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The series, West Virginia Water Trails, explores waterways in southern West Virginia. Listen to hear stories from communities coming together, to create new economies - with waterways. It’s made possible in part by the National Coal Heritage Area Authority.

Clean Ups Priority For W.Va. Tourism Educator 

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Celebration of the River, a partnership between Boone Career and Technical Center, Trash Your Kayak WV, Boone County Cities of Madison Danville, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and The Coal River Group.

Each year, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection selects a Teacher of the Year in the elementary, middle and high school high school levels. In 2021 it wasn’t a science teacher who won but a tourism instructor.

This segment is the sixth in an audio series called West Virginia Water Trails. Hear stories from people coming together across southern West Virginia, to create new economies and communities- with waterways. It’s made possible in part by the National Coal Heritage Area Authority. 

Rober Miller teaches classes like Outdoor Education, Travel West Virginia and Adventure Tourism at the Boone Career and Technical Center.

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Colin Fisher (left), Jaxson Miller, Jacob Pauley, instructor Robert Miller and Lilly Bias (right), pulling tires from the Walhonde Watershed near The Forks of Coal.

“It's all pretty connected really,” Miller said. “We're trying to attract tourism to our region. We have a wonderful flatwater water trail that runs through our community and we're trying to make it all it can be and we're trying to clean up our roadsides and our water trail to make it a great spot for people to come visit.”

Miller coordinates with students to participate in the annual WV DEP Adopt a Highway cleanups on Route 3. Another clean up that happens twice a year with students is called Celebration of the River.

“This has grown pretty good to where we get down in the water with our kayaks,” he said. “The students of the Boone Career Center here are really the ones that won this Make It Shine Award and the staff here at the Boone Career Center.”

Miller has worked to host clean ups in the region for the past eight years. Miller says it’s important to invite the community as well.

“The whole school participates, everybody gets out, sees what they can do for the community for one day,” Miller said. “We're trying to change the culture as well. We brought tons and tons of trash over the years out of the river and tires. But the key is changing the culture and that's what we're trying to get at.”

Miller says field trips help to get students thinking.

“You look at the county over when we take our field trips, we're not seeing the amount of trash,” Miller said. “That's a question that I posed to our students and we discuss this and debate this. To tell you the truth, I'm not really sure that there is an exact answer, not a not a good one.

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Adventure Tourism student Jordan Dillon loads a kayak into a W.Va. river.

"Trash is never good," Miller continued, "but we hope to, through education, change that to where it's no longer it's all or okay for anyone to just dispose of their trash out the window of their car or leave the trash beside the riverbank. It's a sad thing. There's not enough money to enforce such things.”

Some of Miller’s students join volunteer clean up crews such as “Trash Your Kayak WV” after graduation.

Lilly Bias, 19, is one of Miller’s former students. He invited Bias to attend a clean up on a river with the Trash Your Kayak WV cleanup crew.

“Through that event we learned how great cleaning up the river was and how fun it was,” Bias said, “which was surprising to us.”

Bias had such a good time, she organized her own clean up last year with 100 volunteers.

“Once you’re part of Trash Your Kayak, you cannot get out,” Bias said. “When you’re experienced, you want to keep coming back and want to keep hanging out with these great people who are trying to better the community.”

Miller and his students also built a Chimney Swift tower, a habitat for the elusive and endangered birds, and picnic tables for the Forks of Coal, an education and outreach organization.

The next clean up for Boone County students is set for Friday, April 29.

Southern W.Va. Bureau Chief, Reporter/Producer, jlilly@wvpublic.org, 304-384-5981, @JessicaYLilly

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