Greetings All -
This was passed along to me by a fellow board member from AW, Charlie Walbridge. - Please read and be aware. For the sake of everyone, hopefully this issue is resolved swiftly. Please pass it along, support the efforts and get involved if able!
SYOTR - Patricia
American Whitewater was notified late last week that two outfitters will discontinue their long-standing policy of permitting private paddlers to access West Virginia's Gauley River at Mason's Branch, Woods Ferry, and Bucklick. Lost Paddle Corporation is a partnership between Imre Szylagyi of Appalachian Wildwaters and Class VI River Runners, represented by Dave Arnold. The company owns all of the river-right land between Sweets Falls and Koontz Bend. Like many outfitters throughout the country they have generously permitted private paddlers to cross their land almost two decades. If you've run the Gauley, you've used their land.
So why change things now? When the Gauley River National Recreation Area was created the law required the Park Service to purchase an access area at Woods Ferry. The key parcel for this access is owned by Lost Paddle Corporation. After eight years of negotiations and two formal government assessments the Park Service and the outfitters are still miles apart on a price. Although they care about the land, they also see it as a business investment that they have held for over 18 years. They feel that the price they receive should reflect its worth in other uses, like sustained yield timbering or second home development.
As the talks stalled, Lost Paddle Corporation has become increasingly uncomfortable with their role as a free public access provider. The outfitters have told AW several times that the current "improvised access arrangement" would have to end soon. Now they are seeking, in their own words, to "create a crisis" that will force the Park Service to buy their property for public access.
As this story plays out, please remember that Lost Paddle Corporation is completely within its rights as a private landowner to take this step. We don't have to like what they are doing, but we must respect it. We all agree that the Gauley River is a unique natural treasure and want to see the Park Service purchase land that will protect the river, insure public access, and allow the park to reach its potential.
American Whitewater has been in contact with Gauley NRA Manager Cal Hite and West Virginia Congressman Nick Joe Rayhall. We will be working diligently to find legal ways for private paddlers to access the river during Gauley Season and new information will be posted our web site as it becomes available.
Woods Ferry Road Remains a Legal Gauley Access
In the early 1900's a county road crossed the Gauley River at Woods Ferry and continued over the mountains to Anstead, WV. This right-of-way is still legally active. Since Lost Paddle Corporation has never permitted private rafters to take out on their land, this has been the only place that they could legally drive down to river level and launch and their boats. The road as it now exists has been maintained for some time by two small outfitters, Wildwater Unlimited and Passages to Adventure. Private individuals maintaining little-used, out-of-the-way county roads is not uncommon in West Virginia. The road is very narrow and steep, and also deviates from the right-of-way and trespasses on Lost Paddle Corporation property for several hundred yards. There is parking for roughly 100 cars.
Bill Tanger, a Roanoke, Virginia based private rafter, was concerned when he found fliers on his car at Mason's Branch stating that access there would end this year. This past spring he began investigating the possibility of reopening the old Woods Ferry Road. He and Passages to Adventure owner Benjy Simpson have worked closely with the National Park Service and the West Virginia Highway Department to obtain the necessary permits. He has organized work crews to begin the work of reopening a long-abandoned stretch of the Woods Ferry Road so that it can be used without trespassing on Lost Paddle Corporation land. Because the road crosses land owned by the National Park Service, all work must be done with hand tools to minimize environmental damage. When the work is completed, outfitter Benjy Simpson will operate a boat shuttle in and out of the gorge. As was true at Mason's Branch, paddlers will have to walk in or out of the canyon themselves. A donation will offset the costs, with any surplus used to maintain the road,
Bill and members of the West Virginia Wildwater Association have formed a group called Friends of the Gauley River (FOGR) to finish their work. They need your help. Work weekends are scheduled on August 20-21 and 27-28 . We will also begin to raise funds for gravel and other necessities as soon as a mechanism can be arranged. If you are interested in helping out, please contact Bill Tanger. His email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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