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Rafters plunge into Gauley rafting season

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Once again rafters and sports extremists from all over the world go overboard for the Gauley River’s world-class rapids as water rushes 2,800 cubic feet per second from the Summersville Dam.

Gauley Season opens today and will run six weeks, through Oct. 19, as the Army Corps of Engineers releases water from the dam and lowers Summersville Lake to its winter mark.

Bobby Bower, executive director of the West Virginia Professional River Outfitters, said this year’s kick-off will be a blast from the past as, today only, water will again be released at the base of the dam from a massive overflow tube. Bower said in the days before the dam released its torrents through hydroelectrics underwater, the overflow tubes released 20,9444 gallons of water per second.

“The ground literally shook and casual conversation was impossible,” he said. “After carrying their rafts down a gravel path from the parking lot, the rafters would lower their boats onto a narrow rock shelf, stagger aboard, and brace themselves in. If you’ve only heard the stories, well, the experience of putting in for the Upper Gauley amidst the deafening roar of a tube release will be one you remember for a lifetime.”

Bower continued to describe what it was like to put-in at the base of the dam when the water was released entirely from the overflow tubes before 1999: “Straining to hear as their guide shouted instructions, the rafters would paddle forward furiously, slamming into solid waves three and four feet high, while wind and water blew in all directions, trying to break through into the main current.  If they were good, they gained enough momentum to penetrate the wall and enter the mainstream. If not, the raft would be rejected and spun to the back, and the crew would have to start all over again.”

Summersville Park Ranger Kevin Brown said this year holds a special sense of excitement for the park system as well. “The last time we had water scheduled to come from this valve No. 3 was 13 years ago…

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