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INTO THE CANYON SPRING 2021 NEWSLETTER OF FRIENDS OF THE CHEAT

Immediate Business:

  1. Support Whitewater Access on the Cheat River - Donate today! More details below.
  2. Clean Up Preston Month - Help FOC and the Preston County Chamber of Commerce clear litter and debris throughout the county! Join in by organizing your own pickup and tag us on Facebook at @friendsofthecheat, @prestonchamber, or #cleanuppreston, and be entered for a raffle prize at the end of April. 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, and contact Officer Sowers promptly afterwards to arrange a pickup - or self-dispose at the Kingwood Transfer Station from 7:00am-3:00pm, Monday through Friday.

Into the Canyon - Newsletter of Friends of the Cheat Spring 2021

Board of Directors and Key Personnel

Amanda Pitzer, Executive Director; Owen Mulkeen, Associate Director; Madison Ball, Restoration Program Manager; Garrett Richardson, Monitoring Technician; Valorie Dixon, Bookkeeper; Beth Warnick, Media and Outreach Specialist

Board Members

Chair: Lisa Maraffa, Vice Chair: Charlie Walbridge, Treasurer: Miranda Peddicord, Sarah Hinnant, Stratford Douglas, Connie Miller, Ben Hogan, Rick Chaney, Zach Fowler, Michael Strager, Dani Martin, Rich Dennis

FOC RECEIVES FUNDING FROM NATIONAL FISH AND WILDLIFE FOUNDATION

Photo by Joey Kimmet

Friends of the Cheat (FOC) is pleased to announce another substantial grant award to support our ongoing efforts to remove the obsolete Albright Power Dam. The dam has served no purpose since the coal-powered Albright Power Station was decommissioned in 2012. In February, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced our application was selected, and will provide nearly $200K in support through their Central Appalachian Habitat Stewardship Program. Funding will support dam removal as well as a range of studies on vulnerable species, namely eastern hellbender, brook trout, and freshwater mussels, whose populations are hampered by the Albright Power Dam. FOC is partnering with the West Virginia Land Stewardship Corporation, which has plans to redevelop the entire Albright Power Plant property to promote local businesses and recreational tourism.

Eastern hellbenders, brook trout, and many species of freshwater mussels are considered at risk throughout the Central Appalachian region and thus have been designated focal species for conservation efforts. NFWF’s Central Appalachian Habitat Stewardship Program’s overall goal is to “improve the quality and connectivity of forest and freshwater habitat” and aims to “bolster populations of eastern brook trout, eastern hellbender, and native freshwater mussels by removing barriers to fish passage, restoring riparian and in-stream habitat, and improving water quality and hydrology.” Removing the obsolete Albright Power Dam would reconnect nearly 75 miles of river and hundreds of miles of tributaries, improve water quality, and restore in-stream habitat, making it a compelling project for conservation efforts.

After conducting our first eastern hellbender environmental-DNA study in the fall of 2020, FOC recently received exciting news that we had positive results at 7 locations across a 45 mile stretch of the Cheat River main stem, from Parsons to Albright. The results also suggest that the Albright Power Dam could be a significant barrier to their passage into the Cheat River Canyon.

The dam could also be responsible for creating poor hellbender habitat by artificially pooling water and causing an increase in sedimentation, an issue hellbenders are particularly sensitive towards. Hellbenders live under and in the crevices between rocks; high sediment loads can fill those spaces and cause individuals to seek other accommodations or leave areas entirely.

Funds provided by this NFWF Award will allow FOC staff to continue to monitor and further understand hellbender distribution throughout the Cheat River Watershed over the next three years.

Dam removal could also strengthen native brook trout populations. Cheat River tributaries Roaring Creek, Daugherty Run, and Elsey Run have been known to support brook trout; their confluences are within 2 miles of each other along the Cheat main stem, yet the dam is blocking the Daugherty and Elsey Run populations from those in Roaring Creek. These populations have been disconnected for nearly 70 years. Removing the Albright Power Dam would reconnect these populations, which would increase their resiliency in the future by allowing populations to migrate or mix through the Cheat River main stem during cooler seasons. Funds from this award will allow FOC staff to work with partners to determine if populations in Roaring Creek, Elsey Run, and Daugherty Run are distinctly different from one another through genetic testing.

Eight species of freshwater mussels were historically found in the Cheat River main stem. It is thought that these mussel species perished sometime in the early 20th century when water quality in the Cheat River was extremely degraded, and pH averaged 4.0 – 5.5 seasonally. Now that the Cheat main stem pH is circumneutral, and again home to mussel host-fish, such as smallmouth bass, the potential for reintroduction is realistic. FOC is actively working with a partner to test Cheat River eDNA samples for presence of freshwater mussel species. We hope to hear of the results soon! If mussels are present, barriers such as dams are considered stressors to their populations. If they are not currently present in the Cheat River, the Albright Power Dam is still an impediment to any future recolonization effort. This NFWF award will allow FOC to continue eDNA monitoring efforts for freshwater mussels as well as work with partners to determine if reintroduction efforts are necessary or feasible.

FOC is building momentum towards the Albright Power Dam removal through a coalition of funding from both private and public sources. Removing a dam requires a diverse network of partners and problem solvers, and needs local, state, and national support. To date, FOC has raised $322,524.62 - more will be needed to see this project through completion. But, a nearly 75 mile free flowing river makes it all worth the while.

To learn more about Friends of the Cheat and our efforts to remove the Albright Power Dam, check out the digital version of our Dam Removal Educational Booklet and stay tuned for the release of our Dam Removal Educational Video, to premier this April.

A Huge Thank You to our Donors!

Cheat Watershed Sponsors: Walbridge Family Foundation, Charlie Walbridge, Eliza Walbridge, Patrick & Lisa Ward, Thomas & Hope Covey

Stream Stewards: Robert Uram, Susan & Don Sauter, David Brisell, Stratford Douglas & Jodie Jackson, Toddi Steelman & Joe Sinsheimer, John & Emy Hinnant, Szilagyi Family Foundation, Paul & Betty Connelly, Healthberry Farm, Jen Sass & Michael Graham, Robert Moore, The Reed Foundation, The Oakland Foundation, Megan & Bill Carlson, Meredith Pavlick

For the period Jan 30 through March 22

Canyon Contributors: Todd Fedak, Nicholas Brittingham

Narrows Navigators: Shelia Shurina, David Keers, Theo, Colette, Sera, & Nico Zegre, Bob & Alice Vernon

Confluence Crew: Hannah Nickerson, Susan Gordon, Tom & Darinda Westbrook, Yough Vacation Rentals, Fern & Rita Mulkeen, David Herron, Rebecca Stanevich, Adam Webster, Dan Coe, James Boyce, Lenae Weichel, Christopher Sergeant, Michael Jacobs, Shawn Grushecky, Meghan Williams & Richard Rudisill, Michael Niemann, Kim Kincaid

Five Forks Friends: David Milrod, Ana Paula Pineda, James Nardozzi, Nicholas Borror, Rachel & Aaron Humberson, Carol Nix, Ruth & Douglas Willenborg, Vesna Meinert, James McClave, Kathleen Torkildson, Jessica Crow Mermel, Max & Crys Bauer, Casandra Perry, Suzanne Currey, Kaitlyn Snyder, Molly Janney, Scott & Jennifer Williams

Good ‘Ole Friends: John Jeffries, David Hafera, Jim Snyder, Dani Martin, Dan & Susan Soeder, Rebecca Russell, Kyle Mandler, Corey Buzzo, Adrienne Epley Holliday, Mary Miller, Madelyn Vidmar, Mary Harding, Michael Keifer, Chett Pritchett, Steven Mars, Jeff Macklin, Everett Mulkeen, Paul Cline, William Isenberg, Abigail Howett, Kathryn Moran, Chris Bauer

Swim Guide Donors: Adam Webster, Theo, Colette, Sera, & Nico Zegre

CARES ACT EXTENDED INTO 2021! The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act will let taxpayers deduct up to $300 ($600 for couples) in charitable donations from their taxable income. Taxpayers will be able to claim the deductions on their tax forms next year.

LAURELS AND LEGACIES: SUPPORT FOC THROUGH PLANNED GIVING AND TRIBUTE GIFTS

Honor and Memorial Gifts: Tribute giving is a wonderful way to recognize, honor, and celebrate those important to you, or those who have a special connection to the Cheat River watershed. Contact Beth Warnick at bwarnick@cheat.org to set up a special donation link for family and friends, or to learn more about tribute giving. We’d love to hear the stories behind your loved one’s connection to the Cheat. Should you want your honoree to be recognized publicly, we’ll list them on our donor page.

Planned Giving: Leave a legacy - please remember Friends of the Cheat in your will. To leave a planned gift in your will, simply share with your attorney or financial advisor that you bequeath to Friends of the Cheat in Kingwood, WV, a specific gift amount, or a selected percentage of your estate. If you are planning to leave a gift, or have already designated FOC in your will, please consider sharing those details with us, so we can properly express our gratitude.

2021 WHITEWATER ACCESS CAMPAIGN

Photo by Gabe DeWitt

For the past 15 years, Friends of the Cheat has developed and maintained access to the Cheat Canyon and Big Sandy Rivers in Albright, Rockville, and Jenkinsburg through our Whitewater Access program. In 2006, Friends of the Cheat partnered with American Whitewater to lease the Jenkinsburg Access for 25 Years. We then raised $25,000 and arranged for a $15,000 match from the West Virginia DEP. We are now working closely with the West Virginia Land Trust, which took ownership of the land last Fall. In 2007, FOC partnered with Chesapeake Energy, who donated the land that was to become the Rockville Access on the Big Sandy. After a land swap with Allegheny Wood Products, the parking lot was improved.

In 2009, Friends of the Cheat began a decade-long project to stabilize and maintain the Rockville and Jenkinsburg Shuttle Roads. With state highway budgets cut to the bone, roads like this are simply ignored. The Whitewater Access Campaign is a long-term project We’ve raised over $139,000 to improve parking and maintain the roads used by river runners and hikers thanks to the generosity of hundreds of Cheat River Lovers just like you!

This year, with a goal of $10,000, we’re focusing again on continued maintenance and repairs on the Jenkinsburg access road: grading, ditching, and filling. After a heavy winter, the hairpin turn just above the parking area is in particularly bad shape. FOC aims to have all repairs completed by May – just in time for the Cheat Canyon Massacre-ence on Saturday, May 1st.

Please help as much as you’re able. $100 renews your annual Friends of the Cheat membership; $300 will get you a 2021 Cheat River Festival T-Shirt* (please indicate your size in the “comments to seller” box in Paypal, or on the memo line of your check). *Cheat Fest shirts will ship after May 1st. Click here to donate!

The Rockville Bridge remains closed after being shut down by DOH in August of 2020. Paddlers can use the road from Pisgah to reach the FOC public access point - but fair warning - the road is in bad shape. Only 4-wheel drive vehicles with a generous clearing should attempt this.

In 2020, the West Virginia Land Trust (WVLT) acquired the Jenkinsburg Recreation Area, securing and protecting it for future river and trail public access. FOC will continue to manage the area in partnership with WVLT - and assist in future improvements.

Attention local and visiting paddlers - Looking to work while you play on the Cheat River? Help the Rowlesburg Revitalization Committee determine if a communal workspace in the Old Rowlesburg School/Szilagyi Center would be an amenity you would support by taking this very short survey. Thank you!

WVDEP T&T Treatment Plant Failure in Muddy Creek: Consequences & Long Term Concerns

by Amanda Pitzer and Madison Ball

Photo by Paul Kinder

Update April 14, 2021: Since the print version of this article was published, FOC staff participated in a WVDEP-led meeting focused on the T&T mine pool. Follow-up action items were compiled at the conclusion of the discussion, including: 1) reactivation of the piezometers measuring water levels in the mine pool and a mapping analysis to determine where additional piezometers could be installed, 2) use high resolution LIDAR and ground truthing to look for potential stream loss areas in Sypolt Run (spots where surface water is disappearing through cracks in the stream bed and into the mine pool), 3) investigate the need and feasibility to treat mine pool "in situ" with chemical, 4) use potable water at treatment plant so both clarifiers can be operated at 100% capacity, 5) continue work to construct new sludge line to the Ruthbell mine, 6) construct an iron oxidation bed at Fickey Refuse AML site, 7) increase the frequency of line jetting, and 8) share emergency Standard Operating Procedure with FOC.

While FOC is hopeful the above actions lined out by WVDEP and partners will lead to reduced risk of treatment failure in the future, we understand that a lot of work, time, and money will need to be invested by WVDEP and partners in order for these actions to come to fruition. FOC will continue to stay invested in the conversations and work to improve the Muddy Creek T&T Treatment Plant's ability to stay within compliance and reduce risk for major failures in the future.

Nearly four weeks have passed since the treatment failure occurred at the WVDEP Muddy Creek pipeline and T&T Treatment Plant, sending over a million gallons of highly concentrated acid mine drainage (AMD) into Muddy Creek over the course of multiple days. As the dust (and toxic metals on the creek and river bottom) settle out on this pollution event, Friends of the Cheat has been left to confront major concerns about the handling of this incident, the impact on our river system, and the potential for future events to occur amid forecasting of warmer springs with more frequent and flashy flooding events.

FOC has also had to confront dismissive attitudes. Let us be clear: FOC is not overreacting. The WVDEP’s Muddy Creek treatment system is the largest threat to Cheat River and Cheat Lake. We know that is a hard pill to swallow.

A bit of backstory on how we got here:

FOC E.D., Amanda Pitzer, discussed the potential for this exact predicament in her Sinuosity article in the 2018 Winter Edition of Into the Canyon: "maintaining consistent treatment is necessary to realize full restoration of aquatic communities in lower Muddy Creek. Stream bugs and fish need clean water all the time. This will become increasingly more important as macroinvertebrates and fish return to the creek. One mishandled high water flush or a malfunction in technology (as seen on the Blackwater River in 2014) could wipe out progress."

WVDEP compounded their legal responsibility for treating the polluted water of multiple post law mines (bond forfeiture sites) by incorporating toxic AMD from pre law Abandoned Mine Lands throughout the Martin and Muddy Creek watersheds. Legally this was done through Variances (meaning less stringent abidance) to Water Quality Standards and an in-stream NPDES permit at the mouth of Martin Creek in concert with a 8,700 foot collection pipeline and $8.5M treatment plant at the T&T site. This approach was pitched as a creative way to restore water quality in the lower 3.4 miles of Muddy Creek downstream of its confluence with Martin Creek. Its potential cost savings to the WV Bond Pool was characterized by WVDEP as an added bonus.

Is the legal and funding strategy, treatment approach, and multi-million dollar pipeline and treatment system innovative? Absolutely!

But with potential for great reward, like a restored lower Muddy Creek, comes increased risk. Let us unpack what we know right now from the events of last month to understand more about this risk and its implications to the Cheat River Canyon and Cheat Lake.

High Water in Muddy Creek on March 1st - Photo by Madison Ball

The series of events that make up this incident began Monday, March 1st. The region received a large amount of rain as well as increased snowmelt from warm temperatures over the previous weekend, but nothing uncharacteristic for the spring season in our watershed. FOC learned after the fact that on this day the treatment plant had begun to experience problems and WVDEP “turned off” the Fickey pipeline, which collects and transports upstream AMD sources (Fickey AML, Viking Coal) into the treatment plant. With the Fickey pipeline “turned off” heavily polluted water that would otherwise be treated at the T&T plant began to move through the watershed (Fickey Run > Martin Creek > Muddy Creek). Sometime on March 3rd there was a significant issue with the piping conveyance related to the T&T mine system, and large amounts of highly acidic, metal laden water bypassed the treatment system and entered Muddy Creek.

Impaired streams and AML seeps within the Muddy Creek Watershed

FOC became aware of the incident the evening of Thursday, March 4th when the orange water pulsing through Muddy Creek was spotted returning from a routine site visit. It was then FOC collected water quality samples and began contacting the WVDEP to understand what was happening in Muddy Creek and at the treatment system. It was not until Friday that the WV Spill Line and other agencies were contacted. The low pH conditions persisted in Muddy Creek and the Cheat River until the WVDEP contained the incident on March 6th. Immediate repairs to the piping conveyance were fixed the following week, but serious questions about the failure and WVDEP’s response linger.

A major concern is that WVDEP reported the plant was not operating at full capacity during the time of the failure--the plant was designed to handle up to 7,600 gallons per minute, but the high water event that caused the treatment failure peaked at only 6,200 gallons per minute. What could this mean if and when we receive a similar or even larger precipitation event?

Additionally the “release” of bad water from the pipeline/plant was reported by WVU as only 8% of the total incoming flow to the plant. However, this 8% created highly acidic conditions in Muddy Creek for multiple days. The Cheat River mainstem pH dropped to 3.96 just downstream of the confluence, and remained impaired for at least a distance of three quarters of a mile on river right. The true cause of the failure still remains unknown, but experts at WVDEP and WVU point to the recent seasonal snowmelt and large precipitation events of days prior to the event: Again, leading us to wonder, what is the long term fix? Will we see events like these occur at the plant every year? Every two years? What happens in a 50, 100, 1000 year flood?

pH in Muddy Creek slightly upstream of the confluence on March 4th

We were indeed fortunate that the Cheat River maintained significant flow during this time, and for the most part was able to neutralize the acidic water, but it cannot be ignored that this event was not without impact to the Cheat. Polluted water does not mix evenly when it meets with clean water. As shown by our water quality monitoring, it takes a significant length of river for the water to evenly mix.

Our water chemistry results show that during the time of this event, the Mouth of Muddy Creek had dissolved aluminum levels nearly 7 times over the state water quality standard for aquatic life, and over 50 times the standard for trout. Iron was 10 times over the standard for aquatic life and for human Recreational Contact. Conditions worsened just downstream of the confluence of Muddy Creek and the Cheat, where harmful metals continued to fall out of solution as low pH water mixed with neutral water - here dissolved aluminum was nearly 9 times greater for aquatic life, 74 times greater for trout. Iron was 15 times greater for aquatic life and human Recreational Contact. The Cheat mainstem on river right continued to have degraded water quality, including levels of iron above the threshold for human Recreational Contact for nearly 3 quarters of a mile downstream of the confluence with Muddy Creek.

At this time, FOC can assume based on the conditions described above that there was severe impact to any aquatic life that had recently reestablished in Muddy Creek, and likely harm to those that existed on river right of the Cheat Mainstem. Monitoring of benthic macroinvertebrates and fish will allow for Friends of the Cheat and other partners to truly understand the full impact of the treatment failure. Surveys are tentatively planned for Spring and Fall of 2021. Only then will we gain a full and accurate picture of how this event impacted our biotic community.

Understanding the true impact of this event through aquatic surveys will also give us a picture of what to expect in the future if long term concerns are not addressed regarding the feasibility of the plant to treat large pulses of water.

An additional concern stems from this idea: What if treatment failure were to occur again after a concentrated rain event in Muddy Creek during the summer period, when flows in the Cheat are low? The idea that “dilution is the solution to pollution” is outdated, incorrect, and frankly, we can do better. The Cheat is so much more than a vehicle to transport water and pollutants downstream; it is a living, breathing, tenuous ecosystem that has only just recently recovered. Without advocacy for its protection and demands for improved conditions, we could lose what we only so very recently regained.

Being complacent and accepting the status quo (“be thankful for what you’ve got!”) is not how rivers get restored. FOC will continue to challenge everyone, including WVDEP, to do better by: 1) meeting the basic legal requirements of their NPDES permits, 2) developing a response plan for future events, 3) setting measurable goals for restoration of Muddy Creek, 4) planning for challenges to treatment and pursuing innovative options in light of climate change forecasting, and 5) communicating challenges and shortcomings promptly and transparently with FOC and other critical partners.

FOC will continue to offer our support to the WVDEP, particularly through our experience developing emergency spill plans for our treatment sites, our work on Source Water Protection Planning, and familiarity with communication and interaction with the public.

CHEAT FEST MONTH UPDATES

27th Annual Cheat River Festival Artwork by the amazing John Victor

Cheat Fest Love Video: VIRTUALLast year, we asked for music - this year, we want to see your smiling faces! Send us a video about how much you love Cheat Fest and why the Cheat River is important to you. You can use your phone (horizontal video please!) or a camera, have a friend help or shoot it as a selfie. Upload your video to the link below by April 18th, and our team will gather them together to share with the Cheat Fest community. We can’t wait to see what you send us!

Cheat Canyon Massacre-ence - Photo by Gabe DeWitt

Saturday, May 1 - Cheat Canyon Massacre-ence: IN-PERSON (distanced)As the official kick-off to Cheat Fest, virtual or not, we’re so excited to safely host the downriver race this year. There are some important changes to note: Registration is ONLINE ONLY, and the race will have 2 heats (10:00am for class A/B/C boats 10ft and over; 10:30am for class D boats 9.11ft and under plus rafts and catarafts/shredders).

Racers can check in (remember, online registration only!) Saturday morning starting at 8:30am - at the FOC - Laurel Highlands Parking Lot in Albright, WV. Shuttle on your own using the FOC and Laurel Highlands parking lots and Jenkinsburg parking area. It’s highly suggested to run it early, as we will be keeping to the heat starts for accuracy in timing. If you miss your start time you will be bumped to the next heat.

Registration is $35 - which includes a t-shirt (if you register by April 10th) and the ACA membership fee. Head over to www.cheatfest.org/2021-cheat-river-massacre-ence/ for all the details! Huge thanks to Heather Rau for coordinating this year!

Saturday, May 1 to Saturday, May 8 - Cheat Fest Silent Auction: VIRTUAL - With items coming in from many of our alumni vendors, artists, and sponsors, this year’s online silent auction has a great assortment of boating gear, gift baskets from local businesses, handmade art, experience packages, and so much more. We’re still accepting item donations - please contact our coordinator, Lisa Maraffa, at silentauction@cheat.org if you’d like to contribute. A preview of the auction items will go live on Friday, April 30th - and the auction begins at noon on Saturday and will be live for one week. Good luck, bidders!

Saturday, May 1 - Cheat Fest Live-streaming Music: VIRTUALIt wouldn’t be Cheat Fest without a great lineup of local music - this year, look for live-streams from members of Stewed Mulligan, The Hillbilly Gypsies, 18 Strings, Aristotle Jones, and Meadow Run!

Sunday, May 2 - Cheat Canyon Whitewater Surf Contest: IN-PERSON (distanced) - Downriver Racers and local paddlers - get ready for the first ever Cheatfest Whitewater Surf Contest. There will be a division for both kayakers and rafters. Water Levels will likely dictate where the exact location(s) the contest will be held on the river, so keep an eye out for final details announced online and posted at the down river race Saturday morning. As most of us know the Cheat Canyon has many class (3-4+) rapids along the way. Only people with experience running the Cheat should consider entering the contest. Also know if you participate in the event, you are doing so at your own risk. Play it safe and have fun. Prizes will be given at the judges’ discretion. Let's see who has the steeziest moves!

Sunday, May 2 - Adopt-a-Highway: IN-PERSON (distanced) - Volunteer your time with FOC in our Cheat Fest ‘Make It Shine’ litter pickup along Rt. 26 in Albright, WV. Participants can meet up with FOC staffer Beth Warnick at the Cheat River Festival site at 1:00pm. Bags, gloves, and pickup sticks will be provided.

Saturday, May 8 - Gritstone Vertical Challenge: IN-PERSON (distanced) - Get ready to see how high you can climb. FOC is partnering with Gritstone Climbing and Fitness and the Cheat Canyon Climbing Club to introduce newbies and engage seasoned climbers during Cheat Fest month. This challenge, hosted at the Gritstone gym in Morgantown, WV, is all about seeing how many vertical feet you can cover using routes of any level. For $15, enter the Ascension Adventure for a chance to win a Grand Prize. There will be art, a food truck, and music!

Sunday, May 16th - Kids Tent Art Day: IN-PERSON (distanced) - Eddie Spaghetti Art, Preston County Parks and Recreation Commission, and Preston Trail Towns are hosting a Kids' Art Day on the Cheat Fest grounds. Starting at 1:00pm, kids will get creative and messy as they work with Eddie on a collaborative mural to be installed at the new Tunnelton Trailhead Park at the West Virginia Northern Rail Trail. This event is open to all kids and teens, and is a great opportunity for families to re-connect with the Cheat Fest site.

Sunday, May 23 - Big Bear XC Classic - WVMBA XC: IN-PERSON (distanced) - Get your sweat on at the West Virginia Mountain Bike Association’s Big Bear Classic mountain bike race - hosted at Big Bear Lake Campgrounds in Bruceton Mills, WV. Click here for more information!

Saturday, May 29th - Gritstone Gym to Crag: IN-PERSON (distanced) - Explore the fundamentals of climbing outside with the Gritstone team. We’ll be meeting up at the FOC Campground (139 Beech Run Rd, Albright, WV 26519). There, you’ll learn about the history of climbing in the area, enjoy a guided hike, and experience climbing on real rock. Make it an epic Memorial Day Weekend by camping out at FOC’s campground afterwards!

Saturday, May 8th through Sunday, May 16th - 5K Foot Race: VIRTUAL You don’t have to be in Preston County to compete in the Cheat Fest Virtual 5K race this year! During the open race period you will run a 5K (3.1 Miles) on your own, at the safe physical distance from others! If you can’t get outside; run it inside! Runners will track their own times, and completion is based on the honor system. Registration is $5 - and participants will have the opportunity to personally fundraise for FOC through friends, family, and other supporters. More information and registration links coming soon to cheatfest.org!

MORE EVENTS AND DETAILS COMING SOON TO CHEATFEST.ORG!

Friends of the Cheat Announces First Project Partners for its Preston Trail Towns Partner Program

by Kelley Burd-Huss

Friends of the Cheat (FOC) is pleased to announce its first class of 2021 Preston Trail Towns Partner Program Project Partners. Preston Trail Towns is an innovative community economic development program funded by Friends of the Cheat’s initial $3.2 million RECREATE AML Pilot grant. As the RECREATE Project reaches new milestones, FOC and other community organizations are adding nearly 19 miles of new trails to Preston County in the next year. Preston Trail Towns bridges communities on the trail by helping organizations, small businesses, and entrepreneurs capitalize on the recreational and tourism opportunities these new trails bring. Preston Trail Towns and the Partner Program are just one piece of an expansive strategy FOC is leading to intentionally develop and promote destination-worthy hiking and biking trails in Preston County and beyond.

The first class of Preston Trail Towns Project Partners represent the best of what Preston County offers in terms of creativity and community-led innovation, successfully preparing Preston County communities for the outdoor recreation opportunities to come. These projects embrace a diverse range of approaches to the challenges our communities face, and each project elevates a unique part of what makes Preston County’s trails great places to enjoy the outdoors.

For each project, FOC is providing in-kind resources, technical support, and funding when necessary to execute key components of the projects. The first six projects in this exciting new initiative include:

Preston County Parks and Recreation’s Tunnelton Trailhead Park: FOC is supporting PCPaRC’s effort to develop the Tunnelton Trailhead Park on the West Virginia Northern Rail-Trail by providing assistance and support for public art and security measures, creating a safe and family-friendly gathering space on the Rail-Trail.

West Virginia Scenic Trails Association’s Allegheny Trail Information Kiosks: FOC is materially supporting the WVSTA’s construction and installation of trailside kiosks on the Allegheny Trail (ALT) in Rowlesburg and Albright. These kiosks will better connect the ALT to these Trail Towns, and will provide hikers and residents with a place to share information about events, activities, and points of interest on the Trail.

Rowlesburg Park Commission’s Accessible Bathroom and Concession Upgrades: FOC is collaborating with the Rowlesburg Park Commission to convert an existing Park Bathroom to a Family Restroom with accessible toilet and diaper changing facilities, as well as upgrade the plumbing in the Bathrooms and Concession Stand.

Town of Rowlesburg and Rowlesburg Volunteer Fire Department’s Riverfront Development Project: FOC is providing technical support to the Rowlesburg Volunteer Fire Department and Town of Rowlesburg to prepare Town and Fire Department lands for further development as a community gathering place, event venue, and riverside walking trail.

McGrew House’s Arboretum Map and Champion Tree Project: FOC is providing support to Kingwood’s McGrew House to develop maps and information regarding the rare and Champion Trees on the McGrew House Grounds. This project adds a new dimension of interest and storytelling to the McGrew House’s mission to preserve and share Preston County’s history with Prestoninans and beyond.

SUP Cheat’s Outdoor Recreation Co-Op and Standup Paddleboard Program: FOC is supporting SUP Cheat, a co-op of fitness and wellness practitioners in North Central West Virginia providing outdoor group exercise opportunities in Preston County. Specifically, FOC is supporting their Standup Paddleboard (SUP) Programming, introducing Trail Town communities to the sport, including SUP Yoga, SUP fishing, and other activities.

FOC and Preston Trail Towns will be accepting new Partner Program applications for its second round of Project Partners beginning April 5. Click here for more information about the Partner Program, or contact Kelley Burd-Huss, Preston Trail Towns Coordinator at 304-276-9956 or kelley@cheat.org.

FOC is utilizing the momentum from its Preston County Master Trail Plan to further develop the Mountaineer Trail Network Authority. Fueled by grants from the Just Transition Fund, FOC and project partner Downstream Strategies are seeking to expand the trail planning to the rest of the counties within the MTNA. The project team has started by convening meetings with the appointees from each county for the beginning phases of the creation of the Mountaineer Trail Network Authority. Once the authority is officially recognized with fully enacted by-laws and board members, segments of the Preston County Master Trail Plan become one step closer to construction. This is a multi-year, long view effort that seeks to not only bring additional trails and outdoor tourism-focused advertising to Preston County, but to all counties within the MTNA. We certainly believe that the trail systems and trail towns that make up this region of WV are truly destination-worthy and we are seeking to market, expand, and develop these assets for locals and tourists alike. - Owen Mulkeen, FOC Associate Director

For more information about the Mountaineer Trail Network Authority, contact Owen Mulkeen at owen@cheat.org.