Reflecting on the successes and lessons learned in 2017 – and looking forward to 2018

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Stay up to date with Friends of the Cheat by reading our State of the Cheat River Watershed Trifold.

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2017 was a rollercoaster year for Friends of the Cheat.  Our most successful Whitewater Access campaign to date was followed by the coldest, wettest Cheat River Festival ever, with unbelievable mud and low attendance.

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Two Meet the Cheat events put record numbers of paddlers on the Cheat River.

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While HB 2506, WV drinking water policy changes, gave us nightmares.  

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Through these ups and downs, you, our incredible core of supporters, have remained steady.  Your support empowers us to fight for clean water and continue our mission: to restore, preserve, and promote the outstanding natural qualities of the Cheat River watershed.  Your financial donations are integral to our organization; they literally keep our boots on the ground, and our lights on.

Without your sustaining support, Friends of the Cheat could never have grown into the multifaceted, successful nonprofit it is now.  Without you, many of our efforts wouldn’t get off the ground.  Here’s a glimpse of what your financial contributions supported in just the last year:

  • New water monitoring kits for our CAPABLE volunteer base – which doubled!  CAPABLE is our citizen science initiative that allows us to keep a watchful eye on at-risk streams through volunteer participation.  
  • Our new Bacteria Monitoring Program, testing 9 popular swimming sites along the mainstem of the Cheat River, from Parsons to Cheat Lake.  Look for our results at theswimguide.org.
  • Cleared culverts and ditches on both Rockville and Bull Run roads – resulting in improved access to the Cheat Canyon and the Big Sandy.
  • Our largest Meet the Cheat attendance to date – with more than 300 paddlers celebrating outdoor recreation on the Cheat River Water Trail.
  • The expansion of our Education and Outreach program, which allowed us to lead over 300 incoming WVU freshmen in community service around the Cheat River watershed.

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FOC has great things planned for 2018!  We are adopting the northernmost 28 miles of the Allegheny Trail, West Virginia’s longest foot trail, which runs 330 miles from the Mason-Dixon Line in Bruceton Mills south to the WV-VA border.  FOC will be responsible for the maintenance and improvement of our portion – including 12 miles of true hiking trail along the Cheat Canyon.  To do this, we will be expanding our Outreach and Education program even more by leading over 600 Adventure WV students in trail-work and community service over the coming summer!  Your donations will help purchase the equipment we need to perform the work, and the staff time needed to organize and lead it.

Join FOC in our dedication to safe, healthy water by becoming a sustaining member of Friends of the Cheat.  And please ask what we can do for you!  We would be happy to present at your local church, your child’s classroom, your clubs and associations.  A watershed includes everything within its boundaries, including the people that live and recreate there and we strive to support you too!  Together, we can continue to improve this beloved water source that means so much to all of us.

 

 


FOC Notes the 40th Anniversary of the Surface Mining Reclamation & Control Act

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“Rebirth has begun, but there is more work to be done” 

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2016 Photo of the mouth of AMD impacted Muddy Creek.

 

Thursday, August 3rd marks the 40th anniversary of our country’s landmark coal mining law, the Surface Mining Reclamation & Control Act, known commonly as SMCRA (pronounced “smak-rah”).  SMCRA was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on this day in 1977.  SMCRA regulates the environmental effects of coal mining and its passage created the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE).  OSMRE develops regulations, funds state regulatory and reclamation efforts, and oversees individual state regulatory programs.  SMCRA also created two programs, the abandoned mine land program for reclamation of mined sites initiated before 1977 and a second program to regulate active coal mining.

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NOTE: 111 unabated AMLs out of 358 in Cheat – over two-thirds of the abandoned mine lands identified in the Cheat River watershed have yet to be cleaned up.

 

OSMRE was one of FOC’s first partners in the River of Promise.  OSMRE continues to support FOC’s restoration efforts in the Cheat River watershed through ROP engagement and acid mine drainage remediation project funding through the OSMRE Watershed Cooperative Agreement Program. FOC also works closely with the state programs created by SMCRA, WVDEP’s Office of Abandoned Mine Lands and Reclamation (OAMLR) and Office of Special Reclamation (OSR).

Partners in the River of Promise rely on funds provided by SMCRA to continue remediation of the 342 acid mine drainage seeps emanating from abandoned mine lands in the Cheat River watershed. Significant progress has been made in the last 40 years to restore life to the Cheat River, yet there is more work to be done. Without reauthorization of SMCRA in 2022, all the progress that has been fought for so hard for could be lost.

 

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AMD pouring out of Lick Run Portals

 


Happy West Virginia Day from the Cheat River!

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Happy West Virginia Day from the Majestic Cheat River and Friends of the Cheat!  As West Virginians, we know that one of the most wonderful aspects of our state is the grandeur of our rivers and forests.  We rely on the health of our water sources and the agencies that protect them.  FOC is proud to report that after 23 years of hard work – the Cheat River is reborn and booming!  

FOC is focused on more than water monitoring; we aim to encourage the public to experience the beauty of our historic waterway for themselves, on the Cheat River Water Trail.  FOC and the Cheat River Water Trail (CRWT) Committee hosted two “Meet the Cheat” paddling events in early June, both with attendance numbers doubling, nearly tripling, since 2016.  Collectively, over 300 participants enjoyed the scenic beauty of the Cheat River Water Trail.   

On June 3rd, 2017, National Trails Day, FOC and CRWT hosted the 2nd annual Preston County Meet the Cheat paddling event in Rowlesburg, WV.  A record 83 attendees floated 3.2 miles from Riverview Lounge to the Rowlesburg Park, where the were met with a complimentary picnic catered by the Rowlesburg Park, and live music by Paul Burger.  Registration fees for the first 25 participants needing boats and gear were free, thanks to a generous donation from the Preston County Parks and Recreation Commission.  Kayaks and canoes were provided by Blackwater Outdoor Adventures (BOA), along with paddling gear and a free shuttle from the Rowlesburg Park to the put-in.  

On June 10th, 2017, FOC and the CRWT partnered for the second year with the West Virginia Land Trust and Blackwater Outdoor Adventures to host the 5th annual Tucker County Meet the Cheat paddling event.  This year – an astonishing 230 registered participants took to the Cheat River to float from the newly renovated Holly Meadows public access point to St. George, nearly 8 miles.  The record set in 2016 was just over 100 paddlers.  At the post paddle party at BOA, participants enjoyed donated salads from White Grass Cafe, pizza and wings from CJ’s Pizzeria, and homemade goodies by CRWT committee members Dave and Pam Ruediger and Janet Preston.  Live music was provided by members of the LocalMotive, a Davis-based trio.  CRWT volunteer extraordinaire Janet Preston collected prizes for a donation-based raffle from many local businesses.  

FOC and the CRWT are beyond pleased with the level of public participation at both events! The Meet the Cheats are the main fundraisers for the CRWT; money raised at the events are used to maintain and improve public access points, print maps and brochures, and fund CRWT merchandise.  The goal of these events are to introduce the public to the fantastic recreational value of the river in their backyard, and bring communities together in celebration of our public spaces.  The Cheat River is just one of many gems in our great state – so show your pride in our home this week by visiting your favorite spot of Wild and Wonderful West Virginia!


Public Lands are “Priceless” – by Matt Kearns

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photo by Adam Webster - at the confluence of Otter Creek and Dry Fork, Mon National Forest

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On the first day of the 115th Congress, the House of Representatives passed budget rules that included a provision devaluing public lands. By assigning no value to federal property, Congress has potentially greased the skids for transferring public lands to state or private control — those transactions would now be considered “budget neutral.” Dolly Sods. Seneca Rocks. Cranberry Wilderness. According to the House, with support from all three West Virginia Representatives, these iconic landscapes are deemed worthless.

Really?

Our federal public lands have already been bought and paid for by the taxpayer. Look no further than our mountains and rivers for examples. The Monongahela National Forest was created from owners willing to sell logged-out property so the government could rehabilitate the land. The Land and Water Conservation Fund has supported over $182 million in purchases, including access along the Gauley and New Rivers and wetlands in Canaan Valley. As the result of foresighted actions like these, every American is now a shareholder in over 620 million acres of public land.

These public lands are big business. Congress commissioned a study to understand the value of outdoor recreation, currently estimated at $646 billion. Public land is at the heart of that economy; after all, who would buy new boots or boats if they have nowhere to use them? In state, the Monongahela National Forest supports 1.3 million visitors that spend approximately $82 million dollars annually. The New River Gorge National River provides another $53 million to the local economy. There is likely even more tangible value in the “ecosystem services” offered by public lands: much of West Virginia’s drinking water originates in the headwaters of the Monongahela National Forest — over 300,000 thousand people get their drinking water from the Elk River alone.

The return on our investment in public lands goes far beyond dollars and cents. A rafting trip with friends, a hike with a pet, a day spent hunting and fishing with our children — how can you quantify the value of those experiences and the feelings that linger long after? Or the connectedness and sense of place that public lands offer?  The “Mon” serves as a common denominator among hunters, birders, boaters, fishers, campers, RV towers, bikers, hikers, and climbers. We may enjoy the land in different ways, but every Mountaineer loves and takes pride in our public lands, the most “Wild and Wonderful” part about living in West Virginia.

The new budget rule isn’t the only attack on the integrity of public lands. Bills have been introduced to allow states to seize two million acres of national forests so long

as logging is the priority (HR 3650 & HR 2316). Transferring control of and developing public land is the stated platform of the party that now leads all three branches of government. Congress may very well have taken the first step in a widespread public lands divestment.

Loss of federal ownership could be detrimental to public land users like you and me. Federal lands are managed with mandatory public input and “multiple use” provisions that value clean water and recreation alongside timber and minerals. States often have different priorities. Western sportsmen have found themselves shut out of state lands following profit minded sell-offs. Because the West Virginia state legislature is prohibited from passing a deficit, selling or developing state land could become a quick fix for our financial woes. Mineral rights have been auctioned off beneath some of our Wildlife Management Areas.

President Trump has said we need to be stewards of public lands and it’s not something that should be sold. His pick for Secretary of the Interior, Rep. Ryan Zinke, is an avid sportsman who has spoken out against selling public lands — but he voted for the new budget rule. All Representatives from West Virginia voted in favor of it too. We must hold our leadership accountable. Tell them to protect our public lands from sale or transfer.

Because worthless and priceless are far from the same thing.

Matt Kearns is a veteran and avid outdoorsman. He travelled the length of the Elk River in 2015 to promote the connection between the Monongahela National Forest and our drinking water. Matt is a natural resources graduate student at WVU and works on public lands issues for the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition. the Elk River alone.

Addendum:

Just weeks after Congress passed a provision making it easier to sell off public lands, a move to do just that was put forth by US Representative Jason Chaffetz (UT). H.R. 621, Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act, called for the disposal of 3.3 million acres of land for sale to non-federal entities.

The public outcry was enormous.  Thousands of people called their representatives and took to social media to express their outrage and rallied in opposition to the bill.  Thanks to the huge numbers of engaged, outspoken public opponents, in less than one week Chaffetz posted on Instagram his withdrawal of H.R. 621.

This victory is just one example of what can happen when citizens rally together and speak out; our voices are heard, and we can protect what cannot protect itself.  This will not be the only time we need to rally for our public lands, or for our water, etc.  We must remain vigilant and alert.  Here are a few ways to stay engaged.

Sign up for WV Rivers Coalition e-news (state and Federal updates, action alerts):  http://www.wvrivers.org/make-a-difference/join-us

Sign up for WV Environmental Council e-news (WV updates, action alerts):  http://wvecouncil.org/action-alerts-signup/

Join Friends of the Cheat and other groups for E-Day February 27th at the WV Capitol.

Join the March for Science on Earth Day,  April 22.  https://marchforscience.com

Contact your representatives:

US House: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

US Senate:  https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/


Reflecting on the successes of 2016 – and looking forward to 2017!

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Since 1994, Friends of Cheat has been working to fulfill its mission of restoring, preserving, and promoting the outstanding natural qualities of the Cheat River watershed.  As a supporter of our organization, you may wonder exactly what that means.  The quick answer is that without your support – your financial contributions, your volunteering, your help spreading the word about our work – without you, our mission would mean very little.  Our successes, our needs, and the river we all love – depend on your help.  Conversely, this mission is a reflection of the many achievements Friends of Cheat can accomplish with your support.

Over the years, the backing and financial contributions of supporters like you has ultimately allowed our organization to expand its programming and make impactful on-the-ground improvements in the watershed.  Today, because of you, we are engaged in all the core actions of our mission statement.

In just the last year, your financial contributions have helped Friends of the Cheat:

  • Continue maintenance and data collection at nearly 30 water treatment sites throughout the watershed by our expert team of water monitoring staff.

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  • Work with the WV State Rail Authority to purchase 8 miles of rail corridor from CSX for development into a non-motorized rail-trail along the Cheat River Narrows.  Also – the Cheat River Rail-Trail was awarded $150,000 for the first phase of design and construction!

 

  • Raise over $6000 through our Whitewater Access Campaign – which payed for repairs along Bull Run Rd.

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  • Promote Cheat River recreation with a very successful Cheat River Festival – save the date for the 2017 Cheat River Festival 1.5 – May 5th-6th – tickets available now!

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  • Organize the largest group of paddlers to float the river through the Meet the Cheat events.

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  • Build restroom facilities at the Doug Ferris Outdoor Classroom for Cheat Canyon paddlers, Allegheny Trail hikers.

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  • Partner with the WV Adventure Program and engage over 230 students in volunteer service work – resulting in $12,661 of inkind matched funds for our BSROP grant.

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  • Raise over $13,000 for the 2016 Run For It 5k in Davis, WV – and come in 3rd in most funds raised.

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  • Support the FOC CAPABLE program by raising over $3000 on #GivingTuesday.

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Other reasons 2016 rocked – FOC/DEPP partnership has been renewed for another 3 years!  We hired a new technician, Brian Hurley – as Jeremy Sidebottom left to further his education and travel the world.  FOC was named Top Water Conservation Group in the Southeast by Blue Ridge Outdoors.  

And best of all – The Cheat River was one of 2016 EPA 319 Success Stories – declaring the Cheat River “reborn!”