The Coal River Tour De Coal will take place for the 15th year on Saturday, June 15, with 1,600 or more kayakers anticipated to enter the Coal River waters for the fundraising paddle and float trip from 8 to 11 a.m.
The river route will conclude at the Gateway Shopping Center in St. Albans.
Bill Currey, Tour De Coal chairman and co-founder of the Tornado-based Coal River Group, said preparations have been underway for the yearly event since January.
He noted that last year’s float trip had more than 1,600 people register to take part, with another 500 joining in downstream, making it the largest turnout in Tour De Coal history. As many as 1,600 kayakers — if not more — are also expected this year, with registrants signing up from 18 states and counting.
Proceeds from the 12-mile river float subsidize the ongoing river cleanup, maintenance and education programs provided by the Coal River Group. Each paddler is asked to make a $25 donation to participate.
“We make sure everyone who makes a donation gets one of our classic Tour De Coal T-shirts,” Currey said. “The most important thing we do is to organize all the community emergency personnel and set up a wide variety of traffic and safety plans to accommodate the expected 1,600 visitors to the river.
“The important part of the Tour De Coal has been that it has championed the cleanup of the Coal Rivers for over 15 years,” he said. “It has provided the communities of Tornado and St. Albans with a major outdoor, recreation-based event that is now being recognized nationally as one of the two largest flatwater paddling events in the United States.”
The City of St. Albans will host its Yak Fest music and craft beer festival, for the second year, in conjunction with the Tour De Coal, on Friday, June 14, and Saturday, June 15. Yak Fest activities will be held on Olde Main Street in downtown St. Albans.
“When I was elected mayor, one of the first things I did was approach Bill Currey about having a festival in conjunction with the Tour De Coal,” St. Albans Mayor Scott James said. “I didn’t want to step on his toes, and he does a lot of great things for our community.”
In its debut year in 2018, James said, Yak Fest earned a #1 Outdoor Festival in West Virginia ranking by StepOutside.org.
“It was estimated between the two days of Yak Fest, between 7,000 and 8,000 people came to Olde Main Street,” James said.
The mayor added that the musical entertainment lineup this year will include several local artists as well as Friday’s headlining act, Mountain Heart, a multiple-Grammy-nominated group from Nashville, and Saturday’s headliner, West Virginia-based Fletchers Grove.
“We’re excited. Good things are happening. We hope to have as good a crowd or better than we had last year,” James said.
“Tourism for our communities, now that we have clean water, is the basis of economic growth for our region,” Currey said, “and we are proud to have created a uniquely popular event which the public seems to love. It’s not a race, but, rather, a community’s celebration of its most important natural resource: its rivers.”
Currey said the Tour De Coal has enjoyed its decade and a half of success through the support of the Moses Auto Group, its primary sponsor. Other donors and contributors include City National Bank, Appalachian Power, West Virginia American Water Company and Dick’s Sporting Goods, along with seven smaller businesses that have subsidized the Coal River Group’s programs.
Community groups also dive in to help, Currey said. “The Coal River Group is proud of the involvement of all the local communities in the program. Groups who help include the volunteer fire departments from Tornado, West Side and Lakewood, plus personnel from the St. Albans Fire and Police departments and citizen volunteers. Then we have help from the St. Albans High School baseball team and the employees from O’Reilly Auto Parts who help with the Gateway boat landing. They help tired paddlers until 5:30 p.m. get out of their boats at the finish line safely. The City of St. Albans always help with supplies, and they clean up and cut brush around the river fronts to pretty up the site for our many visitors,” he said.
“The Tour De Coal is an anomaly in so many ways, because it’s so large,” Currey said. “We started humbly on a very small river as a community event. What we’re excited about is the number of residents who live on the 12-mile strip it goes through — how many are having their own ancillary parties to go along with the float, using it to bring their own families in for the weekend. The families cheer the paddlers going downstream.
“It’s grown in popularity,” he said, “and that popularity has extended out to the community at such a broad base. We don’t want to be in the music business; our goal is to get people on the river and have a good time. I told the mayor, ‘You do the music, beer and food, and we’ll do the river.’
“This is a community float. It’s not a race, in any way, shape or form. It’s for everyone to get on the river and simply enjoy the work we’ve done to clean it up and make it more beautiful,” Currey said.
Go to coalrivergroup.com to register or read more information about Saturday’s Tour de Coal.
For more information regarding Yak Fest, including participants, entertainment and vendor details, visit yakfestwv.com