Monongahela National Forest Celebrates 100 Years of Conservation and Service

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Mouth of Otter Creek – Photo by Adam Webster

“Happy 100th Birthday Monongahela National Forest!  FOC directly benefits from the Monongahela National Forest, as over 30% of our Cheat River watershed is protected by these forested lands.  Without receiving the outstanding water quality that comes from our tributaries protected by the Monongahela National Forest, it is questionable if the Cheat River would have been able to make the recovery it has today.  Some iconic areas protected by the Monongahela National Forest that fall in the Cheat River Watershed include: Dolly Sods Wilderness, Bickle Knob, Cheat Summit Fort, Otter Creek Wilderness, Glady Fork, Laurel Fork Wilderness, Gandy Creek, and Gaudineer Knob to name a few!”  – Madison Ball, FOC Restoration Program Manager

The iconic Bear Rocks Preserve – Dolly Sods Wilderness

April 28 marks the 100-year anniversary (#MNF100) of the establishment of Monongahela National Forest. In 1920, following the passage of the Weeks Act in 1911, President Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation designating land purchased for the protection of the Monongahela River as Monongahela National Forest. Since that time, the Forest has grown from an initial 7,200 acres to more than 900,000 acres, all in West Virginia. The Forest continues to benefit the public more than ever by providing recreational opportunities, a wide variety of forest products, and abundant natural resources for all to enjoy.

“We invite everyone to celebrate with us on April 28, in spirit and online, 100 years of caring for the land and serving the public on this National Forest,” said Shawn Cochran, Forest Supervisor. “I’d like to thank the State of West Virginia, our partners, volunteers, as well as past and present Forest Service employees who have served and dedicated themselves over the years to caring for this land that belongs to all of us.”

You can help celebrate the Forest’s birthday online at the following locations:

Be sure to check out the Forest’s website at https://www.fs.usda.gov/mnf for more fun Centennial activities later this year.

Special thanks to the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area for assisting with planning the Forest’s Centennial and sharing information with the public. Learn more about them and link to their social media platforms at https://www.appalachianforestnha.org/.


2020 Spring Sinuosity – 2020 Eternal

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Joey and Chandler

Hey there Cheat River friends. How are you? Overall, I’ve been feeling good during my first global pandemic experience. My day-to-day hasn’t changed that much here in rural West Virginia. The biggest adjustment has been working from home, and I’m thankful to my co-workers and colleagues for their commitment and flexibility during this transition. I miss seeing my friends, but I’m talking to my mom more. There are baby goats in the pasture next door, and just watching them brings me joy. I miss our big gardens, and I wish we weren’t looking for a house to buy right now, but we will figure it out. Heck, I remembered how to cook!

I was overcome with sadness when the truth-saying-troubadour John Prine passed away last week from Covid-19. FOC alum Ellie Bell concurred that he was “good” and losing him meant losing a bit of good in this world. I let those feelings snowball and was soon at my lowest point of that day/week/month – what day is it anyway?

From those I’ve been communicating with, this roller coaster of emotion sounds common. As you can likely imagine, this composition has been hard for me to write. I’m sad that Cheat Fest is cancelled, and the challenges that lie ahead for FOC are daunting, but I am confident they are do-able, because we have all of you.

I’ve been thinking more about people who don’t have a support system. This crisis has highlighted vast inequalities in our society and failures in our systems. We aren’t just staying home and sewing masks, we are figuring out how to feed hungry kids, the legal way to administer telemedicine, and how to communicate with and care for our seniors. And what about those who are entirely left out and discriminated against? I wish I could do more.

I have reduced my news intake, but I have been hearing a lot about getting “back to normal” lately. I’m hopeful normal will be better for everyone. What will that path look like, and how do we know if we are even on it? Back to “normal?” I want to go forward, I want to go downstream – don’t you?

I call this column Sinuosity. A river’s sinuosity is its tendency to meander back and forth across its floodplain over time. A river with a high sinuosity would have an “S” path, winding back and forth. I think this is the kind of path we are on right now, as individuals and as a society. As our stream path moves across the landscape, it leaves behind evidence of where the river once was. Like oxbow lakes or scars of rubble, we have evidence of our prior paths we can examine. But, unlike nature, we can get out of these paths, these ruts that take us back to almost the same place we were before.

We have a unique opportunity to live more deliberately during this time. We can create new, healthier, happier paths. Many of my friends are taking hold of this opportunity – doing a cleanse, organizing old photos, getting a new puppy. They hope to create new habits and come out of this different – different on their own terms versus letting an obstruction direct their path.

I love spring in West Virginia. It is a time of growth and hope. The red buds along the Narrows are popping. FOC projects are still popping, too. Despite 2020 being off to a really, REALLY awful start, I am so fortunate to be happy, healthy, and working with Friends of the Cheat. I hope to connect with many of you during virtual Cheat Fest week. Tune into my virtual Education Eddy episode to learn about our progress on removing the Albright dam and to literally “see” what else I’ve been working on these last few months.

Stay safe.


April is Clean Up Preston Month!

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FOC is partnering with the Preston County Chamber of Commerce BAD Buildings Committee to encourage Preston County residents to clean-up their local roadsides and individual homes and properties during Clean-Up Preston Month!

FOC staff will be participating individually and with our pandemic isolation partners on Earth Day – Wed. April 22nd.  Join in by organizing your own safe pickup and tag us on Facebook @friendsofthecheat or Instagram @cheatriverfriends.  

Roadside clean-up supplies including bags and pickers are available by calling Preston County Litter Control Officer Jay Sowers at (304) 698-5594. Participants may also use their own bags. Please gather bags/debris to a single, easy access area.  For collection, please promptly contact
Officer Sowers at (304) 698-5594.

CONTEST

Safe at home with time for projects around your own home, or want to do something nice for an essential worker’s home while they continue working to ensure the safety of us all? .

Take a “before” photo of an area that needs some cleaning or maintenance, then take an “after” photo after you’ve improved the area. Post it on Facebook and/or Instagram with #cleanuppreston @prestonchamber or @friendsofthecheat.

The Preston County Chamber will select four winners (!) who will receive a gift certificate to a local restaurant offering take-out, courtesy of the Preston County Chamber of Commerce. .

It’s a WIN-WIN! We can support local restaurants, enjoy a cleaner, happier community and show our pride in the place we are so lucky to call home. #prestoncountyproud.

Please stay close to home, and conduct clean-up activities only with your families and isolation-buddies following CDC recommended physical distancing guidelines. Do not organize large groups or carpools. Groups violating these rules will be eliminated from the contest.

For collection, please promptly contact
Officer Sowers at (304) 698-5594.

Also, for self-disposal the Kingwood Transfer Station is currently open Monday-Friday from 7:00 am – 3:00 pm with no loads accepted later than 2:30 pm. Items not accepted are: yard waste, burnt lumber, liquids and appliances with freon. Contact the Transfer Station at (304) 329-3235.


Hello from Amanda’s home “office”!

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It has been a few anxious days since we announced the cancellation of the 26th Cheat Fest. I wanted to send a message that everyone at Friends of the Cheat is doing alright, and to let you know the changes we are making in our day to day operations.

FOC OFFICE

Friends of the Cheat staff are mixing it up – working from home and taking turns at the office. Meetings are now calls, and I’m quickly learning new communication tools and their quirks. I think all of our pets are enjoying the strange new flexibility. With precautions, FOC field work and construction projects continue. We have plenty to do! If you need to reach us, please send us an email or give us a call at 304-329-3621 instead of stopping by the office.

2020 FESTIVAL

All in-person aspects of the 2020 festival have been cancelled. This includes the 5K and downriver race. We are making adaptations to certain aspects of the festival such as shifting to a virtual 5K and hosting an online silent auction. Stay current at www.cheatfest.org where you can still purchase festival tees with the awesome artwork of our buddy John K Victor.

RIVER ACCESS SITES

FOC owned and managed river access sites are open for use following CDC guidelines. However, we have closed the bathrooms at the festival site Cheat Canyon put-in. We are discouraging the gathering of groups over 10 and will monitor site use and make changes as necessary. Stay well within your skill level while undertaking any risky activity during this time – you don’t want to take up a hospital bed or distract emergency responders because you injured yourself. 

Further, stay close to home with any outdoor activity. Traveling to that special camping spot or whitewater run exposes locals in rural communities with already limited health care. Think about how your actions could impact others. This article from Paddling Magazine can help – but please don’t explore new locations right now.  And remember, always stay 6 feet apart from your companions, on land and in the water!

With certain precautions, getting outside is a great way to stay active, and connected. This article, shared originally by our friends at OVEC, reminds us that there are many lessons to be learned from nature. We may have to be physically distanced but we can still stay connected – like the trees in the forest.

RESOURCES

I am humbled by how others are managing big changes in their lives. For those with children home from school, FOC has gathered some fun, educational resources to help you:

  • Cheat Fest art coloring book printable pages can be downloaded here. Share your masterpieces on social media with the hashtag #colorsofthecheat

FOC Coloring Book Pages

  • Cacapon Institute’s Watershed E-School has lots of fun, online activities for primary and secondary age students: https://www.cacaponinstitute.org/teach/watershed-e-school/
  • The National Wildlife Federation is offering free online access to Ranger Rick – my favorite magazine as a kid! Visit www.rangerrick.org for digital versions of Ranger Rick magazines, outdoor activities, animal crafts, and more.
  • Spring is in the air and there is a lot of action on a variety of Wildlife Web Cams. Check out the NCTC Eagle Cam out of Shepherdstown, WV managed by FOC founding Board member Randy Robinson. For views of a variety of critters from puffins to pandas, check out Aubudon’s top 10 wildlife cams.

In closing, the pandemic highlights many underlying inequities in our society. With that in mind, I’d like to remind you of two important responsibilities we have as citizens and adaptations we can take to keep ourselves and other safe:

  • Mail in your request for an absentee ballot for the May 12 Primary to your County Clerk. Note that you are requesting to vote from home due to the medical reason of the coronavirus outbreak. Protect the health of poll workers.
  • Take the 2020 Census online at my2020census.gov or mail in the form your household should be getting in the mail this week. Protect the health of Census workers. Federal funds to states for things like infrastructure and education depend on the count.

Stay safe friends.

Sincerely,

Amanda


Funding Awarded to Study the Removal of the Albright Dam on the Cheat River

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Photo by Joey Kimmet

Friends of the Cheat has been awarded $100,000 from the DTE Foundation to study the removal of the Albright Power Station Dam. Other than the dam at Cheat Lake, this obsolete dam, located 29.3 miles upstream of Cheat Lake, is the only barrier to aquatic passage for migrating species of fish, such as walleye, throughout the entire 78.3 mile-long Cheat River main stem. The Albright Power Station Dam reduces water quality by allowing water to slow and stagnate and is a dangerous hazard to boaters and anglers. The dam is a component of a First Energy coal-fired power plant decommissioned in September 2012. The pool created by the dam once fed the plant’s cooling towers. The plant and dam remain as relics. Removal will eliminate the burdens of maintenance and repair along with any safety concerns. 

“Preserving our environment – land, air and water – is a priority for the DTE Energy Foundation,” said Lynette Dowler, president of the DTE Energy Foundation. “We’re proud to support Friends of the Cheat in their work to remove a dam that will improve aquatic life and enhance fishing along this beautiful waterway.” Over the last 25 years, Cheat River water quality has vastly improved. Fish can be found throughout the entirety of the river, and populations in Cheat Lake show continued growth and diversity with over 45 species logged. Removing the Albright Power Station Dam would improve river habitat for aquatic life, including pollution-sensitive walleye and smallmouth bass. Dam removal would also improve water quality for once-present species, including the Eastern Hellbender and freshwater mussels, and could act as a catalyst for restoring and reintroducing these sensitive species in the Cheat River.

Once a liability, the Cheat River is now an asset fueling the recreation renaissance throughout the region. Whitewater paddlers have returned and outfitters are seeing renewed interest. The Cheat River and Lake are hosting annual bass fishing tournaments as well as competitive Global whitewater events. With the dam removed, paddlers could navigate the river 162 miles from its headwaters on Shavers Fork near Snowshoe, WV north to Cheat Lake. Without the dam, both outfitters and private paddlers would benefit through the expansion of access sites and connected river miles enabling new types of trips and experiences (tubing, SUP, multi-day trips, races, etc.)

“Removing the Albright Dam, if found feasible, is the next logical step in our mission to restore the Cheat River,” said Madison Ball, Restoration Program Manager for FOC.  “FOC has dedicated 25 years to restoring the Cheat from acid mine drainage, and now we are beginning to reap the rewards; improved water quality and healthy pH, a diversity of fish species recolonizing in the river — including acid-sensitive smallmouth bass and walleye, and renewed interest in river recreation.  Removing this barrier allows the river to flow naturally, rather than slow artificially and drop out sediment and other material, and fish and other aquatic life can migrate upstream and downstream as needed in particular life stages.”

A qualified consulting firm will be hired to conduct a reconnaissance level study of the Albright Power Dam. Results of the study will provide information on the current structural integrity of the dam, how much sediment has accumulated behind the dam and its composition, a mapping of the bottom of the river, and calculated anticipated flows. The finished report will also include conceptual plan drawings and two potential options for removal. Additional project highlights include using environmental DNA technology to survey the Cheat River for Eastern Hellbender and collaborating with WVDNR on preliminary fish surveys.

According to The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, “WVDNR has documented incredible improvements to the fisheries of the Cheat River watershed due to improved water quality. Consequently, recreational opportunities such as fishing and kayaking have dramatically increased. To further improve the fisheries and recreational opportunities on Cheat River, WVDNR is in favor of removing the Albright Power Station Dam. The WVDNR anticipates that riverine habitat and angling opportunities on one of the premier smallmouth bass fishing rivers in northern West Virginia will be improved. Additionally, an ever-increasing walleye population in Cheat Lake will have the opportunity to expand upstream past Albright once the dam is removed, potentially providing another recreational opportunity for Cheat River anglers.” 

The potential economic and environmental benefits of removing the dam prompted the interest and support of all 4 County Commissions touched by the project, upstream to downstream: Randolph, Tucker, Preston, and Monongalia.

Public involvement is a critical part of this project. FOC and project partners will host the first public open house for community members to learn more and share ideas this fall.