Coal River event

Coal River event

June 30, 2006 Filed Under: Coal Mining, Mining Services  

A popular but dangerous spot near Upper Falls on the Coal River will be the launching point for an organized canoe cruise down the waterway Saturday, but Kanawha County officials say safety concerns won’t be an issue.

An estimated 100 canoes, kayaks and rafts will leave the area below Meadowood Park in Tornado for the Tour de Coal, an event that is part of St. Albans’ annual Riverfest.

Officials have been troubled by a section of the river with strong undercurrents that has led to at least 20 deaths over the past 17 years.

The area came under scrutiny after two men died last June while trying to rescue a 13-year-old boy who was pulled into a waterhole. The county erected warning signs near the river’s entrance and towed any parked cars in the park’s lot after the drowning deaths of Ronald Hedrick, 39, and Brian Lee Butcher, 34.

The Coal River Group started Tour de Coal last year, and 65 people in 44 boats participated.

Bill Currey, president of Coal River Group, said group members will take safety measures as they did last year last year when they placed supervisors and emergency personnel along the launching point, in boats following the canoes and even in the river at dangerous points.

“Safety is our premier concern,” Currey said. “For the most part, this 11-mile trip is shallow enough that you can walk into the river.”

Organizers said they also would place straw along the steep and slick pathways that lead from the park to the riverbanks. Kanawha County Parks and Recreations workers were working to cut brush near the park so supervisors could have a better view of the river.

Randy West, who heads the county parks system police force, said he doubts there will be any dangers involved with Saturday’s event.

“We’ve never had problems with people accessing the river for boating, just swimming,” West said.

Crystal Garrison, the fiancee of Butcher, the victim who died last year, said her experience in that area leads her to believe accidents can still happen.

Crystal Garrison said she and Butcher occasionally traveled to the swimming hole and knew the dangerous spots well. His knowledge of the area couldn’t overcome the treacherous undercurrents in one area, Garrison said.

“I understand it’s people in a boat instead of swimming, but still you never know,” Garrison said. “I think the best thing to do is to stay completely away from that part of the river. That place is totally unpredictable. You never know what conditions you’re stepping into.”

Currey, meanwhile, said the event is important to attract attention to areas of the river that are littered with trash. The Coal River Group was created to promote preservation and attract tourists to the river.

“The safety concern is for swimmers,” Currey said. “Boaters get in their boat and float off. We can’t condone any swimming.”

Kanawha County Commission is expected to vote on an ordinance next week that would limit access to the water from the park to only fisherman and boaters. Any swimmers found entering the water from park could be arrested if the ordinance passes.

The public may voice its thoughts on the proposed ordinance during the 5 p.m. Thursday meeting.


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