Partnership Protects Iconic West Virginia Whitewater and Hiking Destination

Cheat Canyon, one of West Virginia’s most iconic landscapes and a magnet for outdoor recreation, will be protected for future generations by a conservation partnership that includes The Nature Conservancy, The Conservation Fund, and the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, the groups announced today.

The Conservation Fund, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, has acquired 3,800 acres along a seven mile stretch of the Cheat River. The Nature Conservancy will retain 1,300 acres of the property as a new nature preserve, with funding from a bequest from the estate of Charlotte Ryde. Over the coming two years, the remaining land will be transferred to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, which will manage it as a complement to the complex of public recreation lands on the lower Cheat River.

When completed, the $7 million project will conserve most of the Canyon not already included in Cooper’s Rock State Forest and Snake Hill Wildlife Management Area, conserving the spectacular scenic and natural values of the canyon and improving future public access for fishing, hunting, hiking, and whitewater rafting.

Cheat Canyon is a deep gorge through which the Cheat River flows between Rowlesburg in Preston County to Cheat Lake in Monongalia County, and is best known as the view from Cooper’s Rock and as a popular whitewater rafting destination. The property being acquired includes the entire section of the canyon used for commercial rafting.

“This is exciting news for the Mountain State,” West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said. “Through this partnership, thousands of acres along Cheat River will be opened for public recreation—providing new opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, right here at home.”

The canyon is home to a diversity of wildlife from the endangered Indiana bat to more common species like black bears, otters, and bald eagles, and is the only place on Earth where the federally listed and threatened Cheat threetooth snail occurs.

The Conservation Fund negotiated the purchase from its current owner, The Forestland Group, a timber investment firm. The Nature Conservancy is providing $3 million in private funding and is acquiring 2300 acres of the property, and will retain 1300 acres as the new Charlotte Ryde Nature Preserve. The remaining acreage is to be subsequently acquired by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. Additional funding is coming from moneys dedicated for land conservation from the West Virginia Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund, a $1.5 million grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, and $400,000 from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection In Lieu Fee Program.

“This is one of the most beloved landscapes in West Virginia. It is, in many ways, the New River Gorge of northern West Virginia,” said Rodney Bartgis, state director of The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia. “We’re looking forward to this project fulfilling the hopes of so many outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. The substantial investment the Conservancy is making in this project reflects our commitment to this landscape.”

Both The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy expressed appreciation to the West Virginia congressional delegation, especially Senators Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin and Rep. Nick Rahall and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, for their support of the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund that helps to make efforts like these possible.

“We’re particularly grateful to Governor Tomblin for recognizing the value of this landscape to West Virginians,” said Reggie Hall, West Virginia state director for The Conservation Fund. “The conservation of the property’s distinctive ecosystems, including the scenic viewshed along a premier springtime rafting route, will be a victory shared by wildlife and recreational enthusiasts alike.”

Once acquired, the Division of Natural Resources will manage the property as a component of its Wildlife Management Area system. The project also provides the opportunity to reopen a section of the 330-mile Allegheny Trail that had to be re-routed after it was closed off by a previous owner. Although the river has suffered some pollution from past mining activities, water quality is steadily recovering, thanks to decades of work and millions of dollars in investments by local people, state agencies, and groups like Friends of Cheat. As a result, the river boasts a growing number of smallmouth bass.

Article written by The Nature Conservancy.