INTO THE CANYON FALL 2019 Newsletter of Friends of the Cheat

Photo by Mitchell Stickler

Immediate Important Business:
  1. FOC is hiring a Monitoring Technician and Community Development Coordinator! Spread the word!
  2. Keep an eye on FOC's Facebook page on December 3rd, 2019 - #GivingTuesday! We'll be rolling out a new video and keeping you entertained all day to raise much needed $$$. Stay tuned!
  3. FOC Holiday Open House is Friday, December 6th, from 5:00pm-7:00pm, at the FOC Office: 1343 North Preston Highway, Kingwood, WV 26537. Stop by and spread the cheer!
  4. Let's be more than friends - become an FOC member today! Subscribe to our emailing list!

The Cheat at Low Flow

On October 3rd, a State of Emergency was declared for all 55 of West Virginia’s counties due to persistent drought conditions. The lack of water that communities and economies rely on for drinking, growing food, producing energy, and recreating was the result of a prolonged shortage of rain and excessively warm temperatures. The effect was evident in the Cheat, with streamflow measured along the mainstem hovering between 50-60 cfs, about five times lower than expected for this time of year. With low flow conditions, water quality in the Cheat worsens due to warmer temperatures, less dissolved oxygen, and more acid mine drainage, threatening the vitality of what has been declared a river reborn. The effect on water quality was stark, as seen at the mouth of Lick Run. Fed by a vast supply of groundwater, the portal on Lick Run was discharging a disproportionately large and endless amount of acid mine drainage to the river, overwhelming the Cheat’s ability to dilute it.

Mouth of Lick Run at low water. Photo by Joey Kimmet.

While it’s hard to attribute this instance of drought and low flow conditions experienced throughout West Virginia directly to climate change, prolonged periods with no rain and increases in drought are in line with what scientists understand about physics, chemistry, and the water cycle. At this point, even with global cooperation to stabilize and reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations that drive a warming planet, air temperatures are projected to increase by 5°F throughout the region over the next few decades. More likely, however, CO2 will continue to increase due to humanity’s continued reliance on fossil fuels for “inexpensive” energy. Under this business-as-usual trajectory, average air temperature will climb by as much as 10°F.

With a warmer climate, more water is evaporated from streams, soils, wetlands, and forests. Coupled with the projected decreases in rain during the late summer and early fall, the low flows experienced on the Cheat are likely the new norm. But with a warming climate also comes more frequent and intense rains that pose their own unique challenges. Heavy rain storms, like the ones we’ve experienced more frequently in recent years, are projected to increase, namely during winter and early spring, when forests are dormant, soils are saturated, and storage is small. With heavier rain comes more runoff, pollution, landslides, and flash floods, much like the ones experienced throughout the Cheat watershed this past spring.

Design specifications for water and ecosystem reclamation and restoration; roads, culverts, and bridges; flood protection; and drinking and wastewater treatment are all based on last century’s understanding of climate. Without taking steps to consider the effects of climate change, the tremendous effort to restore, preserve, and promote the Cheat and enhance all communities and economies dependent on it, may be in vain.

Dr. Nicolas Zegre is a whitewater kayaker, the Associate Professor of Forest Hydrology, Director of the WVU Mountain Hydrology Lab, and previous FOC Board Member.
Dr. Nico Zegre

Into the Canyon - Newsletter of Friends of the Cheat - Fall 2019

Board of Directors & Key Personnel

Amanda Pitzer, Executive Director; Owen Mulkeen, Associate Director; Madison Ball, Restoration Program Manager; 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 fond farewell: Garrett Thompson

As an avid kayaker and trained raft guide, Garrett Thompson wasn’t new to the neighborhood when he joined the FOC team in 2013. Having a deep appreciation for the Cheat River, Garrett understood the importance of his challenging yet isolating role as one of FOC’s 3 original DEP Partnership Field Technicians. Throughout his tenure, he traveled over 86,000 miles across Preston and Mon County to maintain some of the area’s most challenging AMD treatment sites. He monitored and maintained system performance and water quality while collecting stories of wildlife and landowner encounters he would often re-enact with his animated mannerisms providing entertaining attention to detail.

As all FOC staff, he was involved in many of the different programs and projects and his contributions will leave a mark on FOC and the river community for years to come. Garrett had a direct hand in Adventure WV service projects including the 2018 improvements to the Allegheny Trail. His construction skills were expanded during the construction of the vault toilets at the Doug Ferris Outdoor Classroom. Garrett supported the Cheat Fest Downriver Race as volunteer team lead, and inspired changes to our events designed to enrich the participant’s experience. One of Garrett’s final efforts was the planting of over 150 trees around the Doug Ferris Outdoor Classroom. We will watch these trees grow, and hopefully bear fruit (pawpaws!) for years to come. But, we might never, ever empty the compost bin without him.

FOC staff and Board express our gratitude and best wishes to Garrett in his downstream adventures!

A Huge Thank You to our Donors and Sponsors

From the period of July 2nd to October 24th, 2019

Cheat Watershed Sponsors - Walbridge Family Foundation, Charlie Walbridge, Margaret Walbridge, Eliza Walbridge

Swim Guide Sponsor - Triton Construction, Inc.

Cheat River Sponsor - Patrick & Lisa Ward

Stream Stewards - The Reed Foundation, Robert Uram, Susan & Donald Sauter, David Brisell, Thomas & Hope Covey, Stratford Douglas, Toddi Steelman & Joe Sinsheimer, John & Emy Hinnant, Mitchell Stickler, Szilagyi Family Foundation, Vickie Jenkins, Paul & Betty Connelly, Steelheimer Fund at the Chicago Community Foundation

Canyon Contributor - Susan Gordon

Narrows Navigator - Paul Schelp, Judith & Gerard Lechowich, Rich & Bettina Dennis, Dale & Carolyn McVicker, Coastal Canoeists

Confluence Crew - Bill Pennington, Steve & Susan Kite, Delbert Royce, Stephen Kelso, David Maribo, Nancy Hoffman, Linda Goetz, High Ground Brewing

Five Forks Friends - Catherine Badger, Mark Eakin, Michael Hooton, David & Linda Davidson

Good Ole Friends - Gary Schubert, Glen LaRue, Carol Burdick, Rich Widmann, Barbara Brown, Garth Lindley, Wickliffe & Laura Walker, Sean O’Malley, Charles & Lee Mullett, John VanLuik, Timothy Zinn, David Atkinson, Robert Sypolt & Carolyn Baumgardner, Sarah Hinnant, Jay Paxton, Paul Houndt, Everett Mulkeen, Kaitlyn Snyder, Greg Dick, Brianna & Sam Wilson

we're Hiring!

Monitoring Technician

The Monitoring Technician is tasked with conducting all water quality monitoring activities within the Cheat River Restoration program, is involved in ongoing restoration activities and participates in some project management and organizational development at Friends of the Cheat. Responsibilities include field work, landowner outreach, volunteer recruitment and coordination, data management and analysis, project management, educational programming, and the development of organizational management tools. The position requires proficiency in both Microsoft Suite (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Access) and ArcGIS.F

The application deadline is Friday, November 22nd, 2019, at 4:00 PM EST.

Community Development Coordinator

Friends of the Cheat is seeking a dynamic individual or team to lead the Trail Town component of its RE/CREATE grant project. The Trail Town Program vision is to encourage active recreation destinations where visitors want to stay, explore, and spend. The Community Development Coordinator will work through the Trail Town framework with the Preston County communities of Rowlesburg, Kingwood, Albright, and Tunnelton to connect them to trails and connect trails to local communities. A collaborative, community-based process will support the establishment and expansion of trail-friendly businesses, connector trails, wayfaring and interpretive signing, festivals and events, and marketing activities. Project objectives will be rooted in the 5 keys to Trail Town success: Partnerships, Assessment and Research, Connecting town to trail, Development, and Marketing.

The Community Development Coordinator will work closely with local partners and project consultants in addition to engaging key trail advocates, agencies, and other stakeholders at the state and regional level. They will also coordinate recruitment and hiring of up to 4 seasonal interns, develop their work plans, and supervise the team. The ideal candidate knows Preston County like the back of their hand, and has a finger on the pulse of regional and state-wide initiatives in the recreation and tourism sectors. A successful candidate will have experience with meeting facilitation and community-centered economic development. Experience with small business, marketing, and project planning is a plus. This person or persons must have a keen understanding of the importance of relationship building and interacting with different audiences, as well as understanding their role as a facilitator.

The application deadline is Tuesday, November 26th, 2019 at 12:00 PM EST.

FOC project news

ARC POWER Grant - Mountaineer Trail Network Pilot Project: Preston County Trail Plan

Blazing Key for the Allegheny Trail

Friends of The Cheat was awarded $50,000 by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) for a technical assistance project that will result in the creation of the first comprehensive Trail Plan within the newly formed Mountaineer Trail Network. Centered in Preston County this countywide Trail Plan will map all existing trail resources, highlight existing connection gaps, and identify trail routes that would link existing amenities to other key trails and recreation hubs in the region.

FOC is partnering with Downstream Strategies and PCPaRC to complete the project. As the first Trail Plan of its kind within the Mountaineer Trail Network, the plan will serve as a model to be replicated in the network’s other nine counties. The nine counties include Barbour, Grant, Harrison, Marion, Mineral, Monongalia, Randolph, Taylor, and Tucker. An event hosted by Senator Joe Manchin and ARC Co-Chair Tim Thomas in South Charleston on Friday, November 1st highlighted the $8 million in federal funds invested by ARC in WV. Evan Hansed of Downstream Strategies represented FOC at the event.

This grant is one of 54 awards given out across 9 states - all within Appalachia. “POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) is a congressionally funded initiative that targets federal resources to help communities and regions that have been affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries due to the changing economics of America's energy production.” Learn more at www.arc.gov.

RE/CREATE Project Update

Trestle Bridge at FOC's Preston Site - and future Cheat River Rail-Trail Trailhead. Photo by Mitchell Stickler

Rail-trail and trailhead engineering is underway. FOC has hired AECOM and Downstream Strategies to design the trail surface, bridge decking, and drainage. FOC’s Preston site, located 2 miles south on River Road/WV Scenic Byway 72 from the Caddell Bridge, will become a trailhead with accessible parking, trail signage, and ample room for unloading bicycles, boats, and baby strollers. The centerpiece of this section of trail will be the 430-foot long trestle bridge spanning the Cheat River. In all, there are 8 bridges and 8 miles of trail surface to be rehabilitated for recreational use. Full scale construction, complete with bridge decking, drainage, and trail surface is anticipated to begin in 2020.

New Partnership! Natural Resources Conservation Service

FOC will be working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to expand restoration efforts in a new way - Riparian Restoration. FOC recently secured over $230K in funding to begin a 5-year partnership with the NRCS to improve stream bank habitat in the Cheat River basin. This new partnership will begin with a large scale plan and result in over 90 acres of restored stream bank habitat.

In a study conducted in 1996, the WVDEP found over 55% of sample sites in the Cheat River Watershed had poor riparian health. Healthy riparian areas, or land next to streams, are crucial to healthy streams, and reduce impacts from flooding, filtering pollutants and keeping our banks stable. FOC will work with NRCS determine priority streams in the Cheat River watershed and offer riparian tree plantings to landowners and producers in need - contact madison@cheat.org if you think your streamside property is in need of riparian protection or to learn more about the program.

FOC Summer Stream Camp

2019 FOC Stream Camp Participants

FOC was approached by Afterschool Explorers in early 2019 with a proposal to create a STEM-based summer camp, designed and implemented by FOC. FOC expanded STEM to include Reading and Art = STREAM. Funded by the Preston County Board of Education, we kicked off our first STREAM camp in May. STREAM Camp ran biweekly, 3 consecutive days per week, for 4 weeks.

FOC invited former Monitoring and Cheat Fest Coordinator, Ellie Bell, to head up the camp and develop an extensive curriculum. Ellie is studying Secondary Science Education at WVU, and has a graduate assistantship through which she explores empowering teachers to feel more confident in teaching climate change. Superwoman Ellie dedicated herself to running the camp, while spending the alternating weeks as an Adventure WV leader. Nearly all FOC staff became part-time camp leaders, as well.

Stream camp consisted of 2 learning days, followed by a group field trip. Based at FOC’s Doug Ferris Outdoor Learning Classroom, the students had the Cheat River, the Cheat Canyon Wildlife Management Area, and Muddy Creek to explore. Participants learned about watersheds, made topographic maps, and learned about erosion and pollution runoff. They caught macrobenthic invertebrates and studied stream health. A popular activity was casting the different animal footprints found around scent traps.

I think that the most exciting week of STREAM Camp was the week that we focused on Acid Mine Drainage. I am proud of the curriculum because we covered such interdisciplinary concepts to tell our FOC story. We began the week with a history lesson on the banks of Muddy Creek complete with aerial pictures of the Muddy Creek blow out. We dove into the pH scale by exploring household items. We put on our laboratory goggles for an AMD titration where we made AMD and indicator solution change through the colors of the rainbow as we treated it with limestone. Then to conclude our investigation of AMD, the STREAM campers built robots with visitors from Dr. Jeffrey Carver's lab and the Arts and Bots program. The campers were challenged to create art installations that would treat acid mine drainage, they built them, coded them, and we treated some AMD with them! The designs ranged from a snowman that would melt limestone fines into the AMD to a mobile car that could move between treatment stations. To bring it all together, we took a field trip to our AMD treatment silo and toured the machinery. By the end of the week the campers were using AMD vocabulary and connecting the dots. - Ellie Bell

The students loved the weekly field trips. They enjoyed a guided hike at Blackwater Falls with Paulita Cousin, at the Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge with Dawn Washington, and from FOC staff at Cranesville Swamp Preserve. They snorkeled in Horseshoe Run (twice), tubed the Cheat River Water Trail, and visited FOC’s Railroad Refuse and Pase AMD treatment systems.

Unsurprisingly, the students’ favorite activities were nature-based scavenger hunts through the Cheat Canyon Wildlife Management Area, and any activity that put/kept them in the water. They spent hours catching bugs and crayfish, and identifying mushrooms and plants, and finding the absolute best stick (so many sticks - some even went home with them). It was a quintessential summer camp - full of kids playing in water and dirt - becoming environmental stewards, making memories, and gaining a deeper understanding of their home in the Cheat River watershed.


FOC had a great time at the 2019 Run For It 5k in Davis, WV. The weather held out until the very end of the race, when a nice rainy mist came down and cooled off the runners and walkers. Team FOC cleaned up again, taking 2nd overall, and FOC board member Mike Strager won 2nd in his category! We had 18 runners, walkers, and high-fivers. The High Five Station was, as always, a blast! The RFI coordinators placed a photographer at the High-Five station this year, so you’ll see a lot of photos of FOC team members slapping fives with smiling, laughing race participants.

There are many interesting ways to win cash at Run For It. Categories range from the traditional to the slightly wacky; FOC won the top spot for “Best Effort” from the Preston County Commission Award, 4th place in the Gold Star Awards, a $250 McDonough Foundation Award, and $1250 for taking 2nd place in Most $$$ Raised. Our total 2019 award was $2150 - so that plus the funds raised through our Whitewater Access Campaign - comes to a whopping $12,983! Great job Team FOC!

Thank you so much to Dylan Jones, Mike Strager, Beth Warnick, Sarah Hinnant, John Hinnant, Henry Hinnant, Jackie Strager, Ellie Strager, Maria Strager, Kendra Hatcher, Evelyn Webster, Adam Webster, Sahalie Hatcher, Paul Kinder, Amanda Pitzer, Jeff Mitchell, Owen Mulkeen, and Michelle Paquette! We’ll see you next year!

FOC Loves Intern Bill

FOC was privileged to have Kingwood native Bill Armstrong as our summer intern. Studying Fisheries and Wildlife at WVU, Bill was a great fit for FOC and served as Program Restoration Manager Madison Ball’s right-hand man.

Bill was wonderful to work with. He helped FOC in a time of dire need--with sampling for two Watershed Based Plans and multiple active projects underway, it was great to have a reliable, knowledgeable, and dedicated Intern to assist in sampling, allowing us to collect more samples in less time. Some of our sites were less than appealing, thick with briars, buzzing hornets, and mucky ground - Bill never complained and always had a positive attitude. He will go far with this demeanor in the conservation realm. Preston County should be proud of this PCHS alumni! - Madison Ball

Bill dove headfirst into all sorts of other activities; He spent some days as a camp counselor at FOC’s summer Stream Camp, assisted with Adventure WV water-monitoring service days, stuffed membership and lapsed donor letters, and folded newsletters.

Bill’s positive attitude extended into the office, as many FOC staff lovingly harassed him extensively, a sign of endearment from our team. Intern Bill! Entuuuurn Billl!!

Despite all this, Bill has continued to volunteer for FOC post-internship.


Cha-cha-cha-changes – it is a colorful Fall here in Appalachia. Early in the season we didn’t expect to see much leaf color but the entire watershed has developed beautiful pockets of vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds. As a result of the dry conditions, we are seeing colors of another sort too. When the Cheat River’s flow is low, its dilution power is reduced, therefore we see the drastic impacts of acid mine drainage pollution at the river’s confluences with its most polluted tributaries – Lick Run, Morgan Run, and Greens Run. During normal and high flow conditions, these problems are not as evident, but when the water is low there is nowhere for the pollution to hide. As these highly acidic (pH 2.5-3.5) yet clear tributaries meet the circum-neutral waters of the Cheat River main stem, the waters mix and as the pH of the polluted water raises we see the iron and aluminum previously dissolved in solution appear in colorful plumes of yellow, lime green, and then orange (Iron) and white (Aluminum).

Photo by Joey Kimmet

These scenes remind us here at FOC and across the region that Our Work’s Not Done. FOC recently completed Watershed Based Plans for Big Sandy Creek, North Fork of Greens Run, and Muddy Creek. These plans inventory and prioritize Abandoned Mine Land AMD remediation projects and set forth a restoration timeline – which extends into 2033!

This timeline reveals one reason the reauthorization of the collection of fees for the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fund is so important. This fund, known as the AML Fund, was established under Title IV of the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. The fees collected and deposited into the federal AML Fund are derived from a per-ton fee assessed on each ton of coal mined by the active mining industry. Without Congressional action, the collection of these fees will cease on September 30, 2021.

West Virginia has relied upon the AML Fund as a Primary source of money to clean up toxic mine water in our water supplies, restore land, extinguish mine fires and eliminate other dangerous abandoned mine hazards. At least 810,000 West Virginians live within one mile of abandoned mine lands. West Virginia’s estimated cleanup cost is $3.3 billion.

In Preston County alone, AML Fund projects have touched nearly every corner of the county. The AML Fund has supported public water projects to the tune of over $28,459,622* (*PCEDA-administered projects). Nonprofits like FOC use grant funds derived from the AML Fund and administered by the Office of Surface Mining to fund our AMD remediation projects. FOC has received over $1,766,500 from OSM’s Watershed Cooperative Agreement Program. If the AML Fund is not reauthorized, West Virginia watershed groups working on AMD restoration will lose this critical source of funding – which will put an end to AMD restoration work as we know it. How will FOC complete the 17 years of projects set forth in our Watershed Based Plans? How will WVDEP maintain successful AML restoration projects such as the Three Forks Creek in-stream dosing program and watershed-scale treatment in Muddy Creek? And what about emergencies like the underground mine fire still burning in Newburg?

We can’t stop now. As news broke this week of the coal giant Murray Energy filing for bankruptcy protection, West Virginians yearn for a “Just Transition” into a future where we can have a high quality of living in the place we call home. Reclamation of abandoned mine sites can add to the economy by creating jobs, increasing community pride, increasing property values, decreasing stress-related costs through stream-based recreation, restoring the health of the environment, and providing future sites for commercial or industrial endeavors. Despite the glaring need and benefits to its people, land, and water, and broad-based support from industry and conservation groups [Interstate Mining Compact Commission, National Association Abandoned Mine Land Programs (including Wyoming!), Trout Unlimited, and WV Highlands Conservancy to name a few] currently no members of the WV House Delegation have signed on to co-sponsor the reauthorization bill HR4248.

FOC is ramping up its advocacy for AML fund reauthorization. How can you help? Stay engaged with FOC through our e-mail list and social media where we will lay out actions ranging from Letters to the Editor to opportunities to join Amanda on a trip to DC!

Coming Events:

11/29/19 - Environment Clean Up With WV Rivers - Day After Thanksgiving, 10:00am-3:00pm, Cheat River Narrows

12/3/19 - #GivingTuesday online party at FOC's Facebook page

12/6/19 - FOC Holiday Open House, FOC's Office, 5:00pm-7:00pm, Kingwood, WV

1/22/20 - River of Promise Quarterly Meeting, 10:30am, Mon County Health Department, Morgantown, WV

1/28/20 - E-Day at the Capitol - Charleson, WV

1/29/20 - Preston County Day at the Legislature, Charleston, WV

5/1-2/20 - 26th Annual Cheat River Festival, Albright, WV