The unforgettable 2017 Cheat River Festival taught us the recipe for mud:
First off, some rain Friday evening..
Then add a bunch of dancing feet....
Sprinkle on a sense of humor and what do you get???
A whole lot of fun if you're down for it! Come on, y'all - it's just MUD!
Photos by the amazing Wolpertinger.
At Preston Trail Towns (PTT), we do not only seek to build communities, but seek to build relationships with people within the communities. Over the past few months, we have been hard at work with our Project Partners to develop exciting programs, improve facilities, and source resources to make Tunnelton, Rowlesburg, Albright, and Kingwood even better places to go outside and play.
As our first partner projects reach completion, we are continuing our relationships with our partners to set our sights toward next steps for each of these organizations. For example, our collaboration with the Rowlesburg Park Commission transformed an existing bathroom to a family restroom with more accessible facilities, complete with upgraded plumbing for the bathrooms and concession stands. The relationship with Rowlesburg Park Commission then developed into another grant proposal led by Phil Wotring and Trail Town Intern Josh Corbin. Just recently, with collaboration from PTT, the Rowlesburg Park Commission was awarded $3,000 in grant funding from Try This WV based around community wellness to revitalize the existing playground structures, enhance the local landmark Adirondack Chair, and purchase new sports equipment to make the park a more inviting hub for outdoor recreation.
Additionally, PTT has been working alongside Kingwood McGrew House to develop a long-desired brochure that maps and describes the rare and champion trees found in the McGrew Arbor. Under the leadership of intern Christine David, PTT and McGrew House produced an attractive and informative map that made the McGrew House’s vision a reality. As part of our continuing relationship, PTT helped the McGrew Society apply for Fulcrum Project Funding to continue enhancing the Arbor’s interpretation, so residents and visitors of all ages can enjoy the trees and the stories they tell.
While the last year has been full of ups and downs, things never truly slowed down for FOC staff, largely in part to our wonderful donors who helped us stay afloat. Over the course of the last year, amidst the pandemic, the Cheat River Restoration Program was able to achieve multiple long term goals, as well as grow our program to include new restoration activities.
Among these successes were the construction of two acid mine drainage (AMD) treatment sites, both reducing severe acid, aluminum, and iron loads to their receiving streams: Beaver Creek and Muddy Creek. Both of these streams hold trout in certain reaches, which are particularly sensitive to high aluminum and iron concentrations. A third project is underway in Beaver Creek, and will be completed in the next month, adding to FOC’s project roster and completing work in the Beaver Creek watershed: a goal on FOC’s ‘Must Do’ List for decades.
FOC staff conducted a preliminary macroinvertebrate sampling effort in the mainstem of Beaver Creek downstream of our project sites, and the results are promising: multiple species of stoneflies, mayflies, and caddisflies were detected, which are typically very sensitive to pollution. From this preliminary survey, at least 12 distinct species were observed.
The success of our efforts to remediate AMD has allowed FOC to focus on further restoration of a newly reborn Cheat River. Issues that AMD masked for decades are now coming to light, including: bacterial pollution from failing combined sewer overflows, the Albright Dam impeding natural flows and fish migration, and erosion issues on stream and river banks in our mainstem and headwaters, hampering our recently eDNA confirmed hellbenders in the Cheat.
Over the course of the last year, FOC has collected and analyzed over 100 bacterial samples at popular recreation sites in the Cheat, and made the results known through The Swim Guide so the public can know when harmful E.Coli spikes may be occurring.
We also secured over $350,000 towards the Albright Power Dam Removal Project, of which the first critical stage will be to investigate all feasible options and alternatives for removal. Behemoth projects such as this can tend to move slowly, but every move is critical to the project’s success. FOC will be securing a team to lead preliminary survey, investigation, and design work this year.
New to FOC, we also completed our first riparian reforestation project on the Cheat mainstem upstream of Rowlesburg, by revegetating a 50 foot buffer from the water’s edge. The site has had extreme erosion due to lack of riparian trees and shrubs to hold the soil in place, a concern for water quality especially as Eastern Hellbender were detected at this location.
Among all of this, FOC has also continued new recruitment to our volunteer water quality monitoring program (CAPABLE), has responded to water quality threats in our watershed, and written comments and given public statements on projects that do not utilize best management practices when it comes to safeguarding our rivers and streams.
None of this could have been done without the support of our base, which allowed us to seek new funding opportunities and grow both inward and outward, and for that we say thank you! We look forward to providing more updates on our suite of restoration projects as they continue this year and onwards.
by Amanda Pitzer
I think I have a hybrid case of Covid/new mom isolation whiplash. Over a year of hunkering down and now I’m participating in a lot of meetings and events. Much of this work is on top of FOC’s project and planned program activities which can be hard to manage. Sprinkle in some public appearances and misleading news coverage and this new mom is ready to go back to stretchy pants, ice cream, and E-books (reminder when re-reading this to cancel Audible!).
Here is a run down of what is keeping me up at night:
Whitewater Preserve - - About a month ago, the WVDEP held a Public Hearing for the developer’s requested NPDES permit for the approximate 800 acre (phase I) Whitewater Preserve Development located along Big Sandy Creek and Laurel Run. A big thanks to everyone who submitted comments in advance and to those who participated in the hearing. FOC was able to voice our concerns on the work done to date and future developments. As a result of the hearing, FOC was able to connect with a few of the new landowners and we are looking forward to supporting their interest in conservation of this very special place.
At this time, WVDEP has not issued the final permit or taken any further action.
AML Reauthorization - - For those regular readers of the FOC newsletter, you’ve heard a lot about the reauthorization of the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fee over the last two years because this critical program is quickly approaching the end of its authorization period (9/30/2021)!
Despite consistent lobbying efforts by the PA AML campaign and other interest groups, including the National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs and Interstate Mining Compact Commission, the forthcoming compromise is yet unclear. Since the introduction of the massive bipartisan Infrastructure bill, everyone has been working to figure out how to retain the solvency of the AML program without turning away the big bucks included in that bill (currently $11.298B for AML). I am reluctant to say too much since the situation is changing daily; the bill is on track for markup later this week in Senator Manchin’s Energy and Natural Resource Committee. FOC and our allies with the PA AML campaign are sticking to our position that the fee should not be lowered and that the program should be reauthorized for 15 years.
**Update 7/26/21** The reauthorization of the Abandoned Mine Land program is currently one component of the giant $1.2T infrastructure plan being sought by President Biden. This plan needs to clear a procedural vote requiring bipartisan support to begin formal debate but as of right now there is still no full text available for the entire bill. Friday’s vote failed. There might be another attempt today. It has been extra challenging to figure out who is going to support the full package and who might be willing to offer amendments.
There is text and a $11.298B budget for the AML portion of the Energy Infrastructure bill currently in the hands of Senator Manchin’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee. In the opinion of FOC and many of our partners in AMD, the current version is not adequate: It lowers the AML fee by 20%, gives too short of a timeframe for the giant spending, doesn’t allow spending on Priority 3 (P3) sites - most of which are the acid mine drainage problem areas, and doesn’t allow states to put funds in their set-aside accounts - the accounts that pay for the ongoing costs of acid mine drainage treatment.
So, despite the big funding number, this current language is inadequate for FOC and anyone who cares about AMD cleanup. FOC and our partners across the country are advocating for what we are calling the “AMD amendment” to allow work on P3 sites and funds to flow into set aside accounts. Senator Manchin wants bipartisan support for amendments, which I don’t doubt the AML states could muster for the “AMD amendment”. However, will these same supporters even vote for the big bill (and does that matter?)?
Unfortunately, there are a lot more changes that we would like to see to this AML component of the infrastructure bill but in order for the bill to keep moving, there may not be enough bipartisan energy and focus to make more substantial changes.
Watch FOC’s social media and email updates for the latest on this very important issue.
THE FUTURE - - A baby sure puts time into a different perspective; as my friend Wendy described, “the days take forever but the weeks fly by,” and I have to agree.
FOC time is different too. Some of our projects have already spanned decades (Cheat River Rail-Trail) while others are in their spunky youthful years (Albright dam removal).
One exciting new development, that now seems like a no-brainer, is the FOC campground off Beech Run Road. We retained management of the campground in the spring of 2020, and recently brought potable water to the property. We were a little nervous about this venture, but over the last 3 months FOC has collected over $1500 in camping fees, and people are really enjoying the place. Now we are scheming our next steps...would you want to stay at a tricked-out riverside yurt?!?