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Paddlers Protect Lower Big Sandy with Purchase of River Left Corridor!

Posted: 01/29/2024
By: Kevin Colburn

American Whitewater is thrilled to announce that last Friday, January 26, we purchased a large portion of the classic Lower Big Sandy river landscape. Located in northern West Virginia, the land includes 4.25 miles of river frontage spanning almost the entire river left side of the gorge, the remainder of which is already under conservation ownership. This purchase safeguards the river-left Rockville Access and portage routes at Wonder Falls and Big Splat. 

This purchase effort was led by longtime American Whitewater board member Charlie Walbridge and retired Cheat River outfitter Dave Hough. It was made possible by major gifts from over two dozen paddlers. Thanks to their generosity the land will now be protected for its recreational and ecological values in perpetuity. American Whitewater has worked closely in partnership with the Waterfront Development Group, who owned the land, as well as the West Virginia Land Trust to ensure long-term protection. This is the kind of work American Whitewater’s members and donors are uniquely positioned to make happen.

The Big Sandy has welcomed generations of paddlers into a highly scenic and richly forested whitewater gorge, and has sufficient flow to support paddling on an impressive average of 180 days annually. The river contains numerous classic rapids formed by polished boulders and ledges, each of which is separated by deep pools. The renowned Wonder Falls was first paddled by Jim Snyder in 1973 - 50 years ago last year - and has since offered many thousands of paddlers their first waterfall experience. The Big Sandy is an enchanting place in which countless paddlers have learned the skills and discipline required to navigate challenging whitewater in an intensely beautiful setting, serving as both a rite of passage and a sublime destination. This is a very special river, and protecting it safeguards an irreplaceable piece of West Virginia’s ecology, economy and quality-of-life. 

We are perhaps the last generation that can purchase and conserve large portions of privately-owned river corridors of our community’s most cherished rivers like the Big Sandy. American Whitewater was able to recognize this opportunity thanks to local paddlers, and had the flexibility and support to take advantage of this urgent and historic purchase. With the land now purchased, American Whitewater plans to transfer the land to the West Virginia Land Trust for long term stewardship. 

As we enter American Whitewater’s 70th anniversary year, this purchase is an affirmation that we can do big things with the support of the paddling community! We would like to share our deep gratitude to the following people that made the Big Sandy purchase possible: Bob Alexander, Kathrin Allen, Pope Barrow, Dave Bassage, Scott Bortree, Dave Brisell, Peter Bross, Phil Coleman, Bret Corchoran, Jack Ditty, Cyndy Lee and Steve Donelon, Strat Douglas, Mike Fentress, Bob Gedekoh, Ken Gfroerer, John Guilfoose, Katie Heisler, Eric and Sara Henrickson, Dave and Cindy Hough, Ned Hughes, Chris Kirkman, Henry Labalme, George Martin Foundation, Robert Milvet, Jim Murtha, Nori Onishi, Peggy Pings, Adam Polinski, Randy Robinson, Jenn Sass and Mike Graham, Patricia Schifferle, Dave Smith and Nancy Petroski, Timothy Smith, Margot Stiles, Imre and Janet Szlagyi, Steve Taylor, Mac and Molly Thornton, Barry and Kitty Tuscano, Charlie and Sandy Walbridge, Wick Walker, Jeff Byard - West Virginia Trails Association, Barry Whittaker, and Fred Wright.  

American Whitewater plans to transfer the land to the West Virginia Land Trust for long term stewardship. They will ensure that the land is managed for its conservation and recreational values in perpetuity, including guaranteed paddler access and the potential for trail development. Before that transfer happens, we need to be certain the resources for perpetual stewardship are in place. Right now we need to raise funds to complete the transfer, and seed a stewardship endowment to guarantee long term management. Our grass-roots fundraising goal is $75,000. Any donations received in excess of our goal will be directed toward additional river access and protection opportunities. 

To give, please follow this link and put “Big Sandy Fund” at the bottom of the form: 



Kevin Colburn

Asheville, NC

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