The 18th annual Cheat River Festival was one for the record books bringing in $25,000  in profits for Friends of the Cheat (FOC).  FOC uses these proceeds to cover administrative costs (rent, utilities, staff salaries, fuel, etc.) necessary to achieve their mission of “restoring, preserving, and promoting the outstanding natural qualities of the Cheat River watershed.”  The FOC festival grounds in Albright welcomed over 3,300 people through the gates—the largest Cheatfest crowd ever!  Fest goers enjoyed warm weather with only a brief afternoon shower.  Veteran festival participants noted that the field in front of the festival stage filled up much earlier in the day than usual and that there were more children than ever before.  The kids’ activities, coordinated by volunteer Jen Short, were a huge success with large groups of children gathering for the smashing of Cheat River-inspired piñatas.  There was also a scavenger hunt, acid mine drainage tie-dyes, puppet making with recycled materials, and the always-popular climbing wall operated by Cheat River Outfitters.

In addition to record festival attendance, the Cheat downriver race, known as the “Massacre-ence”, was the largest ever with 155 boaters braving water levels nearing 4 feet.  First place went to Geoff Calhoun who smoked his competition by 6 ½ minutes with a time of 56 minutes over the 10 mile course through the Cheat Canyon.

The Cheat Fest 5K also had the most participants ever with 117 registered racers.  Jobey Knapton claimed first with a time of 17:05. Mike Murray was second with a time of 17:23.  John Snodgrass added a third place finish to his long list of tri-state area races with a time of 19:01.  Laurie Abildso’s time of 22:39 earned her the top women’s place. Kristin McCasky (23:08) and Lydia Valenta (23:10) kept things a bit closer, finishing within 2 seconds of each other to round out the women’s top spots.

A record breaking 147 drawings were entered in FOC’s annual drawing contest.  Students were asked to create a drawing that represented FOC’s mission.  The following winners received a watershed token plus two festival tickets:  Kindergarten, Jacob Williams – Rowlesburg School; 1st/2nd Grade, Keely Gregory – Bruceton School; 3rd Grade, Logan Thorn – Bruceton School; 4th Grade, Samantha Shaffer – Bruceton School; 5th Grade (tie), Faith Wineman and Nigel McClintock – Bruceton School; 7th/8th Grade, Kitara Goff – Rowlesburg School.

Prior to the festival, FOC’s Board of Directors, staff, and guests officially dedicated the timber frame pavilion located on the FOC festival grounds, to FOC benefactress Eloise Morgan Milne.  Eloise was born in the white house behind the festival stage and grew up on the farm that once occupied the festival site.  Her favorite childhood memories are catching fish in a healthy Muddy Creek.  FOC will install a sign highlighting Eloise’s contributions to the organization and her life growing up along Muddy Creek.

Festival Saturday was filled with great live music and memories as friends and family gathered to celebrate the Cheat River.  Many people gathered in the Ralph McCarty Memorial tent to remember their friend and his “Ralphisms”.  Ralph McCarty, a pioneer rafting outfitter who founded Mountain Streams and Trails in 1967, and ran the first commercial rafting trips on the Cheat Canyon in the spring of 1968, passed away in early April at the age of 92.  American Whitewater also honored the Little Sandy Church of the Nazarene with their first “Friends of Whitewater Award”.  The congregation has welcomed boater access to Big Sandy Creek for many years.

Friends of the Cheat extends their thanks to its organizational sponsors, bands, Hospitality Café and  in-kind donors, and the over 150 volunteers, including the parking crew from Kingwood’s Wesley United Methodist Church and first aide volunteers with Mountaineer Rescue Group, for making these events possible.

For more details including race results, drawing contest winners, photographs, and videos from the festival visit www.cheat.org/our-work/cheat-river-festival/ or the Friends of the Cheat Facebook page.  Mark your calendars for the 19th Cheat River Festival on May 4, 2013!