Tag Archives: recreation

Hope Floats

Summer is packed with reasons to go outside – fishing, boating, or just taking a walk. On a somewhat cloudy and misty June day, 160 paddlers from 6 states went outside to Float the Fork from Good Hope, West Virginia to West Milford – 6 miles downstream. Indeed, after 9 years of negotiations, plans, and hard work, folks were ready to go outside and celebrate a restored West Fork River!

Removing three dams on the river back in 2016 improved boat access and fish passage along the West Fork. But perhaps more importantly to local residents like Clarksburg Water Board Member Al Cox, the river could become a tourist destination and a place to hold fun community events.

Guardians of the West Fork Watershed hosted the first event on June 2, 2018 – Float the Fork – along with partners including American Rivers, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, West Milford United Methodist Church, the town of West Milford and the Service’s West Virginia Field Office and Appalachian Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office. The Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center, CKB Airport also helped shuttle paddlers to and from the river.

Afterwards, everyone enjoyed a picnic with food from local vendors and learned about plans for West Milford Park.

It’s the end of the Float, but not the end of the celebration. Credit_ Haley Hutchins, AmeriCorpsJPG

A river walking trail and park are a couple of the other projects that have been launched by the collaboration hoping to restore the river’s recreational and economic potential.

The West Fork River flows north 103 miles, meandering through the valleys of north-central West Virginia until it joins with the Tygart Valley River to form the Monongahela River (or the Mon’ as the locals would say).

Although the area is dominated by forest and pasture land, coal mining had been a mainstay of the region’s economic livelihood from the 1800s to the 1970s.

In the early 1900s, four small dams were constructed south of Clarksburg, WV  – the West Milford, Two Lick, Highland, and Hartford – for drinking water and irrigation.

The dams blocked the river for more than a century. By the late 1990s, the West Fork River and its 98 tributaries were on West Virginia DEP’s list of impaired rivers. Three of the dams became obsolete after the construction of the Stonewall Jackson Dam in 1996.

After a series of tragic accidents, landowners, county officials, state and federal agencies, and a community watershed group came together to navigate a solution for repairing the broken river.

The West Virginia Field Office and Appalachian FWCO proposed removing the obsolete West Milford, Two Lick and Highland Dams. Problems at the Hartford Dam would be mitigated by installing fish passage modifications. Removing barriers to fish passage  would improve and increase the amount of suitable habitat for fish and other aquatic life, as well as, improve fishing and boating opportunities, promote safety, improve water quality, and reduce flood risks to nearby communities.

The project took years of building trust and planning. Eventually, the collaboration gained community support to move forward with the project – remove the dams, restore the river-banks, and build a trail and park that would connect everyone to the river. A cleanup effort led by the Service and volunteers removed more than 61,000 pounds of trash from the river – including 1,212 tires, several televisions, and even a car.

This would mark West Virginia’s most significant river restoration effort and first dam removal project. Since the deconstruction of these century old dams in 2016, fish move freely through 491 miles of streams and tributaries. And the Clarksburg Water Board reports a savings of at least $50,000 dollars a year in water treatment costs.

Damages to the environment can take a lifetime to repair. But removing the ‘kinks in the line,’ allowing rivers and streams to run free, can go a long way towards restoring rivers and the quality of our water. When nature takes its course, sediments are distributed naturally and sustain good fish habitat, nutrients and contaminants break down as they move through the system, and fish return.

More of the beautiful West Fork, WV. Credit_ Haley Hutchins, AmeriCorps

The West Fork River restoration shows us how hope, integrity and perseverance can be a catalyst for restoration and how it doesn’t always take decades to see results.The actual repair and resulting improvements took only 2 years to realize.

I don’t live in West Virginia, and may never get to the West Fork, but I feel a lot better knowing another place in our world has been restored. Thanks for giving us hope y’all!

Weathering the storm: piping plovers flock to Long Island beaches

If you live in the Northeast, you won’t soon forget 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. But there is one storm story you may have yet to hear.

Along some areas of the Long Island coast, strong winds and waves washed over the beaches, spreading out sand to create the sandy, open spaces that the island’s winged residents rely on for nesting. For biologists, the restored beach habitat was a sign of hope for the threatened piping plover, whose numbers had been precariously low in New York.

An example of an overwash area on Fire Island Wilderness area Photo credit: USFWS

Researchers from Virginia Tech investigated the effects of Sandy on Long Island with the help of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, Suffolk County, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In comparing 2010 and 2015 plover habitat areas and population abundances, they found a substantial increase in suitable habitat and a modest population increase. Notably, more than half of the new habitat on Fire Island and Westhampton Island was created during the storm, with the rest of the habitat engineered by the Corps.

Outreach Coordinator Bret Serbin with Long Island Field Office biologists at the Fire Island Wilderness area. From left: Steve Papa, Kerri Dikun, Bret Serbin, and Steve Sinkevich. Photo credit: USFWS

This increase in available habitat likely contributed to the 40.6 percent increase in plover population on Fire Island and Westhampton Island since the hurricane. This boost is a welcome addition for the bird, which faces numerous threats and is struggling to reach the goal of 575 pairs set out in the federal recovery plan. The researchers also found that the number of nesting pairs in the area has increased over the past 5 years, and they are optimistic that 2018 will be a year of continued productivity for the birds in the area.

Since piping plover chicks have to forage for themselves, plovers like to build nests on flat open beaches close to the shoreline where they have easy access to the tiny invertebrates that they feed on. By creating a number of new overwashes and breaches, Sandy helped expand the territory where plovers and their chicks can live, eat, and grow before their winter journey.

A rare sight: an abundance of piping plovers! Photo credit: USFWS

The reaction from the local plover population has been telling: among new and returning plovers at each beach in the study area, more than 80 percent chose the newly-created habitats to build their nests. And the new plovers exclusively nested in these new areas, completely avoiding the less favorable habitat that existed before Sandy’s contributions. The Hurricane Sandy beach redesign seems popular among the plovers.

This new habitat inches the birds one step closer towards recovery. But what the researchers call a “modest increase” in population is still a long way off from the desired plover population on Long Island. And since much of the newly created habitat is not in protected areas, only time will tell how long and how much the birds will really be able to enjoy these new spaces. To recover this species and others that depend on storm-generated habitat, we must look for solutions that balance shorebird habitat creation while protecting human infrastructure so that we can both weather the storm.

15 year-old Georgia Roberts takes a bow as a national qualifier

One day of practice at the Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge led to a year of success for 15 year-old Georgia Roberts, a White Knoll High School athlete and qualifier for archery National’s. Roberts began shooting with the Refuge Complex Administrative Support Assistant Stacie Allison four years ago, justifying that one day at a National Wildlife Refuge can spark genuine interest and passion in the life of a teenager.

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“I had always seen the movies and the cool archers on tv and thought, ‘oh that looks pretty cool,’” Roberts began to tell me, “but I never actually tried it until that day.”

It was 2010 and Roberts was staying with her grandparents during a hot, summer month close to the Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge. Beverley, Georgia’s grandmother, had a close relationship to Stacie Allison at the complex, and asked if Allison would be willing to give Georgia and her cousin Tessa a lesson, too. “Georgia was a natural and caught on right away” said Allison, “An impressive display of caring from someone that young.”

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This September, Roberts will be going into her Sophomore year of high school and into her second year on the high school archery team. In March, the Archery team at White Knoll High School qualified as the only public school to compete in Nationals this year.

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Unfortunately, due to large transportation costs and rising scheduling issues, the team was unable to compete. “We have to raise money on our own. To do that, we’ve hosted tournaments.” Most of the financial success from the fundraisers come from parents, family, and friends.

Roberts has not since visited the Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge, but still recalls that first day of practice perfectly. Roberts is the epitome of how just one day, one session, and one hit can spark an uncharted passion in people of all ages.

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“I guess I haven’t seen [the Hunger Games] in a while, but I bet I could critique everything she was doing wrong if I watched it again” said Roberts about The Hunger Games series’ protagonist Katniss Everdeen. She continued, “I do like Hawkeye though, he’s pretty cool.”

The Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge consists of three refuges: The Refuge Complex is located at the Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck refuge, while the Occoquan Bay refuge and the Featherstone refuge complete the remainder. To get involved with a National Wildlife Refuge complex program click here.