Monday, July 23, 2012

West Fork Kayaking

Yesterday we took our kayaks to Worthington, West Virginia (along U.S. Route 19 between Fairmont and Shinnston), for a trip on the West Fork River. In the 1800s, there had been a mill at Worthington, and the mill dam still restricts the waterflow there, creating a pool of water about five feet higher than it would have been. There is a small park in Worthington that provides access to the West Fork River, as well as a scenic view of the old cut stone dam.

A year or two ago, I had bicycled the entire West Fork Rail Trail, which parallels the river between Shinnston and Fairmont for nearly 17 miles. Based on what I saw that day, I had thought that the riverside park at Worthington would be a good place to park a vehicle and try some kayaking. Unfortunately, access to the upper pool is limited to a few muddy paths down the bank, some lined with poison ivy. [It would be nice if some elected officials were to put just a little effort to develop this park to attract flat water kayakers.] There is a boat ramp of sorts for launching fishing boats below the dam, but I felt the extra depth gained by the dam would make the upper pool a better bet for us. Plus, I wanted to paddle upstream at the start, and then we could get assistance from the current on the way back. That is much better than starting downstream and then fighting the current to get back to where you parked your vehicle.

Not long after putting in at the dam, we saw riffles in the water as we paddled upstream. The pool above the dam doesn’t last long before you are digging your paddles hard to make progress upstream. We were able to get by this first test, but fought against a detectable current most of the way. I didn’t expect the West Fork challenge us like it did, but the recent rainfalls probably increased its strength. The extra depth may have helped us go further, though, because there were several places with riffles that were just deep enough to work our way through. Part of the fun of kayaking is trying to read the river to choose the best path to take.

We passed about half a dozen bridges (or remnants of bridges)—some for cars and some for the trains that formerly serviced the coal mines in this area. Usually there was one pier that seemed to collect the most flotsam, as if it had magnetic powers over the driftwood that floodwaters bring to it. One bridge, with fading white paint indicating it was part of the old Western Maryland Railway, had a huge tree trunk about six feet wide that turned out to be hollow.

We stopped a few times to rest and enjoy the scenery. Occasionally we would see a fish jump, but the recent rains had made the water too cloudy to really see anything in it. There was one tributary creek that we were able to go up for a short distance. We enjoyed “chasing” a large blue heron up the river. This bird stood more than three feet tall, and probably had a six foot wingspan. Whenever we would get close to his waterside perch, he would spread his wide wings and majestically fly low up the river a short distance, only to need to move again as we continued our upstream trek.

We made it about three miles upstream to Enterprise, West Virginia, before deciding to turn around. The trip back was much more relaxed than the trip up, and probably took less than half the time. It made for an enjoyable day, directing our kayaks up and down the river, while soaking in the sunshine as well as West Virginia’s natural beauty.

[By the way, I should also mention that we made a stop on this trip at the Poky Dot restaurant in Fairmont, which has been featured on the Food Network and is on the list of the state’s 101 best restaurants. I didn't take any pictures on the river, but I did take the shot below of a couple of "patrons" who reign over a couple of chairs at the bar of the Poky Dot. It gives you an indication of the light-hearted atmosphere in this long-time local landmark.]

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