Flood damage closes roads to national forest, national park recreation sites

SAM OWENS | Gazette-Mail file photo
Pocahontas County seen from the Highland Scenic Highway on November 9, 2015.

Roads serving popular camping and fishing sites along the Williams and Cranberry rivers in the Monongahela National Forest and heavily used kayak, raft and climbing access points in the New River Gorge National River remain closed due to multiple washouts and slides that took place during last week’s historic flooding.

Williams River Road between Tea Creek Campground and the Webster County community of Dyer is closed for an indefinite period, as is Cranberry River Road north of Richwood, which provides access to Forest Road 76 and a series of campsites, campgrounds and fishing sites along the Cranberry River.

Williams River Road remains open upstream of Tea Creek Campground, but the dispersed campsites along the road upstream of its intersection with the Highlands Scenic Highway are covered in mud from receding floodwaters, according to a forest bulletin. Cranberry River Trail from Holcomb to the Cranberry’s confluence with the Gauley River is closed, and trailhead bridges for the Pocahontas and Eagle Cap along W.Va. 39 have been washed away.

The Cranberry Mountain Nature Center at the intersection of W.Va. 39 and the Highlands Scenic Highway, the Gauley Ranger District Office near Richwood and the White Sulphur Springs Ranger District office were all undamaged but remain closed until power is restored.

Personnel and heavy equipment from the inter-agency Eastern Area Incident Management Team are scheduled to arrive in Marlinton this week to assess repair needs and begin clean-up and restoration work.

In the National Park Service’s New River Gorge National River, Fayette Station Road between Lansing and Fayetteville remains closed due to multiple slides and downed trees, blocking access to a put-in, take-out site for paddlers below Fayette Station Rapids and several climbing routes.

Also closed due to washouts is Panther Mountain Road, the Nicholas County route used by kayakers and raft outfitters to reach the Mason Branch and Woods Ferry stream access facilities in the National Park Service’s Gauley River National Recreation Area. About 10 miles upstream at Summersville Dam, water was being released from Summersville Lake at a rate of more than 15,000 cubic feet per second on Tuesday — more than five times the volume of releases made during the fall Gauley River whitewater season — in an effort to draw the lake down to its normal summer pool and provide storage capacity for future flood control.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials said the lake elevation rose 37.4 feet during a 24 hour period Thursday and Friday following historic rainfall in the Gauley River watershed and peaked at 40 feet above its normal summer pool level, the second-highest point in the reservoir’s history, on Friday.

By Tuesday afternoon, the lake elevation had dropped to 25 feet above summer pool, but a ban on all boating remained in effect until the lake level stabilizes and a 20-acre patch of drifting debris can be removed from its surface.

All Corps of Engineers campgrounds, marinas, beaches and boat launch areas at Summersville Lake also remain closed.

Daily updates on the status of lake conditions and closures are available by calling 304-872-5809.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com, 304-348-5169, or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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