A Williamson man is one of five West Virginians recently chosen by Gov. Jim Justice to serve as the first members of the state’s new Flatwater Trail Commission.
John Burchett, a Tug River advocate and community volunteer, was named to the newly formed commission on Feb. 5. The commission was created by the Legislature in 2020 to support a growing demand for water-based trails in the state.
In recent years, the popularity of recreational boating — whether it be via kayaks, paddleboards and motorboats — has generated interest in the sport throughout the state’s rural areas, which offer many rivers suitable for trail expansion.
The purpose of the commission is to assist and support the development of water trails by addressing opportunities to improve and coordinate approvals for trail development, while also providing a central clearing house for information on funding sources and technical assistance.
“There’s tremendous potential for economic develop along the river as well as recreational opportunities for the local and a tourism opportunity for people to come spend their money here,” Burchett said. “It ties in extremely well with the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System. It just gives those people another reason to come and another thing to do when they are here. It’s the second ride in our outdoor adventure amusement park, that’s the way I see it.”
Burchett, who is also a volunteer fireman, has been heavily involved in improvements along the Tug Fork River in the past few years. He organized a tire removal event in 2019 along with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection that saw 2,321 tires taken from a short stretch of the river.
He also spearheaded the low-intake dam mitigation project at the Williamson Water Plant which, when completed, would allow boaters to pass through without having to take to land and go around.
The dam currently creates a drowning hydraulic and is impassable for boaters.
Burchett said he was named to serve on the commission after Friends of the Tug Fork River founder Pete Runyon suggested him to Division of Natural Resources Steve McDaniel, who then recommended him to Justice.
The Flatwater Trail Commission is required to hold four meetings each year and will receive administrative support from the DNR.
Other members include Chairman Bill Currey of Kanawha County, George Levitsky of Marion County, Amanda Pitzer of Preston County and John Wilson of Harrison County.