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INTO THE CANYON FALL 2021 NEWSLETTER OF FRIENDS OF THE CHEAT

Immediate Business:

  1. Sign up for our next volunteer effort to plant trees in the upper Cheat River watershed - email madison@cheat.org to get on the list!
  2. Interested in developing strategies to advance trails of all types in WV? Register for the Inaugural WV Trail Virtual Conference - November 16th-18th.
  3. #GivingTuesday is just around the corner! On December 30th, FOC will be raising funds (and eyebrows, with our silly antics) for our Education and Outreach Program. Keep an eye on the FOC Facebook page for more details.

Into the Canyon - Newsletter of Friends of the Cheat Fall 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; Lisa Maraffa, Program Assistant/Events Producer

Board Members

Interim Chair: Charlie Walbridge, Treasurer: Miranda Peddicord, Secretary: Rich Dennis, Sarah Hinnant, Connie Miller, Ben Hogan, Rick Chaney, Zach Fowler, Michael Strager, Dani Martin

FOC is seeking a new Board Chair. The position of Board Chair is a volunteer position responsible for organizing/running board meetings including the agenda, conducting annual employee reviews, communicating with the Executive Director and staff on important projects and issues, as well as offering support to the staff. The Board Chair is also responsible for recruiting new board members and ensuring they play an active role in the organization, and representing the organization publicly when necessary.

FOC RECEIVES $1.1 MILLION FOR MOUNTAINEER TRAIL NETWORK

Moon Rocks Loop Trail - Yellow Creek Natural Area. Photo courtesy of Blackwater Bikes Association

Big news for the future of outdoor recreation in northern WV! FOC was recently 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.

The core work of the 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).

Mountaineer Trail Network 15 County Service Area

In 2019, FOC received $50k in funding from the Appalachian Regional Commisisions's (ARC) Power program to work with project partners Downstream Strategies and Preston County Parks and Recreation Commission on the creation of the Preston County Master Trail Plan - a comprehensive planning document for the economic development of existing and proposed trails within Preston County. The Preston County Master Trail Plan is the first in a series of plans, and will serve as a blueprint for the other areas within the network.

In 2020, FOC was awarded $50k in funding from the Just Transition Fund to further develop the operating guidelines and procedures for the MTN, and begin the formation of the Mountaineer Trail Network Authority (MTNRA), an economic development authority created by the West Virginia Legislature in 2019, which will act as the governing body overseeing operations and marketing strategies within the MTN in the future.

Over the next 3 years, the Authority will select up to eight existing, top-grade trail areas in northern WV for inclusion in the MTN. 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.

A Huge Thank You to our Donors!

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

Cheat River Sponsors: Vince Luzentales & Michelle Salter, The Reed Foundation, the Szilagyi Family Foundation

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

For the period June 23 through October 4

Canyon Contributors: White Grass Ski Touring Center, Ann & Jack Clough, Ann & Cecil Tickamyer, Gregory Edwards & Judy Stapel, Anne Kibler Charitable Gift Trust, Robert & Miriam Miller

Narrows Navigators: Susan Gordon, Andrew Woodworth, Bruce & Cynthia Wiley, Susan Ramey

Confluence Crew: Mike Strager, Rachel Meininger, Jeff & Adanna Richman, Antonia Chadwick & Jeffrey Sarsfield, Amy Skeens, Martin Christ & Kathy Furbee, David Maribo, David Davis, Myra Ziegler, Thierry Rosenheck & Jill MacNeice, Tiffany Muhly, Andrew B Lindsay

Five Forks Friends: Nikki Forrester, Cheryl Brown & Corky Kershner, Trevor & Darla Swan, Rima Forrest, Beth & Larry Reseter, Christopher Wiles, Mark Eakin

Good ‘Ole Friends: Carol Burdick, Dominic Bentz, Gary Schubert, Beth Walls, Nathaniel Comfort, Laura Layva, Fred Varner, Greg Dick, Kaitlyn Snyder, Tim Ball, Jay Paxton, Sean O’Malley, Monica Fronzaglio

In Memory of Jake Pitzer: Glenmark Holding, LLC, Jeremy Krol Concrete Services, Skipping Stone Massage Therapy, Leigh Williams, Imre & Janet Szilagyi, Adam Webster

Introducing Lisa Maraffa

FOC's NEW PROGRAM ASSISTANT AND EVENTS PRODUCER

As Friends of the Cheat new Program Assistant/Events Producer, Lisa will be assisting staff with projects including riparian restoration efforts, fundraising and outreach, environmental sampling, and educational programs. Lisa will also be managing Cheat Fest and any FOC events.

Lisa Maraffa grew up outside Cleveland, Ohio, and went to college in southern Ohio where she met her husband, Andy. They moved to West Virginia to attend WVU, where she graduated with a BS in Wildlife and Fisheries Resources. Lisa and Andy fell in love with whitewater and the river community shortly after graduating. They decided to stay in the area with their two dogs Roxy and Porter, where they enjoy exploring all of the beauty that WV has to offer.

What’s your fav spot in WV? Spruce Knob, WV. I am far from a world traveler but even after traveling all over the US, that area always just takes my breath away.

What are you passionate about? I am passionate about finding what you love and creating a life around it. When people pour love into what they do, it can make all the difference.

What’s your secret talent? Empathy. Knowing and understanding your community can go a long way.

How do you recharge? The best way to recharge is to spend a lazy afternoon on the river, swimming and hanging with friends. If that doesn't work, there are always DOGS.

What drew you to FOC? When I started getting familiar with watershed groups, I noticed that a common similarity between them was that they weren't always able to get a lot done due to a variety of reasons. When I got to know Friends of the Cheat, I realized that they were different. I wanted to be a part of that so I joined the FOC Board of Directors which eventually led to my nomination to be the Board President. I was always frustrated that I couldn't do more to help so when a job offer from FOC came around, I jumped at the chance and I couldn't be happier.

OUTDOOR CLASSROOM NATIVE PLANT PLAQUES RESTORED: VOLUNTEERS LEAD EFFORT

By Beth Warnick

Original Native Plant Identification Plaques. Painted by Rowlesburg School Students in 2009

In 2009, FOC partnered with the Robert C Byrd Institute, Rowlesburg School, and the Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy to install a series of 28 native plant identification plaques in the Doug Ferris Outdoor Classroom. Intricate leaf shapes were cut for each plant species and hand painted by 1st and 2nd graders through Jason Jaros' art class. Challenge Academy cadets spent an afternoon doing the grunt work to secure wooden posts in the ground, then fastening the plaques into place. Each plaque had a metal tag featuring its common and botanical names, plus a brief description of characteristics and uses. The finished project was a jewel in the outdoor classroom for many years. However, as the wear of time took its toll, the tree plaques and posts began to degrade and were in dire need of renovation.

In the winter of 2019, former FOC staff member Sally Wilts noticed a few signs had tumbled over. She reached out to FOC, generously offering to lead an effort to restore the signs. She contacted FOC board member, Connie Miller, and her son, former FOC VISTA Andrew Miller, who coordinated the original project in 2009, for support. She also pulled in long-time FOC supporter and maker of JimiStyx paddles, Jim Snyder, who offered to strip and sand the plaques in his wood shop.

In an all-around team effort, the original native plant plaques were beautifully restored. Sally and her husband, Dwayne, primed and painted every leaf shape using a palette of bright colors donated by Connie Miller. New ground posts were purchased through a generous gift from Old Colony Realtors. And during a home visit, Andrew Miller flagged and labeled the corresponding native plants surrounding the outdoor classroom for ease of re-installment.

Adventure WV students install native plant plaques

With the aid of Adventure WV students during our summer service sessions, the newly restored plaques are back in place. The installation process was doubly educational as students learned about the importance of native plants, and received an exclusive power tool workshop from Jim Meckly, our FOC Campground manager extraodinaire. Fall is a beautiful time to visit the Doug Ferris Outdoor Classroom - plan a visit, soon!

FOC is endlessly thankful to Sally Wilts, Dwayne Lazzell, Connie Miller, Andrew Miller, Jim Snyder, and Jim Meckley for all the time, care, and hard work put towards this legacy project.

AMD Treatment in Beaver Creek of Big Sandy: A Watershed Complete

by Madison Ball

Left: Auto Flushing Vertical Flow Pond filled with high quality Limestone; Right: Settling Pond

Friends of the Cheat installed its second AMD Treatment System in Beaver Creek in about one year’s time--which is no small feat considering these projects take years to plan. This treatment system will tackle the last major source of acid mine drainage to the Beaver Creek watershed, acting as a capstone to our efforts in Beaver Creek since the 1990’s.

We have already documented improvements to Beaver Creek and one of its unnamed tributaries of which the previously untreated AMD flowed to, including healthy pH, aluminum, and iron concentrations, which is linked to last year’s treatment project at Auman Road.

AMD prior to treatment flowing from abandoned mine portal

This is the first watershed in which FOC or a project partner has tackled every major source of AMD, which includes 5 treatment sites. None of these projects could have been implemented without the support of our true heroes for water quality: the landowners who have allowed us to build passive treatment systems on their properties, our immensely supportive project partners at WVDNR, Office of Surface Mining, and WVDEP Watershed Improvement Branch, and our members like you!

Our next phase in Beaver Creek is a rewarding one: in 2022 we will pursue an intensive monitoring regime across the watershed to assess water quality, which may also include bug and fish surveys. Depending on what the water quality data reveals, Beaver Creek as a whole may no longer be considered impaired for acid mine drainage in 2022.

GET INVOLVED WITH FOC'S RIPARIAN RESTORATION PROJECT: VOLUNTEER FOR TREE PLANTINGS IN NOVEMBER

FOC is looking for volunteers to help with tree planting efforts to improve riparian areas in the upper Cheat River watershed in mid-late November.

Graphic by Brian Hjemvik

A riparian area is the land directly bordering a body of water, such as a stream or river. Healthy riparian areas have plenty of trees and plants that provide habitat for wildlife while their root systems help with bank stabilization and erosion control. This is especially important alongside agricultural and livestock operations, as the vegetation provides a natural filter for agricultural runoff, which helps improve the water quality of the river.

Anyone looking to lend a hand and spend some time near the river can reach out to Madison Ball at madison@cheat.org for more details, including exact dates and locations, what to bring, etc.

FOC is seeking property owners within the project boundary who are interested in complimentary riparian tree plantings. These plantings are intended to help establish or extend riparian buffers along streams and rivers to help prevent erosion to the land. This project area includes the Cheat River main stem, Clover Run, Horseshoe Run, Minear Run, Licking Creek, Buffalo Creek, Wolf Creek, Saltlick Creek, and their tributaries.

Education & Outreach Program: 2021 Summer Activities

by Beth Warnick

Adventure WV students remove Japanese Knotweed at the future Cheat River Rail-Trail trailhead

After a year of limited educational and volunteer events due to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, FOC took full advantage of every opportunity to engage the local community in outreach events over the summer. Our annual partnership with the Adventure WV program at WVU resumed, as did Snorkel club workshops, and we were thrilled when Bruceton Mills After School Explorers reached out to organize a handful of learning days. We also hosted the second (hopefully annual) West Virginia Scenic Trail Association (WVSTA) volunteer weekend to work on Section 1 of the Allegheny Trail. These education and service-based activities are core to FOC's mission; participants learn about the unique history of pollution in the Cheat , the importance of healthy water quality, and how to be better environmental stewards going forward.

Adventure WV students remove Japanese Knotweed beside the Rowlesburg VFD

The Adventure WV program at WVU allows incoming freshmen a unique orientation experience through week-long, peer-led recreational trips where they can meet other students and develop strategies to excel in their new college lives. While the trips are adventure based, they also have a community service element - FOC hosted six Adventure WV service days from June through August. The students installed the newly restored native plant identification signage through the Doug Ferris Outdoor Classroom, removed invasive Japanese Knotweed from the Cheat River Rail-Trail future trailhead and whitewater access point, and performed maintenance and landscaping at our Railroad Refuse and Pase acid mine drainage treatment sites.

FOC assisted the US Forest Service in their partnership snorkel event at Horseshoe Run with Get Black Outside (GBO), a global platform designed to acknowledge, support, and unite black-led grassroots organizations and facilitators that bring outdoor programming to black audiences, and worked specifically with Syatt, a non-profit group based in Cleveland, OH. To learn more about Syatt or donate, visit their site: https://syattcle.org

We also led a snorkel workshop as part of WV River Coalition Rivers Celebration Day in the Dry Fork and Otter Creek confluence in Tucker County, which was an immense success! Other events this year included an open house event at Horseshoe Run, and a snorkel workshop along the Cheat Narrows with WVU's American Fisheries Society (ASF) chapter.

ASF students snorkeling in the Cheat River Narrows

FOC is looking to work with organized groups including after-school groups, cub scouts, family groups, etc. to plan snorkel workshops in 2022 - reach out to madison@cheat.org to begin planning now!

Nearly 40 students from the Bruceton Mills After School Explorers program spent a couple days with FOC staff and volunteers at the Doug Ferris Outdoor Classroom. The students learned about watersheds, the water cycle, the scarcity of fresh water, and the importance and fragility of these systems. They identified benthic macroinvertabrates, learned about healthy streams, food webs, and participated in a nature scavenger hunt around the grounds.

And lastly, volunteers with the WVSTA spent a weekend at the FOC Campground working on a handful of projects with the Allegheny Trail including: maintenance along the 12 mile stretch of the trail through the Cheat Canyon, a small trail re-route through the Cheat Fest grounds to keep hikers off a dangerous curve on Rt. 26, and the construction of an informational signage kiosk at the FOC Campground, funded by a Trail Towns Partner Grant.

Allegheny Trail reroute takes hikers through the FOC Campground and Cheat Fest grounds to Rt. 26

Happy fall y’all!

I’ve been fortunate to get out around the watershed these last few weeks for a variety of meetings and events and I keep saying to myself: I LOVE FALL! I also love spring but dang, fall looks good on you West Virginia.

Muddy Creek Cascade by the Virginia Furnace

You know what doesn’t look so good?

The current outlook for cleanup of acid mine drainage pollution from Abandoned Mine Lands (AML). FOC has been squawking a lot about this issue lately, and for good reason: on September 30th the collection of the Abandoned Mine Land fee ceased when Congress failed to re-authorize the program before its statutory deadline.

So what happens now?

WV, and other states who still have AML work on their inventories, will get their regular grant this year but future grants will be fixed since no new revenue is coming into the fund. It is unclear if Congress does re-authorize if the AML fee collection will be retroactive. And to make this even more frustrating, there is confusion around the AML language included in the current Infrastructure bill and whether or not it will be able to be used for acid mine drainage cleanup projects.

Remediation in Lick Run Portals, the largest contributor of acidic loads to the Cheat, is not possible without the AML amendment

Despite the positioning happening in DC, the AML advocates have worked hard to build support from all of the stakeholders and there is grassroots bipartisan support for a great AML bill. I’m just not so sure when we are going to get it.

Thanks to you, our FOC supporters, for hanging in with us for the long haul. Please keep telling your elected leaders that AML re-authorization is important and that we have to be able to spend the funds on acid mine drainage cleanup!

In addition to AMD, the debate around the Infrastructure bill has a lot of people talking about water infrastructure. WV has an immense backlog of water and sewer projects, notably many badly needed to clean up illegal sewage discharges impacting human health and recreation.

Sewage discharge warning in the Cheat River

We don’t have the rate payer base like Washington DC, where billions are being invested in underground stormwater detention cells. But, the price tags for infrastructure projects, like that needed for the Rowlesburg sewer project, still climb into the multi-million$.

One problematic position that seems to surface when a big project like Rowlesburg sewer (or a road project, or the Albright dam study) gains traction is WHY THIS and NOT THAT? Example, “the government should spend $14M on ______________ (insert your project/need of choice) not a single sewer project”.

I think it is really important to listen to what our local communities really want and to advocate for that. However, in my experience, this position often turns into an anti-everything sentiment which grows from a well-earned mistrust of the government. I fear this state’s collective lack of trust will cause us to miss out on the greatest investment and opportunities of my lifetime.

We can’t Build Back Better without leaders who are willing to make the hard decisions, and say YES to something and NO to something else.