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Coal River Group readies rental kayaks

Kenny Kemp
Paddling the Coal River in the shadow of the Tornado Bridge are, from left, Kali Cuttaia, Sara Cottingham, Bryan Shamblin and Kellen Currey.
TORNADO, W.Va. -- Bill Currey believes that the more people you can get to try paddling on the Coal River, the greater the interest will be in preserving and restoring the 100-mile river system.That's one reason the Coal River Group, the watershed protection organization Currey co-founded in 2004, has assembled a fleet of 35 rental kayaks and canoes and is offering three self-guided trips from its headquarters in Meadowood Park at Tornado.If the CRG's Coal River Kayak and Canoe Rental enterprise makes a little money, that's icing on the cake, since "every penny we make goes into our river restoration program," Currey said.Earlier this year, the CRG bought and expanded on the kayak and canoe livery service created in 2010 by former Division of Environmental Protection inspector and supervisor Bill Simmons, who was looking for an opportunity to retire from his second career.During the peak summer season, the business will be run by a group of college interns -- Bryan Shamblin of West Virginia University, Kali Cuttaia of the University of Charleston and Lauren Carte of Marshall University. Sara Cottingham of VISTA's Appalachian Coal Country Team is supervising the trio.The three interns have received hands-on training and are already keeping busy -- mainly on weekends, so far -- with renting and shuttling canoes and kayaks.The most popular trip is a seven-mile float back to the CRG headquarters, and Coal River Kayak and Canoe Rental office."It starts from Lock 4, part of the lock and dam system used on the Coal River in the 1860s," said Shamblin. "A lot of it is still visible."
The take-out point for the trip is a ramp built last year near the entrance to Meadowood Park, in the shadow of the Tornado Bridge.A second trip departs from just below Upper Falls at Meadowood Park, and descends the Coal River six miles to a take-out at Lower Falls, while a third trip continues on beyond Lower Falls for an additional six miles to a ramp at Gateway Shopping Center in St. Albans.All trips are suitable for beginning paddlers.Cost of the rentals, including personal floatation devices, paddles and shuttle service, is $35 for solo kayaks, and $65 for tandem kayaks and canoes. Angler-friendly kayaks equipped with rod holders and adjustable seats are also available. Rental boats are also available for paddlers to pick up and transport themselves for float trips upstream of the three trips now being offered. The interns operating the kayak and canoe rental business will receive college credit for their work, and thanks in part to a grant from Toyota, scholarships at the end of their otherwise-unpaid time on the Coal River. The interns will also use GPS technology to map key landmarks along the 88-mile Coal River Walhonde Water Trail, and help with marketing and youth education programs for the CRG."Once people get on the river and see what's there, it's amazing how many of them get interested in helping us clean it up," said Currey. "Right now, we have a 600-person volunteer list that we expect to grow."For more information on Coal River Kayak and Canoe Rental and the Coal River Walhonde Water Trail, visit
Reach Rick Steelhammer at or 304-348-5169. 
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