THE BEGINNING OF FRIENDS OF THE CHEAT
In the spring of 1994, polluted water from a large, illegally-sealed, underground coal mine in Albright, WV poured tens of thousands of gallons of concentrated acid mine drainage (AMD) into Muddy Creek. This massive release of polluted mine water entered the main stem of the Cheat River just upstream of the Cheat Canyon, and turned the river orange for miles leaving a bathtub ring of iron sludge along the rocks. As a result, the river gained national attention for its polluted waters, not epic whitewater. Concerned citizens and stakeholders organized Friends of the Cheat to address the problems resulting from over a century of coal mining, and has focused its resources towards restoring the river from AMD ever since.
FRIENDS OF THE CHEAT’S MISSION IS TO RESTORE, PRESERVE, AND PROMOTE THE OUTSTANDING NATURAL QUALITIES OF THE CHEAT RIVER WATERSHED.
- Since 1994, FOC and its partners have implemented 20 acid mine drainage (AMD) treatment systems on abandoned mine lands in the lower Cheat River watershed.
- The Cheat River main stem has been removed from the state’s list of impaired waters for mining-related impacts. Big Sandy Creek and Sovern Run are also on the verge of removal from this list.
- FOC works with community stakeholders and technical experts to understand and revitalize brownfields in the lower Cheat River watershed to spur economic growth, protect public health, and promote environmentally-friendly redevelopment.
- In partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and local landowners, FOC works to improve riparian health (streambank) along in the Cheat watershed through free native tree planting.
- FOC worked with organizational and agency partners to advance the purchase and preservation of the Cheat River Canyon wilderness area for conservation and recreation. The Cheat Mountain salamander, three-toothed flat spired land snail, Indiana bat, and West Virginia northern flying squirrel are endangered and protected species within the watershed.
- FOC is working to remove the Albright Power Station Dam in order to reconnect 75 miles of the Cheat River. The Albright Dam sits approximately midway on the Cheat River, blocking fish and other aquatic species from moving freely through the main stem and connecting tributaries.
- FOC is involved in a myriad of recreation and land stewardship projects that build the river’s and its community’s potential to support outdoor recreation. FOC and its partners share a vision of the Cheat River watershed as an outdoor playground: the area’s natural qualities spur economic development and local pride; communities grow new or enhance existing businesses to complement outdoor activities like biking, hiking, and fishing; and area residents further benefit from easy access to affordable and safe exercise options.
- As West Virginia’s first commercially-rafted river, the Cheat River has a legendary reputation for its whitewater. The area also attracts creek boaters and niche paddlers from across the world. FOC directly supports area paddling by maintaining five whitewater access points and critical access roads both public and private.
- FOC develops local trails including the Upper Cheat River Water Trail and Cheat River Rail-Trail. The water trail features nine access sites along about 40 miles of Class I water. The Cheat River Rail-Trail will follow the river from Rowlesburg north towards the Cheat Canyon, was a long-term project of FOC and its Preston Rail-Trail Committee.
- Through our Education and Outreach program, FOC introduces thousands of people to the Cheat River each year. FOC teaches students of all ages through informal presentations, hands-on learning, and special partnerships ranging from the local 4H camp to large music festivals. Hundreds of college students are exposed to the Cheat River community through service-learning projects such as litter clean ups, water sampling, and trail maintenance. FOC staff educate local service clubs and other lifelong learners throughout the year.