FOC Debuts New Documentary Film and Free Public Screening Event


For Immediate Release



Beth Warnick

Friends of the Cheat

1343 North Preston Highway

Kingwood, WV 26537

304-329-3621 ext. 106


Friends of the Cheat Debuts New Documentary Film and Free Public Screening Event

Kingwood, W.VA. – Friends of the Cheat (FOC) is excited to announce the debut of a new documentary film, The Friends of the Cheat Story, directed by Robert Tinnell (Feast of the Seven Fishes) as an artist-in-residence working with students and alumni of George A. Romero’s Filmmaking Program at the Douglas Education Center in Monessen, PA. The film has been picked up by WVPB, and will premiere on Sunday, September 4, at 7:00pm. For those with PBS Passport access, the film will be streamable after its debut. 

In an effort to make the film available to the general public, FOC has rented the historic Metropolitan Theater in downtown Morgantown, WV, for a free public screening the evening of Thursday, September 22, 2022. Doors open at 5:30pm – showtime is 6:00pm to 7:00pm, with a Q&A session following.  

At the event, The Friends of the Cheat Story will be screened as a double-feature following an earlier FOC documentary, Catalyst of Change, produced and directed by Dale Rongaus and Dan Henninger. Shown together, these two films tell the story of the successful restoration of the Cheat River, once one of the most endangered watersheds in the nation. 

Inspirational and energizing, attendees will be moved by the narrative: the slow devastation of the river system through decades of resource extraction, the tenacity of a small community group determined to make real change, and the swell of support and action that culminated into 28 years (and counting) of continued partnerships, advocacy, and treatment. 

For additional event information, visit FOC’s Facebook event page.


Casey, Colleagues Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Clean Up Water Pollution from Abandoned Mines


Lick Run Portals

For Immediate Release – March 30, 2022

Natalie Adams: 202-228-6367 (Casey)
Maloreigh Todd: 202-961-8287 (Cartwright)
Zach Riddle: (Braun)
Kate Giaquinto: 202-981-4114 (McKinley)

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Mike Braun (R-IN) introduced the Safeguarding Treatment for the Restoration of Ecosystems from Abandoned Mines (STREAM) Act with U.S. Representatives Matt Cartwright (D-PA-8) and David McKinley (R-WV-1). Acid mine drainage (AMD)—the release of highly acidic water from abandoned mines— is one of the largest sources of water pollution throughout the country and threatens the health and safety of Americans living near abandoned mine lands. This legislation would allow states and tribes to set aside a portion of the abandoned mine land funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Job Act to treat AMD specifically, reducing long-term water pollution and investing in the economic health of their communities.

“Thanks to the infrastructure law, historic coal-mining regions will receive billions to reclaim abandoned mine lands. Still, addressing acid mine drainage remains out of reach for many states, representing a significant financial burden due to the high, ongoing costs associated with operating and maintaining AMD treatment facilities. Without the certainty that funding will be available to cover these long-term costs, states will be unlikely to make the necessary investments to restore our vital waterways. This legislation will provide financial certainty for states, enabling them to clean up water pollution and in doing so, improve property values, restore fishing and recreation opportunities, create long-term jobs and support local economies that rely on a clean water supply. I will work to get this legislation passed to ensure Pennsylvania families have access to clean water—a right that is guaranteed by the Pennsylvania Constitution,” said Senator Casey.

“Indiana is one of the top coal producing states so it’s important that abandoned mine lands are reclaimed to their full potential and that safety and environmental hazards are addressed. I am introducing the STREAM Act with Sen. Casey so states can continue to build and maintain AMD treatment systems for polluted water,” said Sen. Mike Braun.

“Orange-colored acid mine drainage kills fish and other wildlife in thousands of miles of streams and rivers in Pennsylvania,” said Congressman Matt Cartwright. “The legislation Senator Casey and I are proposing will allow us to tap into billions of dollars in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to operate and maintain drainage treatment systems.  The result will be recreational and economic restoration of our waterways.”

“Acid mine drainage from abandoned mines has contaminated creeks and rivers across West Virginia, and remediation can require ongoing treatment of that impaired water to ensure the long-term protection and restoration. This bill provides States with the flexibility to set aside AML funding specifically for long-term water treatment so that West Virginia can take full advantage of the funding from the hard infrastructure bill,” said Rep. McKinley.

The Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Program, the primary funding source to address AML sites, authorizes states to set aside up to 30 percent of their annual AML grant to accrue interest and cover the long-term costs of acid mine drainage treatment facilities. The infrastructure law provides an additional $11.3 billion for the AML trust fund for use by states. However, the infrastructure law does not allow the same kind of set-aside provision for AMD treatment as the AML Reclamation Program. Without this authority to set aside a portion of the additional funding, states will not be able to access the resources they need to mitigate the damage from acid mine drainage.

The STREAM Act would authorize states to set aside up to 30 percent of their annual AML grant from the infrastructure law into an account for treatment of acid mine drainage and require annual reporting on the use and amount of funds set aside for acid mine drainage abatement.

Read more about the STREAM Act here.

NASA DEVELOP Team partners with FOC to assess Flood Risk and Changing Climate specific to Preston and Tucker Counties


For FOC’s Cheat River Restoration program, we often have to focus our efforts on being reactive to negative impacts to the Cheat; cleaning up after abandoned mine lands has been the meat of our restoration work for more than two decades.  

This year, however, we were given a rare and unique opportunity to be proactive in planning our restoration efforts, which was afforded to us by the NASA DEVELOP Team.  We have noticed changes to the Cheat Watershed in recent years, including more frequent, monstrous rain events that have led to damaging floods, followed by periods of significant drought.  During certain times of the year, sections of the Cheat look more like boulder fields than a river.  

Rowlesburg Park, March 1st, 2021 during a high water event

Preston Site Trestle Bridge, March 1st, 2021 during a high water event

Preston Site Trestle Bridge, September 2019 at very low flow – photo by Joey Kimmet

We know these conditions have serious consequences for our river communities, freshwater resources, and native species. So when NASA DEVELOP approached us to partner on a project using earth observation data and remote sensing technology, we leaped at the chance to forge FOC’s local knowledge with their expertise. We proposed a project designed to assess if the climate had changed in Preston and Tucker Counties, and if so, how these changes may lead to increased flood vulnerability.  FOC’s goal with this project was to clearly identify vulnerable areas and seek restoration projects that will lead to a climate resilient river system, and therefore climate resilient communities.  

In the spring of 2021, the NASA DEVELOP Team took a deep dive into the Preston and Tucker County data and discovered that “between 1970 and 2020, temperature has increased by about 1.5°C (2.7°F), and precipitation has increased by 4.2 inches, while monthly river discharge has become more variable. At the same time, there were no detectable trends in land cover at the county level.”

The temperature and precipitation increased occurred without major land disturbance, such as increased infrastructure development, leading FOC to wonder if these effects could multiply if land cover were to change significantly over the next 50 years.

This graph depicts the yearly average temperature time series, including a trend line to show change in climatic trends between 1970 and 2020 in Preston County and Tucker County, WV.

These graphs depict the monthly average amount of precipitation time series, using two different means (1970-1999 and 2000-2020) to show change in climatic trends between 1970 and 2020 in Preston County and Tucker County.

Another concern is the noted variability in river discharge, or flows, providing evidence for what we have witnessed on the ground in recent decades. In the box and whisker plots below, the dots on the plot are the average yearly values of discharge. Any dot not plotted on the box or line for the decade is an outlier.The X in the plot is the mean for the decade, while the line in the box is the median for the decade. Looking at the X’s (means) for the decades, we can see that there is a trend upward. This indicates that the average discharge per decade is increasing.


FOC was surprised that the variability for the 1980s was not higher due to the 1985 Flood– however, lower flows or more average flows recorded from other dates in the 1980s may have canceled out its effect when looking at the data as a whole from that decade.  This further illustrates how widely the flow has varied in the last decade (2010s).

This graph utilizes box and whisker plots to show river discharge of the Cheat River at the Parsons, WV gauge, in decadal increments.

In addition to assessing climatology trends for Preston and Tucker Counties, the NASA DEVELOP Team also created a Flood Vulnerability Map of the project area.

To determine flood vulnerability, which the team defined as affecting human-made structures or human health, the team analyzed underground mine locations, road networks, and population density on the flood risk map (see Figures below).

Flood Risk Map demonstrating the areas within Preston and Tucker counties most susceptible to flooding. 

This map depicts the road vulnerability by overlaying the roads on the flood extent layer.

Some areas that have been flooded before, such as Parsons, were not particularly surprising, but FOC staff were surprised by the vulnerability of the Masontown and Arthurdale area.  Due to the concerns about increased flooding leading to worsened water quality due to acid mine drainage, the team analyzed mine vulnerability. While there are large areas of mining in the study region, only small sections of the mines intersected with the flood extent and were considered vulnerable.  Many of the vulnerable mines are located in the region of North-West Preston county (Masontown, Reedsville, and Arthurdale).

Ultimately Friends of the Cheat will use these new tools and resources to pursue projects in vulnerable areas that will improve the Cheat’s chances of remaining stable in a changing climate.  Projects that will increase the Cheat’s climate and flood resilience including improving and upsizing road crossing with streams (which also can improve fish passage), reforesting riparian areas to improve stream shade and reduce erosion in flooding events, securing funds to upsize stormwater and sewage treatment systems, and adapting acid mine drainage treatment sites and projects to be able to treat seasonal high flow volumes.

AML Program Fee Collection Expires Sept 30


Tomorrow marks a frustrating day for FOC staff and other organizations working to remediate acid mine drainage (AMD) impacted streams and rivers. On September 30, the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fee collection expires, and halts a majority of the future funding FOC and WVDEP could use to treat AMD sources in the Cheat River watershed. 

The Abandoned Mine Lands reclamation program fund, part of the Surface Mining Reclamation and Control Act of 1977 (SMCRA), authorizes the collection of fees on current coal producers on a per ton coal produced basis. Prior to tomorrow, the fee collection generated the pool of funding available to treat Priority 1, 2, and 3 AMD sites. Many of FOC’s current AMD treatment systems are built on Priority 2 and 3 sites. 

Currently, the reauthorization of the AML program is wrapped up in the giant Energy Infrastructure bill, where $11.289 billion is slated for AML, but new regulations concerning the  distribution of funding leaves many streams and rivers, including the Cheat, in the lurch.

In the opinion of FOC and many of our partners in AMD, the current version included in the bill is not adequate.  It lowers the AML fee by 20%, gives too short of a timeframe to spend out the $11+ billion, doesn’t allow spending on Priority 3 sites – most of which are the AMD problem areas – and doesn’t allow states to put funds in their set-aside accounts that pay for the ongoing costs of AMD treatment. 

Lick Run Portal confluence with the Cheat River mainstream – photo by Joey Kimmet

Lick Run Portal ‘Scab’ – decades of AMD drainage built this otherworldly mess.

This is a huge setback to the Cheat River. To put this into perspective, Lick Run Portals, a Priority 3 site, has been the lower Cheat watershed’s largest source of acidity for many years.  If no amendments to the bill are passed, this AMD source, and so many others like it, will be left without a clear path forward for remediation. Also, limiting funding for water treatment puts existing long-term restoration projects like that on Muddy Creek at risk, as funding for ongoing operations and maintenance would be restricted.

FOC’s Railroad Refuse Treatment Site was built on a Priority 3 site. Photo by Adam Webster

Friends of the Cheat Receives $1.1 million from Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER Initiative for Mountaineer Trail Network



Upper Cheat River Water Trail

Today, Friends of the Cheat was awarded $1.1 million by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) on behalf of the Mountaineer Trail Network Recreation Authority. The goal of this project is to formally launch the Mountaineer Trail Network as a collection of the best non-motorized trails in the eastern United States for bikes and boats.

Friends of the Cheat and its partners will solidify the newly established Mountaineer Trail Network Recreation Authority, an economic development authority created by the West Virginia Legislature in 2019 to oversee the creation, launch, and operation of the Mountaineer Trail Network.

The core work of this project focuses on developing a regional outdoor economy based on current (and largely undiscovered) trails in our 15-county service area (Barbour, Doddridge, Grant, Harrison, Lewis, Marion, Mineral, Monongalia, Preston, Randolph, Ritchie, Taylor, Tucker, Upshur, and Wood). 

Over the next three years, the Authority will select four to eight existing, top-grade trail areas in northern West Virginia for inclusion in the Mountaineer Trail Network. POWER funds will be used to enhance and market these trail areas and nearby tourism businesses as a nationally- and world-renowned tourism destination for biking and boating.  

Additional financial support for the Mountaineer Trail Network is provided by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the Just Transition Fund, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, Visit Mountaineer Country Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), Greater Parkersburg CVB, Tucker County CVB, and Marion County CVB.

Mon River Trail South – photo courtesy of Marion County CVB

The project has in-kind support from 33 additional project partners, including 15 county commissions, five CVBs, three county economic development authorities, five county parks and recreation commissions, four state parks, West Virginia University’s Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative and Law School, and 14 trail organizations across the project area. 

This award is part of a $46.4 million package supporting 57 projects across 184 coal-impacted counties through ARC’s POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative. POWER targets federal resources to communities affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries. 

“The downturn of the coal industry has impacted economies across Appalachia. That’s why ARC’s POWER initiative helps to leverage regional partnerships and collaborations to support efforts to create a more vibrant economic future for coal-impacted communities,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin. “Many of the projects we announced today will invest in educating and training the Appalachian workforce, nurturing entrepreneurship, and supporting infrastructure—including broadband access. These investments in our Appalachian coal-impacted communities are critical in leveling the economic playing field so our communities can thrive.”

Moon Rocks Loop Trail, Yellow Creek Natural Area – photo courtesy of Blackwater Bikes Association

 “This project will provide the marketing, organization, and tourism-focused business development needed to leverage these trails as the world-class assets they truly are,” said Friends of the Cheat Executive Director Amanda Pitzer. “This in turn will directly fuel opportunities for new business startups in tourism, lodging, dining, and other related sectors.”

About the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC)

The Appalachian Regional Commission ( is an economic development partnership agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 420 counties across the Appalachian Region. ARC’s mission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia.

Since POWER launched in 2015, ARC has invested more than $287.8 million in 362 projects across 353 coal-impacted counties. The nearly $46.4 million awarded today is projected to create/retain over 9,187 jobs, attract nearly $519.5 million in leveraged private investments, and be matched by $59.2 million in additional public and private funds across the Region. 

ARC is working with Chamberlin/Dunn LLC, a third-party research firm, to closely monitor, analyze, and evaluate these investments. A new report, published today in conjunction with the announcement, found that projects funded through POWER grants met or exceeded targets for jobs retained and/or created, businesses created, workers trained, and revenues increased. Chamberlin/Dunn is continuing to monitor POWER investments and make recommendations to ARC for ongoing programmatic efficiencies.

Cheat Species Spotlight – Flat-spired three-toothed Snail


Photo Courtesy of Gabe DeWitt

The Flat-spired three-toothed Snail (Triodopsis platysayoides) is one of the rarest land snails in the world, and is only found within our Cheat River Canyon. This snails’ habitat is restricted to small areas of the canyon that have sandstone cliffs, outcroppings and large boulders. The snail lives in cracks and crevices in the rocks and surrounding leaf litter, and is primarily active at night. Optimum snail activity occurs during spring and early summer, especially during cool, moist weather conditions. The three-toothed snail feeds on a varied diet of over 20 or so documented foods, including several aged leaves and flower blossoms, fresh catkins, pack rat feces, lichens, mushrooms, and crickets.

The shell of Triodopsis platysayoides is pale brown, thin, and coiled to the right with 5 whorls. It is extremely flattened in shape unlike many other species of snails with a cone-like shell. Adult Triodopsis platysayoides are a bit less than an inch across, or a little smaller than a quarter.

Because of the snails’ limited habitat range, they are vulnerable to many natural or human caused disturbances like hikers and bikers inadvertently disrupting the leaf litter cover and crushing them, as well as timbering, housing developments, and forest fires. Recovery efforts for this animal have included fencing occupied habitat (to keep humans away) and the land acquisition of approximately 1,100 acres of snail habitat within the Charlotte Ryde Nature Preserve.

Photo Courtesy of Gabe DeWitt

An interesting fact about a mature Flat-spired three-toothed Snail is that it is actually hermaphroditic. A mating pair has the ability to cross-fertilize, and each may lay eggs. These eggs are buried in soil or leaf litter, and once hatched young snails can grow rapidly – reaching maturity within their first year. 

Muddy Creek AMD Blowout


Update – March 8th:  Since our original sampling Thursday evening when pH was 3.65, FOC has pulled several sets of Water Quality (WQ) samples in Muddy Creek and the Cheat River downstream of Muddy. On Friday, we deployed our Muddy Creek live reading sonde, which reports live water quality data to FOC staff remotely every ten minutes. Since then, we have seen improvements in WQ, and pH at the mouth of Muddy Creek now rests at 7.10. You can track the improvements at

The good news is – at this time there is no evidence of a fish kill in Cheat River. Based on our conversations with WVDNR, it appears we are out of the weeds in that regard as long as WQ is maintained as pH neutral. While this event will have serious impacts to the stream community that was beginning to reestablish in Muddy Creek, we are fortunate this event was not as extreme as the earlier blowouts that took place in the 1990s. We will continue to monitor impacts in Muddy Creek and the Cheat River mainstem. 

WVDEP have been working hard to contain and treat the acidic water created from the blowout, and our WQ testing shows that the status of Muddy Creek has improved, maintaining a pH level similar to before the blowout. An investigation is currently ongoing to identify the source of the blowout and discuss next steps on preventing a similar event in the future – this is FOC’s biggest concern at the moment in light of climate trends that predict warmer, wetter conditions and more severe flooding events for this area. FOC aims to be at the table during these discussions.

We could not thank you enough for your continued support during this painful event. We will use your donations to advocate for healthier streams, increased protections, and to push our legislators to reauthorize the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act – Abandoned Mine Lands Fee, set to expire in 2021. Without reauthorization, FOC and other groups lose a major funding source to tackle or maintain any AMD treatment sites: a scary thought after the events of last week. 

March 5th:  It is with heavy hearts that we inform our river community that there has been another blowout related to the T&T mine system, and acidic and metal laden water is again flowing through Muddy Creek.  FOC staff noticed the disturbing hue of the water yesterday and found the pH reading 3.65.  pH has dropped in the Canyon at “Decision Rapid” to 5.8, and has stained the river right extensively.  

The WVDEP’s T&T Treatment Facility was not able to handle the burden of the recent precipitation events.  WVDEP released the following press release concerning the blowout – March 5 2020 – DEP investigating blowout at former T&T Mine.  With precipitation projected to occur more often and with greater intensity over the next decade, we are left to wonder how often these events may occur.  For the fish documented in Muddy Creek and the Canyon, this is a major ecological setback.  

This is ever more proof of the risk Abandoned Mine Lands pose to healthy ecosystems, and that our work is not done. 

We will continue to push for restored water quality, innovation, and will not accept this as the status quo for Muddy Creek.  Now more than ever, SMCRA AML reauthorization will be critical to address the longstanding ecological damage continually caused by abandoned mine lands.  We’re not out of the weeds, yet.

Muddy Creek

pH Muddy Creek March 4th, 2021

Downstream of the Muddy Creek & Cheat River Confluence

Muddy Creek Confluence Aerial – Photo by Paul Kinder

Muddy Creek Cheat River Downstream Aerial – Photo by Paul Kinder

Decision Rapid – Cheat River Canyon

Help FOC Request a Public Hearing for an 800 Acre Development along the Big Sandy and Laurel Run


*FOC staff, with consultation from partners, will submit our final comments by the deadline. They are technical, but that is what is called for. You can read some of FOC’s comments below.  FOC supporters are encouraged to continue to submit public meeting requests and personalize their comments.

*Friends of the Cheat will submit the following comments and others:


FOC also has concerns about public access to one of our most beloved areas, an area that many dreamed would become public land one day.  Access will be limited or discontinued to members of the public, such as boaters and Allegheny Trail thru-hikers.  FOC will continue to inquire about access developments.


Wonder Falls – Photo by Eric Cain

Wonder Falls – Photo by Jeff Macklin

Big Sandy Creek is a priority area for Friends of the Cheat because of its good water quality, stunning beauty, and paddling opportunities. It is beloved by our river community, including whitewater boaters for its untamed and wild scenery and equally wild ride. Boaters travel from across the world to experience the thrill of navigating the Big Sandy.  Historically impaired by irresponsible resource extraction, we have documented great improvements in water quality to the Big Sandy Creek over the last twenty years. FOC and partners like Trout Unlimited invest in restoration and fish stocking projects throughout the Big Sandy watershed. 
Laurel Run is one of the few unimpaired and forested tributaries to the Big Sandy Creek and hosts a native Brook Trout fishery.
Lack of best management practices or ill-planned development could have a significant negative impact to these streams. Friends of the Cheat is requesting more information on the project through a public hearing in order to provide critical feedback on erosion control, sediment management, and protection of water quality. We are especially concerned because significant construction work in ecologically sensitive areas started before permits were in place.
Please help Friends of the Cheat in promoting best management practices and protection of these streams by requesting a public hearing on this new development.


The WV Department of Environmental Protection is receiving public comments on the construction stormwater permit for a large development planned along Big Sandy Creek and Laurel Run in Preston County.

Friends of the Cheat is gathering more information on the permit application and encourages concerned citizens to help request a public hearing by writing to WVDEP before Sunday, March 7, 2021.

You can email WVDEP Sharon Mullins, Permitting Section at:

Include your name and contact information and the permit number: WVR111041

Any interested person may submit written comments on the site registration permit application and may request a public hearing by addressing such to the Director of the Division of Water and Waste Management within 30 days of the date of the public notice.  Such comments or requests should be addressed to:

Director, Division of Water and Management, DEP

ATTN:  Sharon Mullins, Permitting Section

601 57th Street SE

Charleston, WV  25304-2345

Comments received within this period will be considered prior to acting on the permit application.  Correspondence should include the name, address and the telephone number of the writer and a concise statement of the nature of the issues raised.  The Director shall hold a public hearing whenever a finding is made, on the basis of requests, that there is a significant degree of public interest on issues relevant to the site registration permit application and this facility’s coverage under the General Permit.  Interested persons may contact the Public Information Office to obtain further information.

Fish Tails Tell the Tale


Article and Photographs by Adam Webster

In June, I joined two Friends of the Cheat staff members to cast lines into the Cheat River at the mouth of Muddy Creek, hoping to catch a bass, trout, walleye, or maybe even a musky. Truth be told, I think we were hoping to catch any sort of fish since Muddy Creek and the section of the Cheat River below its confluence, known as Cheat Canyon, had been considered “dead” for most of the last 25 years. 

Knowing that tens of millions of dollars were spent during that last quarter century to recover water quality in the Cheat River and its tributaries, however, was a promising aspect of our pursuit—we were literally “testing the waters” to see if fish had returned. 

Within the last two years, all indicators suggested that fish were indeed returning into Cheat Canyon and beyond. People sharing photos on social media showed fish caught above and below the Muddy Creek confluence. A photo of a musky as long as a Labrador retriever, caught above Muddy Creek, in Albright, sparked dozens of shares and hundreds of “likes” on social media. I still do a double take when I look at that photo—it’s hard to believe.

It’s hard to believe because the Lower Cheat River was known to be polluted for decades. In 1994, the river grabbed national attention after a series of “blowouts” from a coal mine on Muddy Creek poured millions of gallons of acidic water into Cheat Canyon. The water quality became so bad that in 1995 the Cheat River was listed by American Rivers, a river advocacy group, as one of the top 10 most endangered rivers in the United States. 

When I first experienced the Cheat Canyon in a raft in the early 1990s, the shorelines were indeed stained fluorescent orange and electric white from pollution, known as acid mine drainage. When I mentioned trying to catch a fish in Cheat Canyon while sitting around a campfire one evening long ago, a wise-cracking river guide handed me a bottle of whiskey and said, “You’ve got about as good of a chance catching a fish in a swill of flavored ethanol as you do in the Canyon.” 

My heart sank.

Despite the “whiskey incident,” however, I lugged a fishing pole into Cheat Canyon many times through the years. I wanted to believe that rivers are resilient. I wanted to hold on to a hope that the majesty of the Cheat River wouldn’t always be matched by its tragic condition. I wanted to believe that if I could just catch one fish, maybe things were getting better.   

I didn’t catch a single fish anywhere in Cheat Canyon for nearly a decade —at least not anywhere within a few miles of Muddy Creek, that is.

Wading into the water at the mouth of Muddy Creek on a summer afternoon in 2020 with an expectation of catching a fish made me antsy. In fact, I didn’t even grab my fishing pole. I took my camera instead and let Garrett Richardson (Monitoring Technician) and Owen Mulkeen (Associate Director) do the casting. I just wanted to see it happen. These two guys, along with a long list of other FOC staff and partners past and present—made this recovery happen. This was their moment. Not many people can say that in their lifetime they helped bring a dead river back to life. 

As those two tied lures to their lines and set out to prove what was once impossible, I admired the view looking downstream into Cheat Canyon. Fifteen years prior, I stood in nearly the exact spot surrounded by life-choking sediments and telltale stains of heavy metals caused by acid mine drainage. The pH, or acidity, of water flowing from Muddy Creek into Cheat River back then was, at times, similar to lemon juice or acid rain. The water flowing from Muddy Creek into the Cheat River today, as a result of a nearly $10 million treatment system built by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, is close enough to “normal” that fish and other aquatic organisms should be able to thrive. 

Then it happened. 

I heard a splash behind me. Garrett signaled an excited “fish on” sort of smile while standing in the outflow of Muddy Creek into Cheat River. His line was taught, and his fishing pole went into a bend. As he reeled, a feisty fish slapped its tail on the surface. In that instant, I felt as if we turned the page into a new chapter about the Cheat River.  

As Garrett released a soda can-sized smallmouth bass back into the river and my mind did a rewind on 25 years of what was and what now is, I recalled words and wishes of characters along the way. In the mid-2000s, in interviews with Dave Bassage and Keith Pitzer, both former FOC Executive Directors, they each described a future in which trout thrived in Muddy Creek and that the Cheat River would recover as an intact ecosystem. 


“It may well be that I never get to see trout in Muddy Creek in my lifetime,” Bassage said, “but we’re already seeing bass in Cheat Canyon. So, you take your successes where you can find them,” he said. 

Another splish and splash from the corner of my eye and serendipity struck! Garrett was reeling in rainbow trout at the mouth of Muddy Creek.

“We’ll take our successes where we can find them,” I thought to myself.

 As the fishing hour was upon us, Owen landed a couple bass on a fly rod and Garrett moved further up into Muddy Creek and showcased a healthy smallmouth bass. In the weeks after our trip, Garrett caught another bass more than a quarter mile upstream in Muddy Creek.

So, what’s next?

First, I hope that bottles of whiskey will be used to celebrate good days of fishing instead of being used to describe water quality in the Cheat River. 

On a more serious note, FOC needs your continued support. What does “support” mean? It means making financial contributions to the organization and volunteering to help its restoration, recreation, and community development programs succeed into the future. In many ways, this is just the beginning.

What is evident to me is that the recovery of the Cheat River is no longer just a tale about fixing pollution caused in the past, it is a story about the future and not just what will become of the river, but about what the river will become for its communities.

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Monongahela National Forest Celebrates 100 Years of Conservation and Service


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 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

2020 Spring Sinuosity – 2020 Eternal



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.

Support FOC on #GivingTuesday

Donate to FOC's Education and Outreach Program on December 1st, 2021!