Plans for developing put-in and take-out facilities, a portage trail, changing rooms and other amenities to accommodate paddlers and anglers taking advantage of recreational releases from Hawks Nest Dam starting later this year have been completed by Brookfield Renewable, the dam’s operator.
As part of the license renewal process for the dam and related hydroelectric project, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission required Brookfield to develop a recreation management plan for those using the 5.5-mile section of the New River from which water to power the hydro plant is diverted. If approved, the plan, now before FERC for final review, is to be implemented by Brookfield, at its expense, and completed by June 22.
Under other terms of its license renewal, Brookfield, the operator of the 85-year-old Hawks Nest Hydroelectric Project, will make nine annual pulsed releases of 2,200 to 2,500 cubic feet per second from the dam to accommodate whitewater rafting and kayaking. The releases will be made on to-be-announced weekend days, starting with two dates in late March, with the rest occurring sometime from late June through early August.
FERC also requires Brookfield and Hawks Nest Hydropower to increase minimum flow releases from the dam, now set at 100 cubic feet per second year-round, to 150 cfs from July through February, 300 cfs in March and April, and 250 cfs May through June to enhance habitat for fish and other aquatic animals.
The pulsed releases will allow rafting outfitters to offer their customers a relatively brief but scenic ride through less-than-extreme whitewater from the W.Va. 16 bridge over the New River at Cotton Hill to Gauley Bridge.
Brookfield plans to build a changing facility and install new picnic tables and a portable toilet at the Cotton Hill put-in site, where 22 new parking spaces and two turn-around areas would also be added.
A take-out site adjacent to the existing New River Campground, along U.S. 60 at Gauley Bridge, is also planned. It would include parking for seven vehicles and seven boats and trailers, plus bus turnarounds at each end of the parking area.
A new trail connecting with existing trails at Hawks Nest State Park above the dam and with a Brookfield access road below the dam would be built and opened to hikers, bikers and paddlers making portages between Hawks Nest Lake and the Dries.
According to comments on the plan by New River Gorge National River Superintendent Lizzie Watts, the new trail “will be a key segment to connecting northwestern Fayette County communities to each other and to the New River Gorge National River.”
Among comments submitted by American Whitewater, a national conservation-oriented paddlers’ organization, were concerns over inadequate parking capacity at the put-in and take-out areas.
Brookfield “proposes a total of 22 parking spaces at the put-in for the New River Dries at Cotton Hill and 14 parking spaces at the take-out area for a total capacity of 36 parking spaces,” observed Kevin Colburn, American Whitewater’s national stewardship director. “Assuming an average of 2.5 people per car, the planned facilities will have a capacity for around 90 paddlers. We expect use to exceed this capacity, but time will tell.”
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, which would assume ownership of the Gauley Bridge take-out site, commented that a boat ramp should be included at that facility.