By Chris Lawrence
SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — There is no denying the recent explosion in popularity in kayaking in West Virginia. Sales of the paddle craft have gone off the charts at local sporting goods stores and demand has necessitated greater stream access along West Virginia’s small rivers.
The man who oversees the work on those access sites in West Virginia is Zack Brown, Assistant Chief of Operations for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. Stream access is one of the many tasks assigned to Brown, but even he will admit it’s one of the more high profile jobs on his desk each day.
“We have a fairly aggressive boating access program in the state,” he said. “If we have an access we consider a ‘carry-down’ access for kayaks and canoes, in most places, we try to build them so that you could put in a jon boat with a motor too.”
There are a high number of access projects on various waters across West Virginia. All are in various stages of development. In southern West Virginia, one project which is well underway and actually nearing completion is an improved access point on the Little Coal River south of Charleston.
“We had a former access which was no more than a muddy bank,” said Brown. “We’re in the process of converting that to a concrete ramp to carry down or back down craft and put them into the water.”
Also in southern West Virginia, the agency has plans for five new access points on the Elk River between Clendenin and Coonskin Park in Kanawha County. .
“Three of the sites already exist and two of them are new creations,” Brown explained. “The upgrades should be substantial and should make a series of nice, easily accessible float trips from Clendenin all the way down to Coonskin Park.”
The Elk River access in Kanawha County includes improvements to the existing ramp at the former water treatment plant in Clendenin. A new access will be built at a site Brown referred to as “Clendenin South” on property donated to the West Virginia DNR by FEMA.
Further downstream an existing access point at Blue Creek will be remodeled and improved. There will be a new access point created at Big Chimney on land donated by the Slack Family. The new site will be upstream of the Big Chimney Bridge. The final plans will be to improve the current access site at Coonskin Park.
Elsewhere in West Virginia, Brown said the agency is excited about two new access points which will create float fishing opportunities on the Meadow River which weren’t available before.
“The little community of Heinz is one of those access sites and a little further downstream will be an access at the community park,” said Brown. “We’re pretty excited about crating the float trip there.”
In the eastern panhandle plans are in the works for remodeling an access point at Stone Bridge on Opequon Creek. According to Brown the existing access point was scuttled when the Division of Highways did some work to move the bridge.
Finally, access work is also expected on the West Fork River where the entire stretch of water in Harrison County has been changed.
“U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took out some dams on the West Fork and left some of our access points high and dry,” said Brown. “We’ve had to do some work up there to reestablish our access points. We did install one at Good Hope and we’re working to install some others there.”
All of these are access points on the state’s smaller waterways and typically serve as launch points for canoes, kayaks, or small jon boats. Each project is paid for by West Virginia’s hunting and fishing license fees along with excise taxes on hunting and fishing gear as well as motor boat fuel in the United States through the Pittman-Robertson and Dingel-Johnson Acts.