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!
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!”
If a man fails to honor the rivers, he shall not gain the life from them. — Anonymous
I was raised on the Alabama gulf coast. As far back as I can remember, I was sporting on the water. Coastal cultures are different from inland cultures: different values, hobbies, and mannerisms. So, it has always been with a bit of trepidation that I have moved to inland cities and towns, no less so when I moved to West Virginia. Fortunately for me, I met a man named Bob Spangler. Though he claims to be from these parts, I noted a glimmer of the coast in his eye. Did I mention coastal people are a little crazy? Maybe it is all that water seeping into the brain.
Nonetheless, Bob introduced me to another kindred water spirit, Attila, who designs and manufactures inflatable kayaks. I visited his shop, Custom Inflatables, and saw first hand the care and pride his team puts into the best inflatable kayaks on the market today. Anyway, I worked out a deal on a used “ThrillSeeker,” picked up a quality marine pump and was on my way.
While I have enjoyed rafting all my life, hard boating (the graceful swans of our sport) demands a skill set that some people find more difficult to master than others. But a ThrillSeeker! I could suddenly boat in my own craft down the Cheat Canyon. While such excursions are certainly a thrill, “harrowing” is also a word that comes to mind.
I have always enjoyed running the Narrows on my inflatable sofa: feet up, eyes on the sky; watching eagles and hawks watching us. I even invented my own water sport called “Guerilla Kayaking.” With my ThrillSeeker and pump tucked away in the trunk of my car, I can travel anywhere in America, scouting nontraditional put in and take out points. Or, I just put in. The take out takes care of itself. See, water creates community. While in landers may go about their own business, failing to look strangers in the eye, to seize the opportunities of meaningful coincidences, water people are much more sensitive to these nuances of human experience– to our interconnectedness with the natural world and with each other.
Yes, water creates community, and communities create questions: whose water is it? What are my responsibilities for stewardship of this resource? How does my relationship with the water mature?
But surely, the glory of the water is reflected in each of us, each time we choose to enjoy it in our own way. It is more than astonishing sceneries, or the mastery of mad skills. It is a heart-song we sing together: sharing paddles, food and drink, music, and remedies for poison ivy. It is a war cry: sounded and heard from a line run just so; from a friend who overcame a fear; from a drunken commercial raft who hits the rapid sideways.
Our water community is diverse. Answers to pressing questions will reflect that complexity. But we return to the water, time and time again, and each time we find our self.
Walt Turner recently retired from Bethany College where he was an Associate Professor of English.
Tundra swan photo by Derek Courtney.
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.