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Tour de Coal 2018

Kayakers descend a slope to reach the Coal River at the beginning of the 2018 Tour de Coal in St. Albans.

After COVID-19 concerns forced the cancellation of last year’s Yak Fest outdoor riverbank music festival and the annual Tour de Coal group float down the Coal River, both events are returning this weekend to their host city of St. Albans, where thousands of paddlers and river lovers are expected to celebrate their revival.

Yak Fest gets underway Friday at Olde Maine Street in St. Albans, with the first of four free outdoor concerts starting at 4 p.m. On Saturday, a six-performance lineup starts at 2 p.m., and ends at 10 p.m. Paddling vendors, art and craft exhibitors, food trucks and craft beer stands will also be on hand both days.

Guitar virtuosos Robert Shafer and Robin Kessinger, who both have won the National Flatpicking Guitar Championship, are the first act to take the Yak Fest stage on Friday, followed at 5 p.m. by Kentucky singer-songwriter-guitarist Darrin Hacquard. At 6 p.m., North Carolina “Appalachian Rock” practitioners Big Daddy Love start a two-hour set, followed by the evening’s headline act, the West Virginia-grown Davisson Brothers.

Saturday’s music program starts at 2 p.m. with a set by St. Albans’ own Anne Melton, an 18-year-old alternative country artist. At 3 p.m., the Boone County-based Swivel Rockers will take the stage, followed at 4 p.m. by the Kanawha Valley’s Sonic Threshold. At 5 p.m., the four-man Americana jam band Weary Space Traveler begins an hour-long set, followed by Juicy, a Charleston band with a four-decade catalog of classic rock covers.

At 8 p.m., Stratus, a Kanawha Valley band that has performed around the world on Department of Defense-sponsored tours of military bases, will provide the festival’s final two-hours of live music.

More than 1,500 kayak and canoe enthusiasts are expected to take part in Saturday’s 17th edition of the Tour de Coal, a 12-mile flatwater float down the final stretch of the 88-mile Coal River Water Trail. The Tour is the primary fundraising event for the Coal River Group, a watershed organization formed 17 years ago that has sponsored numerous clean-up, stream improvement and tourism promotion projects involving the Coal River system.

“We just love to see so many great people coming to St. Albans with their boats, ready to have a good time on a river we have almost completely cleaned up,” said Bill Currey, co-founder and board president of the Coal River Group.

The Tour de Coal, which typically draws more than 1,000 paddlers from 20 states annually, is now the nation’s second-largest flatwater river event, surpassed only by the annual Ohio River Paddlefest in Cincinnati, where a 9-mile float draws an average of 2,000 paddlers.

Brewster Rhoads, who founded Ohio River Paddlefest 20 years ago, is taking part in this year’s Tour de Coal, according to Currey. “He’s coming here with his wife and he’s invited friends from Paddlefest to join them here,” he said. “It’s quite a compliment.”

An army of nearly 200 volunteers and 14 major sponsors help make the Tour de Coal possible, Currey said.

Having as many as 1,500 paddlers participating in the event this year, he said, “is a major sign of success for the long years we worked to not just clean up a dirty river, but grow the local economy.”

The Coal River Group planned, developed and promotes the Coal River Water Trail, which extends into Boone and Lincoln counties, and encourages the development of new businesses serving river recreation along the paddling route.

Registration for the Tour de Coal can be handled online at the Coal River Group’s website, www.coalrivergroup.com, until noon Thursday, and on both Thursday and Friday at the organization’s cabin at Meadowood Park.

For a $5 fee, paddlers may leave canoes and kayaks at the Coal River Group headquarters at Meadowood Park on Friday to save a shuttle run on Saturday.

A fleet of six loaned shuttle vans and a pair of 55-seat KRT buses will shuttle Tour de Coal participants between Meadowood Park and secure parking areas in St. Albans. The take-out point for the event is located at the Gateway shopping center.

For more information, visit www.coalrivergroup.com, email coalrivergroup@gmail.com, or call 304-722-3055.

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