with the sounds of the wind and water as loyal company; charging down the unforgiving and breathtaking tannic waters of the class-V upper reaches; lazy summer floats, soaking in the warm sun all day with friends; waking up on the riverbank wearing an extra layer of dew; exploring the subaquatic realm at the Alley.  Getting my feet wet once again.

FOC staff member Garrett Thompson and guests Kathy Phillips, Assateague Coastal Trust E.D., and Barry Sulkin, Environmental Consultant with PEER

FOC staff member Garrett Thompson and guests Kathy Phillips, Assateague Coastal Trust E.D., and Barry Sulkin, Environmental Consultant with PEER

FOC was recently honored to play host to a number of national river conservation leaders, here from all over the country to attend this year’s River Rally conference in nearby Pittsburgh.  We had the opportunity to paddle the newly protected Cheat Canyon during one day of their stay, and it made for another memorable day on the river.  A number of the visitors were skilled kayakers capable of navigating the unfamiliar rapids of the Canyon with confidence; the remainder rode in one of several inflatable Shredders and rafts.  Several FOC staff, Board members, and friends eagerly joined the crew to guide rafts and share our home river with these friendly visitors.

With the excitement of the recently announced Canyon purchase still thick in the air, the group shoved off from the FOC access point at the festival site to float the 9 mile stretch to Jenkinsburg Bridge.  With flows around 900cfs, which is toward the lower end of quality water levels for small rafts, we were in no hurry – leaving us with all the more opportunity to absorb the scenery and explore the little nooks and crannies of this magnificent place.  With such a large, free-flowing drainage, flows vary greatly in the Canyon, both seasonally and with day to day precipitation.  These wild waters ensure that the rapids are never the same from one day to the next:  from the thundering high volume rapids of spring to the tight technical lines and long pools in late summer only navigable by patient boaters in small crafts.  On this particular day we were fortunate to have an ideal moderate water level for our trip, as well as fantastic weather.  Overcast skies kept the sun off our shoulders, but never delivered on the forecasted high winds and thunderstorms until we were back under the cover of the Eloise Morgan Milne Pavilion at the day’s end.  Good lines were had by all – with only one rafter going for an unexpected swim and quick recovery, at the top of the rapid known as “tear-drop”.

Five years ago I sustained a shoulder injury that ended the raft guiding career that first led me to call the Cheat River home.  After surgery and an extensive period of rehabilitation, exploring rivers by kayak has once again become a major component of my life – this time with new respect and perspective.  However, I had mostly left guiding rafts behind as I’d focused my attention on other pursuits.  This day on the Canyon marked my first time in a raft in several years, and I’d almost forgotten just how rewarding it can be to share a place like the Canyon, a place that I know and love, with people that may not find themselves there otherwise.  I couldn’t have asked for better company.  It was a real treat for me and the rest of the FOC crew to see the excitement and intrigue on the faces of so many fellow river lovers and advocates from all over the country.  These were folks that are no stranger to outstanding rivers worthy of diligent conservation efforts, and I have no doubt that the Cheat left an impression just as it has on many of us over the years.

The orange stained rocks visible in parts of the Canyon serve as a not-so-subtle reminder of the Cheat’s troubled past, and need for ongoing treatment efforts.  Yet around every bend, we saw a river teeming with life.  At one point a large fish leapt high out of a calm pool before splashing back down onto the glassy surface.  With only one river bend between us and the high truss bridge at Jenkinsburg, a bald eagle swooped down out of the tree line on river right before banking a wide turn boldly displaying its unmistakable white markings and flying upstream right over our group and out of sight.  Eagles are no longer an uncommon sight in the Canyon, but they remain an exciting reminder that the lower Cheat is once again home to a healthy aquatic ecosystem capable of supporting top predators.  While there is certainly much more work to be done, a trip through the Canyon today will leave no doubt that we’ve come a long way in the last twenty years.


Cheat Canyon Preserved!

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Cheat Canyon near High Falls, photo credit Kent Mason

Cheat Canyon near High Falls, photo credit Kent Mason

Friends of the Cheat is thrilled to announce that 3,836 acres of the iconic Cheat River Canyon have been purchased by The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy for preservation, and ultimately, public use and enjoyment! Their action will protect a seven-mile stretch of the Cheat River, and most of the Canyon not already included in Cooper’s Rock State Forest and Snake Hill Wildlife Management Area. Finally, after 20 years and a few unsuccessful attempts, the land will now be protected forever!

The Canyon has been a target for conservation since 1976. The Nature Conservancy has identified the Cheat River as one of the most ecologically intact rivers in the Central Appalachians. There are no dams in the Cheat River main stem and none of the watershed’s major tributaries are dammed. The river is connected to a well-forested floodplain, and the vast majority of the watershed’s headwaters are part of the Monongahela National Forest complex.

FOC is hopeful that this is a step towards reviving commercial interest in the Canyon’s world-class whitewater, and, at some time in the future, re-opening the section of the Allegheny Trail that runs through the Canyon. The Allegheny Trail is 330 mile north-south trail through WV, which connects to the Appalachian Trail at the VA-WV border.

When complete, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources will manage all 3,800 acres as a component of its Wildlife Management Area system and as a complement to the complex of public recreation lands on the lower Cheat River.

This accomplishment is a landmark event for all parties involved over the last two decades. Kudos to the staff at The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy, and specifically Rodney Bartgis and Beth Wheatley who have engaged FOC throughout this project’s long, bumpy road. FOC looks forward to the next leg of this exciting journey.

What is your vision for the Cheat River Canyon? Tell us by emailing foc@cheat.org with the subject line, Canyon Vision.

Stay up to date on this story and all FOC news by joining our e-mail list.  Go to www.cheat.org and use the sign up window in the top right corner of the page.

Press on this historic sale:

The Charleston Gazette article includes a really neat flyover of the property in Google Earth

The Dominion Post free source

Wheeling Intelligencer


WV Division of Land Restoration & Friends of the Cheat Partnership Pilot Project launch

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DEP Pilot Project Team Coordinator Owen Mulkeen gives the scoop on FOC’s exciting new collaboration:

The season change is in full swing as temperatures drop and leaves turn fiery red and yellow. Fall is everyone’s favorite season: energy is high as harvest time draws near and opportunities for outdoor pursuits abound. Likewise, excitement is brewing at Friends of the Cheat as we inaugurate a large scale service project in partnership with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. Hard work from the staff at FOC and the WVDEP Division of Land Restoration over the past year and a half is finally coming to fruition. In August, FOC hired four full-time staff members to create the WV Division of Land Restoration & Friends of the Cheat Partnership Pilot Project, under which FOC will monitor and maintain DEP water treatment facilities residing in the Cheat River basin.

FOC Field Technicians Jeremy Sidebottom, Garrett Thompson, and Chris Bern are already hard at work reducing water pollution in local streams.

FOC Field Technicians Jeremy Sidebottom, Garrett Thompson, and Chris Bern are already hard at work reducing water pollution in local streams.

This is truly an exciting opportunity for Friends of the Cheat. Our hands will physically be turning the knobs that treat acid mine drainage (AMD) right here in our backyard. Our new staff members, most of whom grew up in Preston County, are intimately and acutely aware of the consequences of AMD. Friends of the Cheat would like to welcome the new team coordinator and the three water quality technicians to the Kingwood office: Owen Mulkeen, Chris Bern, Jeremy Sidebottom, and Garrett Thompson. These four individuals will be managing the treatment facilities that dot the countryside of Preston County.

Be on the lookout for new Friends of the Cheat vehicles, and make sure to smile and wave as they’re on their way to clean up some water!


Kingwood Hike with the Preston Ramblers

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On the afternoon of Sunday, June 30th, the Preston Ramblers, a group of hikers rallied by the Preston Rail-Trail Committee (PRTC) of Friends of the Cheat, met at the future trail head of the West Virginia Northern rail-trail near the historic water tower in Kingwood. Four committee members were joined by two community members interested in learning more about the Committee’s rail-trail projects, including how they could get involved. Although it was a hot afternoon, the hikers and a canine companion had a great walk.

Group Picture

Preston Ramblers and guests get ready for a summer hike on the proposed WV Northern Trail

Preston Ramblers organize excursions on rail-trails and future rail-trails throughout the area for members of the community to get acquainted with the trails and learn more about rail-trail development efforts in Preston County. The West Virginia Northern and the Cheat River CSXT line are two rail-trail projects that the Preston Ramblers are promoting in 2013.

The group’s next hike will start from the Tunnelton end of the West Virginia Northern Railroad line, on Thursday July 11th at 6pm, meeting at the Honor Roll area in Tunnelton which is across Rt. 26 from the school. PRTC intents to look over the area and try to come up with a plan for the trail head for that area.  PRTC welcomes new people enthusiastic about the plethora of benefits that rail-trails bring to the area.  Learn more about PRTC and their efforts at www.cheat.org/recreation/trails and by joining the Preston Rail-Trail Committee group on Facebook.  PRTC meets the first Monday of each month at the Friends of the Cheat office in Kingwood at 5pm.


June 7th – Meet the Cheat Community Paddle

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Paddle the Upper Cheat River Water Trail with Friends of the Cheat!

On Saturday, June 7th, Friends of the Cheat’s Water Trail Committee will celebrate the Upper Cheat River Water Trail’s one year anniversary and National Trails Day by hosting the Meet the Cheat Community Paddle!  The group seeks to make this event an annual one, with the support of Blackwater Outdoor Adventures (BOA) and other local businesses.

Meet at the Blackwater Outdoor Adventures outpost in St. George (60 Location Road, Parsons) at 10am to conserve parking spaces at the Holly Meadows access site and get a free shuttle to the put-in.  The floatilla will launch at 11am from the Holly Meadows access site (off of Holly Meadows Rd – CR5/8) and float the Upper Cheat River Water Trail approximately 8 miles to St. George.

Pending good water levels, the paddle will take about 4 hours.  Need a boat?  Canoes and inflatables are available for rental.  BOA is offering a rental special for this event:

Canoes @ $30 with $10 donated to Friends of the Cheat’s Cheat River Water Trail project.

Kayaks @ $15 with $5 donated to Friends of the Cheat’s Cheat River Water Trail project.

Contact BOA will all questions pertaining to paddling:  raftboa@frontiernet.net or (304)478-3775.

Join the paddling after-party at Blackwater Outdoor Adventure’s outpost around 4pm.  The event will include live music, food and beverages provided by the Water Trail Committee, and plenty of friends with whom to share your big fish stories with around the campfire.  Camping is available at BOA.

Water levels can change paddling plans; stay tuned in by joining the Upper Cheat River Water Trail group on Facebook or by keeping an eye on the water trail website:  www.cheatriverwatertrails.org.   The website will have a new look very soon thanks to support from the Tucker County CVB!

Upper Cheat River Water Trail opening weekend, 2013. Photo by Crede Calhoun.

Upper Cheat River Water Trail opening weekend, 2013. Photo by Crede Calhoun.

You too can support this project by joining the Water Trail Committee, volunteering to maintain an access, or by donating goods, services or money to the project’s dedicated fund.  Contact Dave Cassell to learn more:  mtbikewv@comcast.net


April is Earth Month – Volunteer with FOC

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April is Earth Month!  Earth Day was established in the U.S. on April 22, 1970 to draw attention to the need to protect our water, air, and land from pollution.  Last year over one billion people in nearly 200 countries participated in Earth Day in one way or another—many of them volunteering in support of environmental projects or initiatives in their communities.  For even greater impact, the entire month of April is now considered Earth Month.  FOC has many opportunities this spring for you to help restore, preserve, and promote a healthy Cheat River:

Tuesday, April 8 – Spring Newsletter Mailing, FOC Offices, 119 South Price Street, Kingwood

Fold and label nearly 1,200 newsletters for mailing to FOC donors, partners, and community leaders.  Extra hands and good conversation makes this task a breeze. The work party starts at 10am at the Friends of the Cheat office.  The group will call it quits by 3pm.  E-mail Valorie to RSVP or for more information:  valorie@cheat.org

Tentative – Wednesday, April 9 – Finish Up Spring Newsletter Mailing, 10am-3pm. RSVP to Valorie.

Saturday, April 12 – Adopt-a-Highway Route 26 Cleanup, Albright

Pitch in and help FOC care for its 3-mile stretch of Route 26.  Meet at 10am at the pavilion behind the Albright Quick Stop.  Gloves, trash bags, safety vests, and water provided.  With 9 energetic volunteers the cleanup lasts only about 2 hours.  The more the merrier!  Weather dependent – backup date April 13 at 1pm.  Email Amanda with any questions:  amanda@cheat.org

Sunday, April 13 – Festival Site Spring Cleaning, 139 Beech Run Road, Albright

Meet at 12 noon to help prepare for FOC’s largest fundraiser of the year by joining the crew at the Festival site to remove downed limbs and sticks prior to mowing.  Wear rugged shoes and bring work gloves.  Pickup trucks also helpful.   E-mail Emma to RSVP, offer equipment or special services, or for more information:  emma@cheat.org

Saturday, April 26 – Upper Cheat River Water Trail River Sweep, Parsons Area

Float the Parsons area of the Upper Cheat River Water Trail, removing streamside litter and debris for safe and beautiful paddling experiences.  Blackwater Outdoor Adventures (BOA) will coordinate boats and shuttle—meet at BOA’s St. George location at 10am.  Pickup trucks welcome.  Contact Patrick at BOA for more information or to offer special services/equipment.  Weather dependent – backup date April 27.  RSVP required.  Patrick McCann – E-mail: raftboa@frontiernet.net  Phone:  (304)478-3775

 

Cheat River Festival Volunteer Opportunities – Volunteers are the backbone of our Festival!

The 20th annual Cheat River Festival will be held May 2 & 3 at the Friends of the Cheat festival grounds in Albright, WV.  Contact Kelli Geswein in advance to schedule a volunteer shift (304)379-8719 or kelligeswein@hotmail.com.  There are many different ways to help, most shifts are 4 hours:

May 1 & 2 – Festival setup Thursday & Friday.  Flag booth and parking layouts, install signage, move heavy things around, and generally get the grounds prepped for the weekend.

May 2 – Cheat River Massacre-ence Downriver Race.  Help Friday afternoon and evening with directing traffic, registration, timing, and the awards ceremony and after party.  You must contact Kevin in advance to volunteer:  kevin@cheat.org

May 2 – Friday Night VIP Event.  Help with parking, greet the guests, and give away prizes at our special invite-only 20th anniversary Fest warm-up party.  Contact Amanda to help with this specific event:  amanda@cheat.org

May 3 – Cheat Fest 5K, Saturday morning foot race.  Volunteers needed for parking, registration, refreshments, and course support.  Race starts at 10am.

May 3 – 20th Cheat River Festival.  Lots of roles to fill from gates shifts, grounds crew, setup and cleanup.

May 4 – Festival wrap up.  Dismantle tents, move chairs and tables, sort recyclables, and pack up until next year.  Helps cure your hangover.  Coffee provided by FOC.

 

Volunteer at the most bad-ass trail race on the East Coast and raise money for the Cheat!

June 13 – 14, Ragnar Appalachia Trail Race, Big Bear Lake, Hazelton

Join Friends of the Cheat’s volunteer team at the east’s most challenging trail race hosted by Ragnar Trail Relays.  Teams of 4 and 8 will run a total of 120 miles on three rugged loops around Big Bear Lake.  For each 4-5 hour volunteer shift filled by FOC, FOC will earn a $60 donation!  Help with parking and team registration Friday and Saturday.  You don’t have to be a runner to appreciate this epic event—over 275 teams are expected in this event’s second year.  You must contact Amanda to volunteer:  Amanda@cheat.org or (304)329-3621


FOC Seeks Part-Time Bookkeeper

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Friends of the Cheat, Inc. a non-profit, grassroots, watershed group based out of Kingwood, WV seeks a part-time bookkeeper.  Duties to include:  managing accounts payable, payroll processing, submitting timely reimbursements to state and federal agencies, answering phones, basic duties related to organizational membership and fundraising, and filing.  An intermediate to advanced knowledge of Quickbooks is required.  Must also be competent in MS Office and possess excellent verbal communication skills.  Consistency, efficiency, attention to detail, and the ability to work unsupervised but also with a team is key to success.  Pay and hours will be dependent on the successful applicant’s ability—projected at 8-16 hours a week and $10-15/hour.  The work schedule will be flexible and some duties may be completed from an adequately equipped home office.

Interested applicants should submit a cover letter, resume, and list of three references with contact information by Monday, January 6th to Friends of the Cheat.  E-mail submissions are preferred to Amanda@cheat.org.  Send hard copies to:  Amanda Pitzer, Executive Director, Friends of the Cheat, 119 South Price St., Suite 206, Kingwood, WV 26537.