The Gauley River is considered by many to be the ultimate big water river in the eastern US. The river, largely protected by the National Park Service, flows through a beautiful forested canyon and among massive house-sized boulders. The Gauley has become the economic backbone of an otherwise rural West Virginia county, and attracts paddlers from around the world. Paddlers have fought for protection and wise management of the river since the first descent in 1968.
Protection from Hydro Development
In 1968 plans were in the works for a second dam on the Gauley that would have flooded the entire stretch of river that now is treasured by paddlers for its class IV and V rapids. The dam would have been the largest earthen core dam in the world. Paddlers learned of these plans upon completing the first descent of the Gauley in 1968 and immediately made plans to oppose the damming of a whitewater river that would become a classic. On the second decent rapids were named and articles written, and outfitters were then introduced to the river. The first paddlers of the Gauley were activists. In an effort lead by Jim Stuart, petitions were signed and opposition organized against the dam. Thanks to this support, and a surveying error made in the initial plans for the dam, the plans to flood the Gauley died away and the river is now protected by the National Park Service. Score one for the paddling community!
On October 17th, 1986 Congress made whitewater recreation an official project purpose of the Summersville Dam requiring 20 scheduled releases during the fall drawdown of the reservoir. Congressman Nick Rahall introduced the language in an omnibus water projects bill. Paddlers began working with the Army Corps of Engineers who first provided formal scheduled releases in 1985, the first Corps project in the nation to manage flows for the benefit of whtiewater recreation. Congressional action was required to make whitewater recreation a purpose of the project. Prior to these efforts there was always uncertainty with regard to the fall draw down schedule which was often not effectively communicated to the public. We continue to provide input on the annual flow regime.
Providing Public Access
On the last day of the 104th Congress in 1996, legislation was passed (Public Law 104-333) requiring the National Park Service to purchase and develop an access at Woods Ferry for non-commercial river runners. Congressman Nick Rahall sponsored this legislation and inserted a provision that prohibited the Park Service from “acquiring or developing any other river access points within the recreation area” until completion of the Woods Ferry access. While welcoming this commitment to public access, AW raised concerns that this requirement to focus exclusively on Woods Ferry would hinder opportunities that might emerge at other sites along the river. After years of patience however the National Park Service purchased the Woods Ferry and Mason Branch access points from two West Virginia landowners in spring of 2008.
The Woods Ferry and Mason Branch, are both established put-in and take-out sites for boaters, kayakers, canoeists and rafters along the river between the public put-in at the Summersville Dam and the take-out at Swiss, almost 26 miles downstream. The National Park Service purchase from Lost Paddle Inc. and Janet and Imre Szilagyi will placed the property under the management team of the New River Gorge National River, Gauley River National Recreation Area and the Bluestone National Scenic River. American Whitewater continues to work with the Park Service to cooperatively manage private boater access for Masons Branch. We lease the most popular take-out from a private landowner, and are actively advocating for public purchase of all lands for sale in the Gauley's canyon.
Due to the limited amount of public land available at Mason's Branch, the narrowness of the road, and the retained rights of both the upstream and downstream adjacent landowners, the Park Service restricts private vehicle access on Saturdays and Sundays during the fall Gauley Season. Parking at Mason's Branch for private boaters is offered on Fridays and Mondays in the upper parking lot. The road and parking lots are closed to private vehicles on Saturdays and Sundays. To help with parking on the weekends, American Whitewater annually negotiates the lease of the Legg field above Mason's Branch. Subject to our annual agreement, the field is available throughout the fall Gauley season for private boater parking. The Park Service has made arrangements to provide a free boater shuttle service from Mason's Branch to the Legg field. This free service has worked well since the acquisition of the property and is a benefit to boaters who cannot park their personal vehicles at the take-out on the weekends.
Boaters who use the new public boat launch at Wood's Ferry will find two permanent restroom and changing facilities. The launches were hardened with surface material for traction and the grade was improved to make river access easier. Parking at Wood's Ferry has been managed with few restrictions but boaters are asked to park close together in an organized fashion to take advantage of all the available space and to create parking opportunities for other boaters.
An Open Letter to Gauley River (WV) Boaters
The rangers and staff of the Gauley River National Recreation Area have provided the boating community with a letter outlining what's in store for this year's Gauley season. As in previous years and to help with boater parking at Mason’s Branch, American Whitewater has leased the Legg field for additional space.
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