Land that fronts a six-mile stretch of the Gauley River Canyon below Summersville Dam has been bought by the West Virginia Land Trust for eventual transfer to the National Park Service’s Gauley River National Recreation Area.
The property, formerly owned by Bright Forestland Properties of Summersville, Larry Deitz and the Anne E. Deitz Trust, had once been considered for development as a residential recreation site.
“The Retreat at Carnifex Ferry was the name of the project,” said Bill Bright, one of the former landowners. “It was a play on words for the Confederate retreat across the Gauley after the  Battle of Carnifex Ferry. The Confederate troops came down an old road to the ferry site in the middle of the night to make their escape. Part of that road’s on the property.
“It’s a very historic and a very beautiful piece of property right in the middle of Gauley Canyon, and we’re very pleased that we were able to work out an agreement with the Land Trust to preserve it for all of West Virginia.”
The tract, formerly owned by the Bright and the Deitz families, is one of the largest private inholdings remaining within the 25,000-acre proclamation boundary of the Gauley River National Recreation Area. It includes land on both sides of the Gauley, in both Nicholas and Fayette counties.
The acquisition of the 665-acre tract of canyonland “represents the culmination of many months of cooperative discussions with owners who chose to forgo their own development plans in favor of protecting some of West Virginia’s most iconic land,” said Brent Bailey, executive director of the West Virginia Land Trust. “Not only will the views in the canyon be protected, but the essence of West Virginia’s beauty will continue to be on display for the thousands of people who visit the Gauley River each year.”
The Gauley River National Recreation Area is probably best known for its world-class whitewater, which draws more than 60,000 raft riders and kayak paddlers annually. In the course of its 25-mile run through the National Park Service-managed land, the Gauley tumbles through more than 100 rapids and drops nearly 670 feet. The Gauley National Recreation Area also includes the last five miles of the Meadow River.
“Preserving the landscape is always one of our main goals, so the acquisition of the property by the West Virginia Land Trust is something we’re very pleased about,” said Robin Snyder, spokeswoman for the New River Gorge National River, which administers Gauley River National Recreation Area. “The agreement means that the natural landscape will be preserved forever for hikers, bikers, kayakers and other recreationists to enjoy.”
The tract acquired by the Land Trust includes more than two miles of a former rail grade, which would have been closed to the public had the residential development gone through. “Instead, this rail grade can now be considered as an important link in the National Park Service’s plans for more than 14 miles of hiking and biking trails within the Gauley River National Recreation Area,” Bailey said.
Once transferred to the National Park Service, the new tract will help “open up hiking access” and allow the NPS to tie into a new rail-trail system taking shape along the Meadow River between Rainelle and Meadow Bridge that could eventually extend into Nicholas and Kanawha counties, according to Robin Snyder, spokeswoman for the New River Gorge National River. “It’s not something that will happen tomorrow,” she said, “but it will fit into our long-term plans for rail-trail development.”
While fall is the primary season for whitewater action on the Gauley, “rafting companies run the Gauley all year long,” said Dave Arnold, vice president of Adventures on the Gorge. When water levels in the Gauley are low, stream access in the National Recreation Area becomes problematic, Arnold said. “With this acquisition, we now have a potential public access point.”
While a new public access point has not been identified, “it’s something we will work on with outfitters and private boaters in the future,” Snyder said.
Most of the property involved in the acquisition lies downstream from Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park and the Meadow River’s confluence with the Gauley. From there, the tract includes both sides of the canyon, from river level to rim, downstream to the Iron Ring rapids.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5169.