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!
In early 2012, Friends of the Cheat was awarded a $5,000 grant through the 2012 FOCUS WV Brownfields program to address barriers to the redevelopment of the former WV Northern/Kern Valley Railroad Maintenance Facility located within the town limits of Kingwood off Sisler Street.
Painting of the WV Northern shops area by Kingwood native, Marcy Miller Matherne who has graciously donated this print for reproduction to be sold as a fundraiser for the Kingwood-Tunnelton rail-trail project.
The Foundation for Overcoming Challenges and Utilizing Strengths (FOCUS) West Virginia Brownfields program funds were awarded to FOC by the West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Centers through funding from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. The program provides financial and technical assistance enabling communities in West Virginia to create a redevelopment vision for brownfield properties of strategic community interest.
FOC’s Preston Rail-Trail Committee has been working for nearly 10 years to advance the development of the former West Virginian Northern Kingwood-Tunnelton corridor. The current owner, Kern Valley Railroad is a willing seller and, in 2007, committed to donating the maintenance facility property pending FOC’s purchase of the 10-mile corridor. As part of their ARRA Brownfields Project, the Preston County Development Authority funded an environmental assessment of the maintenance facility, or “shops” property in 2010. In fall 2011, neighborhoods raised concerns about the stability of the historic wooden water tower and other safety issues. They requested that Kingwood City Council take action and condemn the property. Condemnation would prevent FOC from utilizing Federal grant funds to purchase the property. In an effort to demonstrate FOC’s commitment to the rail-trail project, FOC nominated the historic wooden water tower to Preservation Alliance WV’s 2012 List of Endangered Properties and applied for the FOCUS grant. Both actions have brought new life to the project, and FOC is hopeful that its pending Recreational Trails grant application for the corridor purchase will be funded.
In July 2012, FOC will facilitate two community visioning sessions in an effort to develop of a re-use plan for properties associated with the former WV Northern/Kern Valley Railroad Maintenance Facility.
The first session will be held Monday, July 9th starting at 7pm at the Preston Community Arts Center on South Price Street in Kingwood. The meeting will begin with a presentation outlining the current state of the properties, including identifying assets and liabilities, followed by a brainstorming session on community need and re-use ideas.
The second session will be held Thursday, July 26th starting at 7pm at the WVU Extension Office on West Court Street in Kingwood. The meeting will begin with a summary of the first session. FOC will present information compiled from the first meeting including a preliminary site plan in sketch form for feedback and additional brainstorming.
The vision sessions are open meetings and all community members are encouraged to participate in both meetings. Current ideas for the site include a trail head for the future Kingwood to Tunnelton rail-trail, restoring the historic wooden water tower, dog park, open-air farmer’s market, community garden, and incorporating historic railroad elements into a public park type setting.
Mary Luckini will be working with FOC staff to host the meetings and visualize the plan. Mary worked with FOC back in 2008 to develop the initial drawings of the Doug Ferris Outdoor Classroom and Eloise Morgan Milne pavilion. She also worked with FOC E.D. Amanda Pitzer on service-learning projects and environmental art, including the Friends of Deckers Creek Outdoor Learning Park along the Deckers Creek rail-trail. Additional technical assistance during the workshops will be provided by Triad staff.
The Preston Rail-Trail Committee has been organizing Preston Rambles group hikes and bikes to promote health and wellness and build community support for the rail-trail projects. Like their new Facebook Page and stay informed of upcoming events including the opportunity to explore the former West Virginia Northern Railroad on foot.