Imagine the Chaos from Losing the Upper Gauley Take-out

Posted: 09/26/2002
by Jason Robertson

American Whitewater sent the following letter to Representative Rahall on September 18, 2002. The following day, Access Director Jason Robertson met with Superintendent Cal Hite and the Park Service's land team to discuss the elements of the letter. We are not waiting to schedule a meeting with Representative Rahall to personally ask for his assistance. While we have learned that the issue is more complex than a simple disagreement over appraised value, that remains the substantial hurdle to acquisition.

http://www

Nick Rahall II

(202) 225-3452

(202) 225-9061 (fax)

2307 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-4803

Dear Representative Rahall,

Six years ago, in 1996, you sought to help the whitewater community by sponsoring legislation that required the National Park Service to acquire a river access point for the public on West Virginia's Gauley River. The legislation passed, but in the intervening years, the Park Service has made no apparent progress on meeting your required terms. We seek your help in facilitating rapid, permanent, public (non-commercial) access to the Gauley River National Recreation Area at Woods Ferry, Bucklick Creek, and Swiss. Please help to hasten the Park Service purchase of this land by clearing the bureaucratic log jams that are stalling the acquisition so that I and my friends can realize the full recreation potential of this National Recreation Area.

The landowner wants to sell the property. The Park Service wants to buy the property and has funding available. Our understanding of the problem is that the Park Service is using a radically undervalued appraisal to support their offer to purchase the property. No progress can be made until the two parties can agree on a sale price. This is where we need your help:

  1. The park needs to be directed to purchase the property at the fair market value for a popular and essential river access point (the landowner's asking price), or
  2. The landowners need to be asked to be more flexible on the price, perhaps with some notable compensation in return, or
  3. Another public access point needs to be identified, acquired, and developed which would serve the same purpose as the Woods Ferry point as a put-in for the Lower Gauley and a take-out for the Upper Gauley.

The first option is most palatable to the local community, the landowner, and the paddling community as it is likely to be the fastest, most painless, and least controversial.

The need for this access has only increased since your legislation was passed. This legislation was unequivocal; it directed:

In order to facilitate public safety, use, and enjoyment of the [Gauley River National] recreation area, and to protect, to the maximum extent feasible, the scenic and natural resources of the area, the [National Park Service] is authorized and directed to acquire such lands or interests in lands and to take such actions as are necessary to provide access by noncommercial entities on the north side of the Gauley River at the area known as Woods Ferry utilizing existing roads and rights-of-way… [U]ntil there is compliance with this paragraph the Secretary is prohibited from acquiring or developing any other river access points within the recreation area.

The lack of good public access negatively impacts the economic potential of the region, reduces the effectiveness of emergency workers, reduces the long-term viability of the National Recreation Area, and diminishes the visitor experience.

Over the past decade, American Whitewater has leased a field on Mason Branch (AKA Panther Mountain) road to provide free parking for the public and access to the River. However, that verbal agreement is at increasing risk of extinction:

  1. The agreement is unwritten, and the landowner will not commit to a signed lease.
  2. The landowner has received multiple offers to sell their land in recent years.
  3. There is a potential for several inheritance claims within the landowner's family.
  4. American Whitewater's management of the site is not at a financial and liability level we can maintain; nor can we afford to enforce the few rules required of visitors.
  5. The Park Service has no authority to manage or control use on the site, and that permission is not forthcoming from the landowner;
  6. Visitors must trespass on private property at the river's edge in order to get to the leased field. Thus far that trespass has been with permission of the affected landowners; but a single landowner could change their mind and effectively close access to the field on a whim. This action would apply all access pressures several miles downstream at the overcrowded Bucklick site, which has severely limited parking. Vehicle crowding at this Bucklick site in 2000 hampered the body recovery efforts of a pinned kayaker.
  7. The 1-mile hike from the riverside to the field is steep, difficult and very treacherous on an unimproved trail along Mason Branch.
  8. Neither AW volunteers nor the Park can officially improve the access trail for liability reasons without the permission of the various landowners, which we have sought, but have not been able to obtain.

The situation is so tenuous that the Park (www.nps.gov/gari/gauleynews.htm) notes:

At this time, the only public river access site is at the Tailwaters site, at the base of the Summersville Dam. Once launched, there are no public areas available for take-out: boaters must use privately-owned sites. These areas are primarily owned by commercial river outfitters. TO AVOID TRESPASSING, it is recommended that boaters contact the American Whitewater Affiliation (AWA) about current arrangements for taking out at Mason Branch, Bucklick and Swiss… AWA also rents a field near Mason Branch for vehicle parking. In the Swiss area, local landowners charge a small fee to park in their fields.

The loss of public access to the Mason Branch field would create a chaotic and potentially dangerous situation for visitors as they seek out new access and parking points throughout the river corridor. Additionally, this prospective loss of Mason Branch without access opportunity at Woods Ferry would result in displacing touring visitors from the Gauley Region and associated lost revenue to the county and Summersville area. As you are aware, the Gauley River is located in an economically depressed region of West Virginia. The Gauley Dam releases recreational whitewater flows on 6 weekends each autumn. Each year, more than 80,000 people visited the Gauley. We calculate conservatively that every commercial rafting passenger spends a minimum of $210 apiece during the course of their visit, and that private visitors spend a minimum of $110 each. As a result, the Gauley whitewater releases are responsible for moving at least $15 million through the regional economy. While the commercial percentage of that revenue is not at risk, the portion from the private visitors is certainly in jeopardy.

American Whitewater's understanding is that the negotiations over the sale of the Woods Ferry property are bogged down due to differences over the appraised value and use of the property. Though the Park Service has funding available, they can not acquire the land at the appraised value determined by the landowner. Please work with American Whitewater, the Park Service, and the landowner to clear this bureaucratic log jam so that we, the people, can realize the full recreation potential of this National Recreation Area.

I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss this further with you or your staff, and can be reached at 301-502-4610 to schedule an appointment.

Sincerely,

Jason D. Robertson

Access Director

American Whitewater

September 16, 2002

CC:

See attached list


CC List to Rep. Rahall


Rep. Nick Rahall II (District Office)

106 Main St.
Beckley, WV 25801

Sen. Robert Byrd

311 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-4801

(202) 224-3954

Sen. Robert Byrd (District Office)

300 Virginia St., #2630
Charleston, WV 25301

Sen. John Rockefeller IV

531 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-4802

(202) 224-6472

Sen. John Rockefeller IV (District Office)

405 Capitol St., #308
Charleston, WV 25301

Mac Thornton

AW Board Ret.

6467 Wishbone Terrace

Cabin John, MD 20818

Class VI, Dave Arnold

P.O. Box 78
Lansing, West Virginia 25862
304-574-0704

304-574-4906 fax


New River Gorge National River
Superintendent Calvin Hite

P.O. Box 246
Glen
Jean, WV 25846
(304) 465-0508

Appalachian Wildwaters, Imre Szilagyi 800.624.8060
Fax: 304.454.2472
PO Box 100
Rowlesburg, WV 26425

imreszil@aol.com

West Virginia Rivers Coalition
801 North Randolph Ave.
Elkins, WV 26241
Office: (304) 637-7201
Fax: (304) 637-4084

West Virginia Wildwater Association

Don Beyer, President

dwbeyer@aol.com

West Virginia Wildwater Association

Turner Sharp, Treasurer

tsharp13@hotmail.com

Jason Robertson
635 Joseph Cir
Golden, CO 80403-2349