Last updated: March 19. 2014 10:59AM - 1404 Views
Rick Steelhammer The Charleston Gazette

Thanks to a long-term cleanup effort, paddlers, once rare on the Coal River system, are now frequently seen.
Thanks to a long-term cleanup effort, paddlers, once rare on the Coal River system, are now frequently seen.
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(MCT)CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Promoting the development of riverfront campgrounds and other river-related businesses, while preserving more and larger tracts of streamside land, is part of the balancing act planned by the Coal River Group in coming years.

Other objectives cited in the organization’s newly completed five-year plan include:

—Coming up with the funding needed to launch a study on the best way to remove silt accumulations from the last few miles of the slow-moving Coal River upstream from its confluence with the Kanawha.

— Helping plan and develop new hiking and biking trails throughout the Coal River corridors.

— Exploring the possible development of an RV-friendly campground and other amenities at Kanawha County’s Meadowood Park.

— Encouraging the growth of recreation-based businesses at five enterprise zones along the Coal, Big Coal and Little Coal rivers.

“It all starts with clean water,” said Bill Currey, co-founder and board president of the Coal River Group. “Without it, no one would want to use the river.”

The CRG has held countless river-borne trash cleanups over the years, and advocated for development of the $26 million sewer system expansion extending service along the Coal River from the outskirts of St. Albans to Tornado.

Working with the Division of Environmental Protection and the Division of Natural Resources, the CRG helped bring about the installation of 180 silt-disbursing stream structures along a 30-mile stretch of the Little Coal. That project has also enhanced habitat for fish and the aquatic insects they feed upon.

By developing the 88-mile Coal River Trail and numerous access sites along the Coal, Big Coal and Little Coal rivers and making a fleet of 30 rental kayaks and canoes available to the public, the CRG has helped introduce thousands of people to the joys of paddling the Coal River system.

“People have changed their thinking about the river,” Currey said. “What was once considered a polluted, trashy stream is now seen as something that interests them in starting to use it.”

The CRG has had a hand in developing a number of land-based recreation sites along the Coal River system, including building hiking trails at the 30-acre Barnette Conservation Preserve it manages near Lower Falls, and nearly two miles of hiking and running trails in Meadowood Park. At Meadowood, the organization restored an 8-acre lake and equipped it with an accessible fishing pier, and built a portage walkway around Upper Falls.

Under an agreement between Massey Energy and the State of West Virginia, the CRG was recently designated the land manager of two parcels of land totaling 200 acres near Alum Creek in Lincoln County and Fosterville in Boone County. “Some of that land lies along the Big Coal and would give people using the river a legitimate place to go ashore and camp,” Currey said. “We would like to make more places like that available to river users.”

Currey said the CRG is in the preliminary stage of investigating the possibility of developing hiking and biking trails on a county-owed tract of land off Smith Creek Road, not far from the organization’s headquarters building in Meadowood Park.

At 90-acre Meadowood, the CRG plans to investigate the possibility of promoting the development of a camping area that would accommodate RVs as well as more primitive forms of camping.

“I see Meadowood as a destination point waiting to happen,” Currey said.

Stream restoration projects the CRG plans to become involved with during the next five years include a sediment removal project for the lower Coal River.

“We’re looking at a way to fund a comprehensive study of the best way to get silt out of the lower Coal from Corridor G to St. Albans,” Currey said. “Places in the St. Albans area that were 14 feet deep years ago are now four or five feet deep due to all the sediment that’s washed in.”

A sandbar runs across the river at its mouth, making motorboat passage difficult to impossible if boaters can’t find a 20-foot-wide side channel, he said.

Five economic development hubs were identified in the five-year plan to help encourage investment in river related activities in the most feasible places. One of the most promising hubs, Currey said, is the section of the Little Coal that flows past Boone County’s Water Ways water park.

“It’s a beautiful stretch of river and would be a good place for another canoe and kayak rental place,” he said. An oxbow bend of the river near the water park would be a good location for a place to rent inner tubes to those wanting to take a more laid-back approach to river running.

“We’re not talking about getting any huge businesses started,” Currey said, “but I think it’s possible now to have things like riverfront lodges, RV pump-out stations, fishing guides and outfitters..”

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.


(c) 2014 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.)

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