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Into the Canyon Summer 2020 Newsletter of Friends of the Cheat

Photo by Adam Webster

Immediate Business

  1. To accompany our Preston County Master Trail Plan, project partner PCPaRC has created a trail user survey. Please take the few minutes to complete and we will incorporate your ideas and comments into the next generation of trails.
  2. If you ordered a Cheat Fest t-shirt and haven't received an email about pickup or shipping, please contact Beth Warnick at bwarnick@cheat.org.
  3. Preston Trail Towns Coordinator, Kelley Burd-Huss is hosting outdoor office hours this week - stop by and chat with her about your ideas for tourism, economic development and anything else you would like to see happen in Preston County.

Into the Canyon - Newsletter of Friends of the Cheat Summer 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

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

FOC "Preston Site" Trestle Bridge

Friends of the Cheat Receives Second AML Pilot Grant

Friends of the Cheat has been selected to receive another $1 million dollars in grant funding to expand its Cheat River Rail-Trail project. The project, RECREATING (Reclaiming the Cheat River as an Economic Asset through Trail Investment and Nurturing Greenspaces) continues FOC’s $3.2 million RECREATE project, which was also funded by the AML Pilot Program in December 2018.

FOC is spearheading the RECREATING project with four primary goals in mind.

First, the Project supports the design and construction of a destination-worthy trailhead for the Cheat River Rail-Trail. This trailhead, at the locally-named “Preston Site,” is located off WV Scenic Route 72 between Kingwood and Rowlesburg, on the north side of the historic trestle bridge crossing the Cheat River. In addition to standard features such as lighted parking, seating, picnic areas, and litter disposal, the Preston Site trailhead will feature an improved river access point, restored fishing pond, and a scenic river overlook on the trestle bridge.

Second, FOC will also partner with the WV Department of Environmental Protection to examine the feasibility of treating polluted waters from nearby Lick Run in a specially-designed facility at the trailhead site. Lick Run is currently the top contributor of damaging acid mine drainage to the Cheat River main stem. This effort will ensure that the Cheat River remains a destination for scenic beauty and recreation for years to come.

Third, the awarded grant includes support for negotiations with private property owners for the hopeful purchase of an additional trail corridor, extending the rail-trail into the historic river city of Rowlesburg. If successful, these negotiations will directly connect the positive economic impact of rail-trails and outdoor recreation into the center of Rowlesburg, allowing visitors to experience the pleasures of the town during their travels.

Finally, the grant includes money to purchase trail maintenance equipment that will be used on the Cheat River Rail-Trail for years after construction is completed, ensuring the project is sustainable well into the future.

This project is a potential boon to Preston County’s burgeoning outdoor economy, which has seen an uptick statewide in the recent years. Kelley Burd-Huss, Community Development Coordinator of Preston Trail Towns, is thrilled with this development.

“We know that trails are the most effective in boosting local economies when they connect directly into towns where bikers, hikers, and paddlers can eat, sleep, and play. Connecting the Cheat River Rail-Trail directly into Rowlesburg will allow Prestonians to share the River City with visitors, and, in doing so, boost Preston County’s economy.”

Rowlesburg resident Mackenzie Hoffer also envisions the rail-trail as a path to a thriving Rowlesburg.

“Having a rail-trail in Rowlesburg will have a lasting positive economic effect on the town. The Cheat River Valley is one of the state’s most beautiful sights to be seen. Rowlesburg is such a quiet and family oriented town that would do nothing but enhance the pleasure found on this trail.”

FOC is entering the design phase of the Recreating - and will release design and construction requests and proposals (RFPs) in the near future. Construction on the first phase of the Cheat River Rail-Trail is projected to begin in 2021.

For more information on the Cheat River Rail-Trail and FOC’s Preston Trail Towns program, visit:

Mountaineer Trail Plan: Preston County Master Trail Plan

Friends of The Cheat, alongside partners Downstream Strategies and Preston County Parks & Recreation Commission (PCPaRC), released the first comprehensive trail plan for Preston County. This plan is the first in a planned series of county-level plans for the Mountaineer Trail Network (MTN). Created by legislative action in 2018, the Mountaineer Trail Network encompasses a 15-county region across northern West Virginia. The goal is to help leaders, trail advocates, and Mountaineer Trail Network representatives in Preston County guide local trail development in a way that maximizes economic and community benefit. Based on this goal the plan was guided by the following objectives:

  • Define what the Mountaineer Trail Network is, how it will function, and what it means for Preston County and northern West Virginia
  • Quantify the economic potential for trail-based tourism development in our region
  • Assess the existing trail and tourism assets within Preston County and recommend areas for targeted improvement
  • Showcase potential trail routes and viable market opportunities to boost trail-based tourism in Preston County
  • Highlight steps for implementing trail projects and transforming Preston County, and the great MTN, into a premier regional destination

Current limitations on public gatherings have delayed public meetings, however, FOC and project partners plan alternative methods of dissemination and gathering comments. Stay tuned for more information regarding how residents in Preston County and the region can comment on the plan. The plan is available for download and viewing, at: https://www.cheat.org/recreation/preston-county-master-trail-plan/. Comments are welcome - please use the embedded form.

“Friends of the Cheat is proud to unveil Preston County’s – and the Mountaineer Trail Network’s – first non-motorized trail plan. These efforts are timely as project partners will open new sections of the WV Northern Rail-Trail this year and begin Cheat River Rail-Trail construction in 2021. Future phases of trail development hinge largely on cooperation with private landowners, which are now protected from liability claims by the Mountaineer Trail Network legislation.”

This plan was made possible by funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) by means of a 2019 POWER Technical Assistance Grant awarded to Friends of The Cheat.

photo by Owen Mulkeen

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, The Reed Foundation

From 4/11/20 through 7/21/20

Canyon Contributors - Team Boosch, Clare McDaniel, Randy Robinson, Ann & Cecil Tickamyer, Linda Lorndale, Lake Lynn Generation

Narrows Navigators - David Keers, Candice Taylor, Dan Ott, Roger Calhoun, Eileen Paquette, Jay & Marcy Myers, Donald Strimbeck, Susan Gordon, Robert Baudoux, Josh Cook, Don Millard, Kathrin Allen, Dr. Ben Baker, Jenny & Andrew Woodworth, Sarah McClurg, Larry Pethick, Anthony Varvoutis, Heathberry Farm, Kim & Fred Wright, BioMost, Inc.

Confluence Crew - Susan Gordon, Steve Ingalls & Anne Kmieck, Fern & Rita Mulkeen, Allyson Hoch & David Petry, Dr. Ram Shetty & Dr. Julia Ramberg, David Weaver, Garrett Thompson, Rebecca Stanevich, Bill & Anne Mae Thorne, Ben Badger & Jessica Zamias, Francis & Barb Slider, Nicholas Borror, Ann Pancake, Roger & Melinda Shrout, Richard Vincent, Jill MacNeice & Thierry Rosenheck, David Poli, Amanda Lindgren, Jeff & Adanna Richman, Jack & Mary Alice Sanders, Dave & Marilee Hall, Charles Johnson, Erin Hartman, Jack Lewis, Sheila Vukovich, John Zeidler, Marc Alston, Tom & Darinda Westbrook, Phillip Avis, Dan Henninger, Tarrell & Monica Ries, Kathy Furbee & Martin Christ, John Harvey, Stephanie & Rick Chaney, Sarah Hinnant, Elizabeth Buckley

Five Forks Friends - Jeffrey Berry, Jordan & Lindsey Rinehart, Nicholas McGettigan, Donnie Riggs, Anna Brode, Molly Kestner, Nico Dunbar, Lucretia Lee, Leigh & Tim Williams, Michael F. Kalanick, Michael Blackburn, Ellie Maier, Adam Webster, Michelle Paquette, Jennifer Raber, Tim McIntosh, David Talmage & Fern Abrams, Lisbeth Pyle, Christopher Lubic, Dr. Donald DeLorenzo, Paul Gould, Bill Buda, The Ferris Family, Shelly & Charles Mitchell, Diane & Ed Rader, Peter Armbruster, Eckerts, Inc., Richard & Jennifer Lafferty, Kent Mason, Shelia Daugherty, David Hafera, Ben Grimm

Good Ole Friends - Emily Granese, Richard Schaaf, Janet Ady, Steven Poe, Marcia Hamm, Ann Myszka, Gary Cooper, Michael Bradley, Don Frew, Ned & Diane Sawyers, Donald Case, Diana Scott, Joel Beane, Michael Marlier, Jane Birdsong, Elizabeth Wiles, Frank Lukacs, Karen Krause, Jesse Groves, Beth Walls, Kim Kincaid, Tess Meinert, Jennifer Osha Buysse, Amy Cimarolli, Matraca Hovatter, Sharon Thorne, Kari Harsh, Sandra Frank, Cindy McDavid, Erik Parow, Alexandra Coffman, Fred Jacoby, Marcedes Minana, Leah Barbor, Stephanie Davis & Keith Nolan, Amy Estep, Jason Jaros, Ellen Newton, Bill Shick, Kimberly Manuel, Jeremy Zeiders, Christine Jorge, William Eveland, Ryan Snyder, Jorge & Gale Flores, Thomas & Marsha Dulz, James & Sabrina Liggett, Neal Dana, LeJay & Helen Ann Graffious, Toni Hartley, Sarah Friend, Bryan Moll, Sera Janson, Dylan Jones, Lynette & Troy Shahan, Lova & Robert Yanero, Ben & Kendra Hogan, Kerren Hall, Steve & Vicky Koch, D. Brent Cassell, Marc Glass, William & Jennifer McBee, Art Bertol, Shawn Falkenstein, Clark Billups, Leo Slaggie, Helene Scalliet

2020 Whitewater Access: David Hendershot, Sara Valentine, Thomas Darby, Marcy Fleeharty, Quinn Frassetta, Milton Stanley, Daniel McGough, Peter Bross, Jon Weiss, Adam Webster, Michael Rzesutock, Michael Kalanick, Diane Henderson, Charles Powell, Zach Yomboro, Justin Harris, Jim Snyder, Lisa Thrush, Chad Cowles, Susan Forish, Jason Rigby, Tyler Rosini, Ben Badger & Jessica Zamias, Patrick Millham, Scott & Terry Stough, Greg Cronin, Charles Hihn, Patricia Chan, Adam Johnson, Peter Bross, Kelly & Keith Heasley, Matthew Streve, Nori Onishi, Jeanne & Josh Kaufman, Ryan VanderKooy, David Sibley, Rick Landenberger, Mitch Flanigan, Graham White, Erin Graber, Christina Kossis, David Hough & Cyndy Graves, David Maribo, Thomas Beres, Jennifer Cooper, Kurt Haas, Alan Andrews, Steven Whitmer, Katie Heisler, Jennifer Franko, Stratford Douglas & Jodie Jackson, Patrick Murray, Robert Moore, Edward Hughes, Edward Gertler, S.J. Szabo, Chris Kyle, Allan & Millie Karlin, Kathy DeWitt, William Geary, Matthew Hood, Jennifer Barre, Jeff Macklin, John Guilfoose, William Durr, Bill Pennington, Thomas Hungar, Scott & Maureen Patton, Eric & Sara Henrickson

Photos by Adam Webster

Fish Tails Tell the Tale

By Adam Webster

In June, I joined two Friends of the Cheat staff members to cast lines into the Cheat River at the mouth of Muddy Creek, hoping to catch a bass, trout, walleye, or maybe even a musky. Truth be told, I think we were hoping to catch any sort of fish since Muddy Creek and the section of the Cheat River below its confluence, known as Cheat Canyon, had been considered “dead” for most of the last 25 years.

Knowing that tens of millions of dollars were spent during that last quarter century to recover water quality in the Cheat River and its tributaries, however, was a promising aspect of our pursuit—we were literally “testing the waters” to see if fish had returned.

Within the last two years, all indicators suggested that fish were indeed returning into Cheat Canyon and beyond. People sharing photos on social media showed fish caught above and below the Muddy Creek confluence. A photo of a musky as long as a Labrador retriever, caught above Muddy Creek, in Albright, sparked dozens of shares and hundreds of “likes” on social media. I still do a double take when I look at that photo—it’s hard to believe.

It’s hard to believe because the Lower Cheat River was known to be polluted for decades. In 1994, the river grabbed national attention after a series of "blowouts" from a coal mine on Muddy Creek poured millions of gallons of acidic water into Cheat Canyon. The water quality became so bad that in 1995 the Cheat River was listed by American Rivers, a river advocacy group, as one of the top 10 most endangered rivers in the United States.

When I first experienced the Cheat Canyon in a raft in the early 1990s, the shorelines were indeed stained fluorescent orange and electric white from pollution, known as acid mine drainage. When I mentioned trying to catch a fish in Cheat Canyon while sitting around a campfire one evening long ago, a wise-cracking river guide handed me a bottle of whiskey and said, “You’ve got about as good of a chance catching a fish in a swill of flavored ethanol as you do in the Canyon.”

My heart sank.

Despite the “whiskey incident,” however, I lugged a fishing pole into Cheat Canyon many times through the years. I wanted to believe that rivers are resilient. I wanted to hold on to a hope that the majesty of the Cheat River wouldn’t always be matched by its tragic condition. I wanted to believe that if I could just catch one fish, maybe things were getting better.

I didn’t catch a single fish anywhere in Cheat Canyon for nearly a decade —at least not anywhere within a few miles of Muddy Creek, that is.

Wading into the water at the mouth of Muddy Creek on a summer afternoon in 2020 with an expectation of catching a fish made me antsy. In fact, I didn’t even grab my fishing pole. I took my camera instead and let Garrett Richardson (Monitoring Technician) and Owen Mulkeen (Associate Director) do the casting. I just wanted to see it happen. These two guys, along with a long list of other FOC staff and partners past and present—made this recovery happen. This was their moment. Not many people can say that in their lifetime they helped bring a dead river back to life.

As those two tied lures to their lines and set out to prove what was once impossible, I admired the view looking downstream into Cheat Canyon. Fifteen years prior, I stood in nearly the exact spot surrounded by life-choking sediments and telltale stains of heavy metals caused by acid mine drainage. The pH, or acidity, of water flowing from Muddy Creek into Cheat River back then was, at times, similar to lemon juice or acid rain. The water flowing from Muddy Creek into the Cheat River today, as a result of a nearly $10 million treatment system built by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, is close enough to “normal” that fish and other aquatic organisms should be able to thrive.

Then it happened.

I heard a splash behind me. Garrett signaled an excited "fish on" sort of smile while standing in the outflow of Muddy Creek into Cheat River. His line was taught, and his fishing pole went into a bend. As he reeled, a feisty fish slapped its tail on the surface. In that instant, I felt as if we turned the page into a new chapter about the Cheat River.

As Garrett released a soda can-sized smallmouth bass back into the river and my mind did a rewind on 25 years of what was and what now is, I recalled words and wishes of characters along the way. In the mid-2000s, in interviews with Dave Bassage and Keith Pitzer, both former FOC Executive Directors, they each described a future in which trout thrived in Muddy Creek and that the Cheat River would recover as an intact ecosystem.

“It may well be that I never get to see trout in Muddy Creek in my lifetime,” Bassage said, “but we’re already seeing bass in Cheat Canyon. So, you take your successes where you can find them,” he said.

Another splish and splash from the corner of my eye and serendipity struck! Garrett was reeling in rainbow trout at the mouth of Muddy Creek.

Garrett's 15 inch rainbow trout - mouth of Muddy Creek

“We’ll take our successes where we can find them,” I thought to myself.

As the fishing hour was upon us, Owen landed a couple bass on a fly rod and Garrett moved further up into Muddy Creek and showcased a healthy smallmouth bass. In the weeks after our trip, Garrett caught another bass more than a quarter mile upstream in Muddy Creek.

Owen's small bass in the mouth of Muddy Creek

So, what’s next?

First, I hope that bottles of whiskey will be used to celebrate good days of fishing instead of being used to describe water quality in the Cheat River.

On a more serious note, FOC needs your continued support. What does “support” mean? It means making financial contributions to the organization and volunteering to help its restoration, recreation, and community development programs succeed into the future. In many ways, this is just the beginning.

What is evident to me is that the recovery of the Cheat River is no longer just a tale about fixing pollution caused in the past, it is a story about the future and not just what will become of the river, but about what the river will become for its communities.

The Next Right Thing: Preston Trail Towns Enters the Second Quarter

By Kelley Burd-Huss

Throughout our springtime quarantine, Frozen 2 was a favorite movie in our house. In one of the movie’s most memorable moments, Anna contemplates how she is to move forward after losing her sister, Elsa, and her companion, Olaf, on her journey. Her solution? “Do the Next Right Thing.” As my family navigates my husband’s final move to West Virginia from Houston, while not knowing the details of what school and family life will look like in September, this process of moving forward one step at a time has been extremely valuable for me and my children.

And, it’s not unlike what we are doing at Preston Trail Towns. Since we began in January, we have been meeting in person and virtually with stakeholders in Tunnelton, Kingwood, Albright, and Rowlesburg. We have heard from the communities what is best about our Trail Towns, and observed the challenges and opportunities each Trail Town faces. As we begin to shift from observation to formal community assessment and action, Anna’s determination to “Do the Next Right Thing” mirrors a process we are adopting based on the Strong Towns Guide to Public Investment:

  • Humbly observe where people in the community struggle.
  • Ask the Question: What is the next smallest thing we can do right now to address that struggle?
  • Do that thing. Do it right now.
  • Repeat.

As I write this, my time as Community Development Coordinator with Preston Trail Towns is closing in on its first quarter. I am humbled by the task before me, particularly because I am doing community development work at a time shaped by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Large, indoor gatherings of community stakeholders are all but impossible. The traditional ways of reaching out to a community to develop an advisory team must give way to technologies and ways of connecting that were unimaginable just a few months ago. There were times in the past few months when I felt stuck in place, waiting for a path to clear that I could not yet see.

In many ways, I have only scratched the surface of the amazing adventures Preston County has to offer prospective visitors. Likewise, I have met just a fraction of the hardworking and visionary Prestonians who have believed in trails, and tourism, and in the land and its people. I am glad we have reached a point where we can begin to ask about the “Next Smallest Things” we can do in each Trail Town, and how we can leverage our resources as a Trail Towns program to do as many “small things” in each Trail Town as possible. Because these things - whether it is clearing a trail along the river in Rowlesburg, or building an outdoor fitness trail in Tunnelton - will have a big impact on our Trail Town communities, and will pave the way for a sustainable and vibrant outdoor adventure economy.

Beaver Creek AMD Treatment System

By Madison Ball

Beaver Creek "Upper"

Despite major obstacles, FOC completed construction of its 18th passive Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) Treatment System in June of 2020 in an unnamed tributary to Beaver Creek of Big Sandy Creek.

The site consists of an “Upper” and “Lower” treatment system and will neutralize the worst source of acidity, aluminum, and iron to the Beaver Creek watershed, which holds species of trout and other aquatic life.

FOC staff monitored water quality after construction, and mine water entering the “Upper” system had a pH of 3.13, and the water entering the “Lower” system had a pH of 3.25. Comparatively, the pH of vinegar is typically around 3. Considering vinegar is used to pickle and preserve, this is a vast impairment for organisms that live in the receiving stream. As mine water made its way through the treatment systems, pH drastically improved, with pH of the water exiting the Upper System measuring 6.50, and the water exiting the Lower system measuring 7.04. Neutral pH is 7.0, and natural rain water is typically slightly acidic, with a pH of 5.0 - 5.5.

FOC is tremendously satisfied with these water quality results, and thanks the efforts of FOC’s partners, including the gracious cooperation of the project landowner, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, CEC, Inc., and Solid Rock Excavating.

FOC has received funds to treat the other significant source of AMD to Beaver Creek and plans to construct a passive AMD treatment site to neutralize this source in 2021, after which all major sources of acidity in Beaver Creek of Big Sandy Creek will be addressed. After final construction, FOC will monitor water quality throughout Beaver Creek and if the data is conclusive, propose the “delisting” Beaver Creek from the WV 303(d) list of Impaired Waters for acidity, aluminum, and iron.

Beaver Creek "Lower"

NRCS Project Update

By Madison Ball

FOC entered a new partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in 2019 to restore riparian areas on private lands along the Cheat River and major Cheat tributaries over 5 years. A ‘riparian area’ is the land directly next to a body of water, such as a stream or river. Healthy riparian areas are composed of many trees and plants and provide direct benefits to landowners, wildlife, and water quality. The first phase of the project involved FOC identifying and mapping priority areas in need of riparian restoration.

FOC has identified the following streams and tributaries as priority areas and is looking to partner with landowners in these areas who are interested in free tree plantings on their property in order to stabilize and reforest their stream banks: Cheat River mainstem from Parsons - Rowlesburg, Clover Run, Horseshoe Run, Minear Run, Licking Creek, Buffalo Creek, Wolf Creek, and Saltlick Creek. Refer to the Project Area Map below to see if your property falls within the boundary, or reach out to Restoration Program Manager Madison Ball at madison@cheat.org.

Please reach out to Madison Ball at madison@cheat.org or 304-329-3621 x7 for further details.

Friends of the Cheat Campground is OPEN!

FOC's newest venture is now open for business! The Friends of the Cheat Campground is the perfect spot for Cheat Canyon paddlers, Allegheny Trail hikers, and anyone looking to spend a night (or a few) in central Preston County beside the Cheat River.

These primitive camping sites run $20 a day for 4 occupants - FOC members pay $10! A self-service pay station is located beside the back gate to the Cheat River Festival site. Camping is not allowed beyond the gates. Vault-style toilets are available - no electricity or water hookups. Camp manager Jim Meckley is on-site for assistance.

The FOC Campground is located at 139 Beech Run Rd, Albright, WV 26519. Support FOC and plan a visit, soon!