Into the Canyon Spring 2020 Newsletter of Friends of the Cheat

Photo by FOC Board Chair Adam Webster

Immediate Important Business:

  1. Support FOC's efforts to improve Whitewater Access on the Cheat River.
  2. April is Clean Up Preston Month! Learn how you can be involved.
  3. The 2020 Cheat River Festival is going VIRTUAL from April 27th through May 3rd. Everything you need to know is here.

Some good news in the nonprofit world! The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act will let all taxpayers, not just those that itemize deductions, deduct up to $300 in charitable donations from their taxable income. The rule will apply only to charitable contributions made in 2020. Taxpayers will be able to claim the deductions on their tax forms next year.

Since 2011, Friends of the Cheat has participated in Kroger's Community Rewards program. It's a great way to support FOC just by buying groceries and gas - and not spending an extra cent. All you have to do is link your Kroger Shopper's Card to Friends of the Cheat - then start shopping. Here's how it works:

  1. Create a digital account. You need this to participate in the program. If you already have a digital account, simply link your Shopper's Card to your account so that all transactions apply toward the Friends of the Cheat
  2. Link your account to FOC. Sign in to your account and search for "Friends of the Cheat" or enter our NPO number, SQ216.
  3. Select "Friends of the Cheat" from the list and click "Save."

Friends of the Cheat will be displayed in the Kroger Community Rewards section of you account. If you need to review, you can do so under "Your Account" from the top menu. For those already enrolled in Kroger Community Rewards and supporting FOC - THANK YOU and please check if you account is correctly linked - you may need to update it yearly.

Photo by Joey Kimmet


Friends of the Cheat has been awarded $100,000 from the DTE Foundation to study the removal of the Albright Power Station Dam. Other than the dam at Cheat Lake, this obsolete dam is the only other barrier to aquatic passage for migrating species of fish, such as walleye, throughout the entire 78.3 mile-long Cheat River main stem. The Albright Power Station Dam reduces water quality by allowing water to slow and drop out sediment, and is a dangerous hazard to boaters and anglers. The dam is a component of a First Energy coal-fired power plant decommissioned in September 2012. The pool created by the dam once fed the plant’s cooling towers. The plant and dam remain as relics. Removal will eliminate the burdens of maintenance and repair along with any safety concerns.

Over the last 25 years, Cheat River water quality has vastly improved. Fish can be found throughout the entirety of the river, and populations in Cheat Lake show continued growth and diversity with over 45 species logged. Removing the Albright Power Station Dam would improve river habitat for aquatic life, including pollution-sensitive walleye and smallmouth bass. Dam removal would also improve water quality for once-present species, including the Eastern Hellbender and freshwater mussels, and could act as a catalyst for restoring and reintroducing these sensitive species in the Cheat River.

Rare Eastern Hellbender in the Upper Cheat River - Photo by Dave Hough

Once a liability, the Cheat River is now an asset fueling the recreation renaissance throughout the region. Whitewater paddlers have returned and outfitters are seeing renewed interest. The Cheat River and Lake are hosting annual bass fishing tournaments as well as competitive Global whitewater events. With the dam removed, paddlers could navigate the river 162 miles from its headwaters on Shavers Fork near Snowshoe, WV north to Cheat Lake. Without the dam, both outfitters and private paddlers would benefit through the expansion of access sites and connected river miles enabling new types of trips and experiences (tubing, SUP, multi-day trips, races, etc.)

“Removing the Albright Dam, if found feasible, is the next logical step in our mission to restore the Cheat River,” said Madison Ball, Restoration Program Manager for FOC. “FOC has dedicated 25 years to restoring the Cheat from acid mine drainage, and now we are beginning to reap the rewards; improved water quality and healthy pH, a diversity of fish species recolonizing in the river — including acid-sensitive smallmouth bass and walleye, and renewed interest in river recreation. Removing this barrier allows the river to flow naturally, rather than slow artificially and drop out sediment and other material, and fish and other aquatic life can migrate upstream and downstream as needed in particular life stages.”

A qualified consulting firm will be hired to conduct a reconnaissance level study of the Albright Power Dam. Results of the study will provide information on the current structural integrity of the dam, how much sediment has accumulated behind the dam and its composition, a mapping of the bottom of the river, and calculated anticipated flows. The finished report will also include conceptual plan drawings and two potential options for removal. Additional project highlights include using environmental DNA technology to survey the Cheat River for Eastern Hellbender and collaborating with WVDNR on preliminary fish surveys.

"Preserving our environment – land, air and water – is a priority for the DTE Energy Foundation,” said Lynette Dowler, president of the DTE Energy Foundation. “We’re proud to support Friends of the Cheat in their work to remove a dam that will improve aquatic life and enhance fishing along this beautiful waterway.”

According to The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, “WVDNR has documented incredible improvements to the fisheries of the Cheat River watershed due to improved water quality. Consequently, recreational opportunities such as fishing and kayaking have dramatically increased. To further improve the fisheries and recreational opportunities on Cheat River, WVDNR is in favor of removing the Albright Power Station Dam. The WVDNR anticipates that riverine habitat and angling opportunities on one of the premier smallmouth bass fishing rivers in northern West Virginia will be improved. Additionally, an ever-increasing walleye population in Cheat Lake will have the opportunity to expand upstream past Albright once the dam is removed, potentially providing another recreational opportunity for Cheat River anglers.”

Photo by Joey Kimmet

Into the Canyon - Newsletter of Friends of the Cheat Spring 2020

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; Lauren Greco, Cheat Fest Coordinator

Board Members

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

A Huge Thank You to our Donors!

Cheat Watershed Sponsors - Walbridge Family Foundation, Charlie Walbridge, Margaret Walbridge, Eliza Walbridge, Patrick & Lisa Ward

Stream Stewards - Robert Uram, Susan & Don Sauter, David Brisell, Thomas & Hope Covey, Stratford Douglas & Jodie Jackson, Toddi Steelman & Joe Sinsheimer, John & Emy Hinnant, Szilagyi Family Foundation, Vickie Jenkins, Paul & Betty Connelly, Steelheimer Fund at the Chicago Community Foundation, Healthberry Farm, Jen Sass & Michael Graham, Robert Moore

From 1/1/20 through 4/10/20

Canyon Contributors - Jim Murtha, Randy Robinson, Peter Bernstein, Robert Moore, Tyler Mayhew & Mary Luckini, Keel-Haulers Canoe Club, Greg Edwards & Judy Stapel

Narrows Navigators - Allan & Millie Karlin, Alyeska, Inc, Vicky Shears, Michael Kemp, John Kobak, Anonymous, Tim & Connie DeBerry, Matthew McMillian & Chelsey Greaser, Kenneth Gfroerer, Eric Lee, Arkley Forestlands, Jesse and Moriah Pitzer, Sara Cottingham, Joseph & Lois Knecht, Emma Lendt, Dave Hough, Joseph Firuta

Confluence Crew - Robert Alexander, Tom McCloud, Sandra Cotton & Karen MacKay, John & Terrie Peaslee, David Herron, David Greenwald, Robin Besonson, David Smith, High Ground Brewing, Alex Roberts, Kathleen Torkildson, Dave & Lena Cerbone, Mike Strager, Michael Dagan, Jamie Pflasterer, Karen Everett, Hannah Spencer

Five Forks Friends - Brian Joly, Denise Gravatt, Donald and Jane Martin, Radley Miller, Tom Nutter, Amy Skeens, Carol Nix, Cheryl Brown, William Murray, Emma Donovan, Scott Bortree

Good Ole Friends - Jim Lilly, Glen LaRue, Ellesa High, TJ and Sharon Sunderland, Bonnie Cupp, William Cavanaugh, Jeff Macklin, Catherine Forman, Carol Burdick, Colleen Caldwell, Brad Field, Jodi Davis, Jim Snyder, Dani Martin, William Isenberg, Chris Preperato, Berkley Schmidt, Christopher Bauer, Caitlyn Sullivan, Andrew Gunnoe, Janie Lou White, Nancy Spillane, Erin Graber, Don Barth, Scot Meadows

2020 Whitewater Access:  Bill Pennington, Keel-Haulers Canoe Club, Scott Patton, Chris Kirkman, Thomas Hungar, Alan & Mille Karlin, John Kobak, William Geary, Kathy DeWitt, Christopher Kyle, Patrick Murray, Bob Moore, Stratford Douglas, Ryan VanderKooy, Josh Kaufman, Nori Onishi, Aaron Misera, Matthew Shreve, Keith Heasley, Peter Bross, Adam Johnson, Patricia Chan, Patrick Millham, Chad Cowles, Lisa Thrush, Jim Snyder, Diane Henderson, Adam Webster, JTech Computer Services, Thomas Darby, Sara Henderson

Rafters on the Lower Big Sandy - Photo by FOC Board Member Dani Martin

Whitewater Access 2020

Since 2006, 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. We’ve raised over $130,000 over the last 14 years to improve parking and maintain the roads used by river runners and hikers. Your donations have a huge part in our success.

Thanks to a mild winter and our multi-year effort, the access roads are in decent shape. This year, we are focusing on routine maintenance: grading, ditching, and filling. The Preston County WV DOH is kindly donating 60-70 tons of gravel for the project. Our contractor, Solid Rock Excavating of Preston County, is standing by, ready to mobilize to continue the work.

Please help as much as you’re able. $100 renews your annual Friends of the Cheat membership; $250 will get a 2020 Cheat Festival T-Shirt (please indicate your size in the “comments to seller” box on Paypal, or on the memo line of your check).

Jenkinsburg Takeout - Photos by Gabe DeWitt

Funds raised through the Whitewater Access Campaign are also eligible for a partial fundraising match at the 2020 “Run for it” event in Davis each fall. Last year, thanks to your generosity, FOC was awarded $2,150 that supported our Cheat River Restoration program.

We’re counting on you, now more than ever! Practice social distancing and stay local. Take care of yourselves and each other – we’re all in this together. The rivers will be waiting for you when this is all over.

Cheat Fest Art Market Vendors - Photo by Gabe DeWitt

Cheat Fest From Home

Community Song Share: Even though we can’t gather this year, we can still share music and joy from afar. If you’d like to share something, email Lauren at cheatfest@cheat.org with the subject line “Cheat Song Share” for an upload link. Please try to send us your tunes by April 20th to give us time to queue them up! More details at cheatfest.org.

Virtual 5K Foot Race: This year, no matter what watershed you reside in, we welcome you to join us in the Virtual 5K Foot Race!

  • Race Registration: Now through 12:00pm Saturday, May 2nd, 2020
  • Race Time Frame: Monday, April 27th through 8:00pm, May 2nd, 2020
  • Race Format: Virtual, form home. During the open race period, you will run a 5K (3.1 miles) on your own, at a safe physical distance from others! Runners will track and send in their own times and completion is based on the honor system.
  • Free and Donation Based: The Virtual 5K is free and open to all. Racers who would like to donate can do so here by buying tickets to our “Cheat Fest Non-Event.” All donations will go towards covering the costs of the cancelled Cheat Fest as well as staff time at Friends of the Cheat. Learn more and Register!

Colors of the Cheat - Fest Art Coloring Contest: If you have a printer, print the Cheat Fest Artwork linked below - use crayons, markers, paints, scraps of colored paper, dirt, or whatever you’ve got! If you don’t have a printer, no big deal, draw a picture inspired by the Cheat Fest Artwork OR create your own festival artwork. Take a photo of your (or your kid’s) artwork - entries limited to: infinity. Post it on social media with the hashtag #colorsofthecheat AND email it to Lauren at cheatfest@cheat.org with the subject line: Colors of the Cheat. We’ll share them with the community and come up with winners based on unforeseen and unknowable criteria!

Virtual Silent Auction: This year, we’re taking our silent auction to a whole new level of silence. Many of our vendors, artists, and sponsors are still generously donating items to this effort. Bid on your favorite items throughout Cheat Fest From Home week. All proceeds will go towards covering lost festival expenses and supporting the work of Friends of the Cheat. If you like to donate something, please email Lisa Maraffa at silentauction@cheat.org. Thank you to Lisa for adapting and leading this!

Education Eddy T.V.: Tune in throughout Cheat Fest From Home week where we’ll release videos from folks we love about the watershed we love! Get ready to hear local stars Charlie Walbridge talk about whitewater history, FOC ED Amanda Pitzer talk about the Albright Dam, and more! If you’d like to present, contact Lauren at cheatfest@cheat.org

Artwork by the Amazing John Victor

2020 Cheat River Festival T-shirts: We’re still offering the 2020 festival t-shirts! If you’re a Cheat River lover and looking for a way to still support our work, consider one of the beautiful shirts featuring John Victor’s artwork! We cannot yet say when shirts will be printed, but will be sure to use safe handling and shipping practices once we’re able to place the order.

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!

Joey and Chandler

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.

FOC is partnering with the Preston County Chamber of Commerce BAD Buildings Committee to encourage Preston County residents to clean-up their local roadsides and individual homes and properties during Clean-Up Preston Month!

FOC staff will be participating individually and with our pandemic isolation partners on Earth Day - Wed. April 22nd. Join in by organizing your own safe pickup and tag us on Facebook @friendsofthecheat or Instagram @cheatriverfriends.

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. For collection, please promptly contact Officer Sowers at (304) 698-5594.

In Other News:

  1. Preston County Parks and Recreation Commission is seeking qualified candidates for their Recreation Engagement Coordinator - an AmeriCorps VISTA position. Click here for more details.
  2. EPA rolls back air regulations for waste coal plants in western PA and WV.
  3. Don't forget to fill out the 2020 census! Access it online here.
  4. Explore County-level Coronavirus Impact Planning is a searchable data base offering demographic data snapshots of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths in relation to hospital bed counts, population and businesses, and categories of people at risk for COVID-19 in each one of the nation’s counties. By hovering over each statistical icon, users can learn more about the supporting data. COVID-19 related data is updated daily.
  5. Monday, April 20th - tune into West Virginia Rivers Coalition's Virtual Public Hearing on the Biological Assessment Rule. Here's what you need to know.

That's all, folks! Hope you're hanging in there. Take care!