The Jenkinsburg property and most of the Cheat Canyon was owned by Allegheny Power for over 80 years. After a planned dam could not be built because of caves in the canyon wall, the land saw little corporate activity except for a few small logging operations along the rim. The company permitted public access and did little to manage the area. In 2004 they faced hard times and put their land, almost 5400 acres, up for sale. The State of West Virginia tried purchase it, but was outbid by Allegheny Wood Products (AWP). AWP turned down offers from Friends of the Cheat to manage and improve the site and later closed the Allegheny Trail through the Cheat Canyon. Whitewater paddlers were now nervous about access. In 2006, Dave Hough of Mountain Streams and Trails Outfitters made a land swap with AWP to gain control of the Jenkinsburg Access. He knew that ownership of the property was only a first step. He wanted to allow public river access but also needed to protect his land from abuse. Charlie Walbridge, a member of both the American Whitewater and Friends of the Cheat board, and FOC Executive Director Keith Pitzer offered to help.
Access to the Cheat Canyon was in jeopardy, and with it, the large constituency of Friends of the Cheat might not have good access to exceptional beauty of the Cheat Canyon.
Pitzer had a strong relationship with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WV-DEP) and believed that the Jenkinsburg project could qualify for EPA 319 funding. This money is distributed by the states to deal with “non-point source” pollution like the extensive erosion found there. Lou Schmidt, a DEP reclamation specialist, made several site visits and helped FOC apply for this money. The project qualified for a matching grant of $15,000, but there was one catch: because these funds had to be spent by end of fiscal year our matching funds had to be raised very quickly.
Fundraising went into high gear. Friends of Cheat, with its well-managed office and credit card capabilities, was the hub of the effort. Partnering with American Whitewater, a national river advocacy organization, we unleashed a powerful Internet campaign. Appeals were posted to whitewater club websites and chat rooms, regional message boards, and national forums like Boatertalk and the American Whitewater. Paddlers responded; we raised $12,000 in just 30 days, mostly from small donations. The West Virginia Wildwater Association applied for, and received, a $1000.00 grant from the American Canoe Association for this work. Their Club – Fostered Stewardship fund, sponsored by L.L. Bean, supports worthy river access projects nationwide. American Whitewater added $2000 raised through their own efforts. Dave Hough agreed to a 20-year non-commercial access agreement through his land in return for our investment.
The DEP’s Lou Schmidt and The WV Conservation Agency’s Brad Durst, and FOC’s Keith Pitzer worked with the landowner, other outfitters, and American Whitewater to develop a final plan. The upper parking lot was graded and enlarged, then ringed with large boulders to protect the rest of the property from off-road vehicles. The lower parking lot was expanded, and the road to it improved to accommodate outfitter busses and equipment trucks. A heavy duty gate was installed so that access beyond the upper parking area, except for authorized outfitter vehicles, would be on foot. A path to the main raft takeout at the mouth of the Big Sandy River was hardened to resist erosion with a special honeycomb fabric. Construction began on August 22nd and took eight days to complete.
…and after construction was completed.
These improvements have done a lot to reduce the rowdy antisocial behavior and have been much appreciated by nearby residents. We have responded quickly to reinforce barriers after ATV’s broken through the parking lot perimeter, but these events are becoming infrequent. Student volunteers from the Adventure West Virginia program and many unsung individuals have contributed extensively to the effort to keep the area picked up.
In 2020, West Virginia Land Trust (WVLT) took ownership of the Jenkinsburg Recreational Area, securing the site for public access. In partnership with WVLT, Friends of the Cheat will continue to manage the property.