Stay up to date with Friends of the Cheat by reading our State of the Cheat River Watershed Trifold.
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.
Two Meet the Cheat events put record numbers of paddlers on the Cheat River.
While HB 2506, WV drinking water policy changes, gave us nightmares.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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-
Sign up for WV Environmental Council e-news (WV updates, action alerts): http://wvecouncil.org/action-a
Join Friends of the Cheat and other groups for E-Day February 27th at the WV Capitol.
Contact your representatives:
US Senate: https://www.senate.gov/senato
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:
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!”
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 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.