By LEIGH C. MERIFIELD
News & Journal Editor


One participant allowed his dog, shown here wearing its own life jacket, to enjoy the float as well!
The view was spectacular and colorful as kayaks, canoes, paddle boards and rowboats floated along the tree-laden West Fork River during the recent ‘Float the Fork’ event.

Good Hope, a small unincorporated community in Harrison County, had LOTS of visitors on Saturday, June 2nd as people from six states (OH, PA, MI, MD, VA, and from all over WV) came with their kayaks, canoes, paddle boards and even some rowboats to “Float the Fork” – the West Fork, that is.

Sponsored by the Guardians of the West Fork along with support from other corporate and government agencies, this event was part of National Trail Days.

Good Hope, located along Rt. 19 and along the West Fork River, was the entry point where a new stream access area was recently developed by the Department of Natural Resources.  It was approximately a six-mile float on the river with nearby West Milford as the exit point … where a park is being developed.  All of this is part of a plan to establish more access points along the river.  And for this initial event, the idea appears to have gathered tremendous interest.

Those who participated seemed to show little regard for the light drizzling rain that prevailed!  Participants were all ages – young and old – men, women, kids and even a few animals!  A DJ was on hand playing music; several food vendors were present; and the West Milford Lions Club got involved, hosting a chicken roast that was a complete sellout!  Vendors renting kayaks and paddle boards were also on site for those who didn’t bring their own vessels.

Nick Millett, who works with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, was very active in organizing the logistics of the event.  He was pleased to confirm that there was a much larger turnout than they had expected.

“Honestly, we were thinking that we’d maybe have 30 to 40 people participating, and for an initial event like this, we’d have been happy with that,” Millett stated.  “We ended up with over 150 people taking part; that’s nearly four times what we anticipated.  What a great ‘problem’ to have!”

The state says the West Fork River is one of the most underutilized rivers in West Virginia, largely because of dams on the river and limited access.  However, according to Millett, because the Rail Trail and River Trail run parallel to one another, there is a lot of opportunity to accentuate a trio of interests like jogging, biking and kayaking at the same time.

“This would get families out together and get kids out from in front of the television and away from their gadgets to experience some of the wonders around them that people don’t pay enough attention to anymore,” Millett added.

Millett stated that the West Fork is a safe river to float, and he noted that following the dam removal, 65,000 pounds of trash were pulled out of the river along with 1,222 tires!

“From a Fish & Wildlife perspective, now that this has been done, we think it will be a better habitat for small-mouth bass, for example, and could attract more sportsmen into the area.  We also hope that people will become more educated about the issues that are threatening our rivers and it will create a better understanding of the environment.  Perhaps it will generate a little more enthusiasm for taking care of our environment and preserving the integrity of our rivers as well,” he continued.

With work continuing to close all the gaps in the P2P Corridor (rail trails extending from Parkersburg to Pittsburgh), upon completion, this would be the fourth longest rail trail in the U.S.  Add to this that with water trails located adjacent to many rail trails along the river, it could help revitalize many rural communities along its path.  In Harrison County, for example, places like Salem, Clarksburg, and Shinnston could be affected.

Willett said, “The potential is there to boost tourism and it would be good for the economic development of these areas.  The West Fork River Trail could become more of a destination for boating, fishing, etc. if communities take advantage of it.  With access points established, these locales could be great places to buy bait, grab lunch or even stay overnight.  Using this event as a guide, there are lots of possibilities if communities get involved and make the most of it.”

There will likely be more events like Float the Fork in the future, and perhaps it will be extended to a two-day event!

“I can tell you that when I pulled into this initial Float the Fork event with my family and witnessed all the kayaks, heard the music playing and saw all the activity, I got a chill,” Millett concluded.  “It is exciting to think about the prospects in the future.  I plan to continue to help with these events, but ideally what we’d like to see is more communities taking ownership of the activity and let them take charge with DNR and Fish & Wildlife offering assistance.”

There are many people and agencies to thank for their efforts in making this such a success.  Willett said it was a cooperative “partnership” and volunteerism among agencies like the Guardians of the West Fork, the West Virginia Dept. of Natural Resources, WV Fish & Wildlife, the Clarksburg Water Board, entities offering shuttle service and parking availability for participants, volunteers cleaning property along the river, the vendors, and of course the participants themselves.  This teamwork made it a very successful event … and even the rain could not drench the enthusiasm!