Paddleboats, Whitewater Rafting and Scuba Diving — in the Mountains? Yep — Inside Appalachia

Jul 26, 2019

For many people in Appalachia, the lakes, rivers and creeks are the first places we swam, played in the water or caught crawdads. For many adults, our waterways are some of the best places to get outdoors and cool off in the summer. We have whitewater rafting, swimming, boating and even scuba diving to choose from (yes, scuba diving, you read that right.)  


We know sometimes you want to go back and listen to individual stories. Here are links to four stories from this episode. 

Whitewater

Just about any web search for “best white water rafting” or “most dangerous white water rafting” includes West Virginia. Around 150,000 people commercially raft a West Virginia river each year -- most on the New and Gauley rivers, which go through Fayetteville, West Virginia. 

Our Folklife Reporter Caitlin Tan spent a day with river guides on the New River. 

Diving Summersville

Ed Skaggs and Eric Douglas pause for an underwater selfie on a recent dive in Summersville Lake.
Credit Eric Douglas / WVPB

Summersville Lake, in Nicholas and Fayette Counties, West Virginia was built in 1966 as a flood-control project, and now is a popular spot for water recreation, paddlers, rock climbers, as well as people driving motorboats. But have you ever thought about scuba diving there?

Our Associate Producer Eric Douglas is a diver. He recently traveled to Summersville Lake, and he brought his recorder with him on a dive beneath the surface of one of Appalachia’s clearest mountain lakes.

If you have ever wondered what the lake looks like under the surface, here is a short video of parts of Eric’s dive. 

What’s In A Name -- The New River

Some people claim the New River is more than a billion years old. But it turns out, that is not true. According to Steve Kite, geologist with West Virginia University, there are rocks in the New River drainage that are a billion years old, but that does not mean the river is a billion years old. Geologists just do not know exactly how old the river is. Kite says it could be as old as 320 million years old, or it could be 3 million years old. 

In this episode, we will learn more about the geology of the New River and how it got its name.

Trash in the Water

Zoma tosses his magnet into Deckers Creek. He has pulled grocery carts, bikes, old railroad ties and coal slag out of the creek.
Credit Caitlin Tan / WVPB

It is not hard to find abandoned campsites along the rivers, oftentimes littered with trash. And rainy weather can easily wash these remnants, teddy bears, sleeping bags, even drug paraphernalia like dirty syringe needles, into the waterways, contaminating the river ecosystems, and posing a health risk to people.

In this episode we will learn about one man in Morgantown, West Virginia, who has taken it upon himself to load up his bicycle and use a grappling hook and a strong magnet to clean up the trash along the Monongahela River.

Sternwheel-powered Riverboats

A modern tow boat with barges heading upriver on the Kanawha passes a sternwheel driven pleasure boat.
Credit Eric Douglas / WVPB

The sight and sound of a sternwheel paddleboat might bring a bygone era to mind. But for some people, it is still a part of life today. There is a community on the rivers of central Appalachia that’s working to preserve that boat history. 

Eric Douglas takes us on a trip down the Kanawha and Ohio rivers to find out more.

History of the Bluestone Lake 

In Central Appalachia, there are more than 30 man-made lakes, built and maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers. Across the United States, there are more than 700 man-made lakes created by dams. Some of these lakes were made to prevent flooding in populated areas while others were built to create recreational activities. Jessica Lilly discusses her own roots to the Town of Lilly destroyed by Bluestone Lake in this episode. You can also listen to an earlier episode of Inside Appalachia that looks into the history of man-made flood control lakes throughout the region.

Controversy and Mystery Still Surround Lakes Built by the Army Corps of Engineers

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We had help producing Inside Appalachia this week from The Allegheny Front. Music in today’s show was provided by Dinosaur Burps, Spencer Elliot, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Tina Turner and Ben Townsend.

Roxy Todd is our producer. Eric Douglas is our associate producer.  Our Executive Producer is Jesse Wright. He also edited our show this week. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. You can find us online on Twitter @InAppalachia.