A new website and a free, downloadable cellphone app are making it easier for paddlers to travel the Coal River Walhonde Water Trail and find nearby kayak rental outfitters, restaurants, campgrounds and historic points of interest.
Launched last week by the Coal River Group, the watershed organization that developed the 88-mile water trail and opened it nine years ago, the new digital amenities are part of an effort by the CRG to attract and retain new water trail users.
Growing interest in flatwater kayaking “is bringing hundreds of new visitors to the Coal River Watershed,” said Bill Currey, chairman of the Coal River Group. “These people need better information about the water trail. The key to bringing tourism to our rural region is to take away any fears or concerns but safety and make the planning of a kayak trip user friendly.”
To create the new website, found at www.coalriverwatertrail.org, the watershed group recruited volunteers Eric Meadows, owner of Appalachian Geographic and IT Solutions of Charleston, Eric Bourland of ebwebwork.com in Washington, D.C., Matt Thompson of St. Albans and John Turner of Madison to come up with design and content.
Some of the site’s most eye-catching visual images come from a project coordinated by Turner, in which drones mounted with video cameras show each of the 17 designated boat launch sites along the water trail from all angles of approach.
The website also has information on the game fish to be found in each segment of the Coal River System (Little Coal, Big Coal and Coal rivers), a driving tour that parallels the water trail, maps showing the water trail’s 12 paddling segments, ranging from 3 to 15 miles, along with their and put-in and take-out sites, and links to constantly updating river gages to determine current stream depths for comparison with site-accessible charts listing depths for optimum paddling conditions.
Most restaurants and many sites of interest along the water trail, including the Coal Museum in Madison and the Upper Big Branch Memorial in Whitesville, are listed in the new mobile phone app, developed by Meadows. The free app also lists mosts restaurants along the water trail, along with all boat launch ramps, water trail segments and kayak rental locations. It can be downloaded at www.coalriverwatertrail.org.
The state’s first official water trail initially was named the Walhonde Water Trail, using the Delaware Indian word for the Coal River. In recent years, the CRG has changed the name to Coal River Walhonde Water Trail to make it easier for users to identify the river on maps and online.
Other West Virginia water trails have been developed on sections of the Elk, Cheat and Upper Monongahela rivers, as well as a section of the Ohio River Water Trail, which stretches from Pittsburgh to Newell in Hancock County. A water trail also is under development along the Guyandotte River.
The CRG holds numerous clean-up efforts along the route of the water trail, which includes parts of Kanawha, Lincoln and Boone counties, and hosts the annual 12-mile Tour De Coal float event from Upper Falls near Tornado to St. Albans, which drew more than 1,000 participants from 15 states earlier this year.
Currey credits the growing popularity of flatwater kayaks, which are less expensive than their whitewater cousins, with putting increasing numbers of paddlers on the Coal River Walhonde Water Trail.
“I understand that Dick’s Sporting Goods in Southridge mall is one of that company’s best-selling stores for kayaks” among about 500 outlets in the retail chain, Currey said.
The growth of fishing and paddling along the Coal is “proof that clean water means business,” he said.