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W.Va. Coal River Group awarded WV Development Office grant to promote water trail regionally

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A $115,000 grant from the West Virginia Development Office will allow the Coal River Group to launch a marketing campaign aimed at drawing visitors from outside the state to the 88-mile Coal River Water Trail.

“We have done amazing things to grow our tourism efforts in the Coal River watershed with little or no money,” said CRG President Kris Radford. “This grant opens up a first-time opportunity to develop our growing river sports region with folks from all the surrounding states. It’s a game-changer for promoting visitor growth in the four-county watershed.”

The Coal River Water Trail, developed over the past 11 years by the CRG, includes the Little Coal River, Big Coal River, and the main-stem Coal River, in Kanawha, Lincoln, Boone and Raleigh counties.

“We started out with one boat launch and a map and now we have 20 launch sites and just got finished printing 30,000 new trail guides,” said Bill Currey, co-founder of the CRG and president of its board of directors.

The river system’s combination of long pools connected by short stretches of mild rapids make it attractive to kayak-borne anglers and kayak and canoe enthusiasts more interested in scenery and relaxation than whitewater thrills.

“Flatwater kayaking is the fastest-growing water sport in the nation, and we like to think of the Coal River Water Trail as ‘Flatwater Heaven,’ ” said Currey.

In addition to providing funding for marketing, the Development Office grant will also pay for four more boat launch sites, additional signage along the trail and at river access points, and improvements to existing launch sites and parking areas.

It will also pay for a program to encourage and support river-related entrepreneurial development in the watershed. “We will be able to help people interested in opening businesses like kayak shops or rental operations, campgrounds and bait shops,” said Currey.

The CRG, a nonprofit watershed restoration group headquartered in Meadowood Park at Tornado, has led a clean-up effort to restore the Coal River System since its inception in 2004. In addition to organizing drives to remove trash from stream beds and shores, the CRG has worked with the state Department of Environmental Protection to implement a $9.5 million stream restoration project on the Little Coal River.

The CRG established the state’s first water trail in 2006, which now draws thousands of paddlers annually. Last week, during the Governor’s Conference on Tourism, the organization was awarded the West Virginia Community Tourism Development Award for 2017 in recognition of its creative and innovative development efforts.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at [email protected], 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.


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