Sunday, December 1, 2013

Tour de Coal and the 150th

With winter upon us, I’m thinking back to this past summer. One of my favorite weekends was in June during the 150th birthday celebration for West Virginia. Besides the special activities in Charleston for the sesquicentennial, we were able to participate in the annual “Tour de Coal,” an 11 mile kayak trip from Tornado to St. Albans on the Coal River held each year in June.
This is the shirt that is given to participants.

We arrived on Friday in time for the free concert at the Levee. The headliner was Nitro’s own Kathy Mattea, who gave a heartfelt concert for the 150th! Then we headed to the Capitol grounds for the amazing fireworks show, complete with holographic displays on the front of the Capitol. It was indescribable!

On Saturday morning, we drove to the Kanawha County Park and Recreation Commission’s Meadowood Park in Tornado, WV. After parking and registering, we joined hundreds of other kayakers and canoeists who funneled from the field into the path leading to the put-in spot along the river. Thanks to the volunteers who helped, the wait was not bad—soon we were on the river, looking briefly upstream at the waterfall that requires this float trip to start just below it.

The Tour de Coal may have started as a race, but now it is more of a social event. With over six hundred participants in more than four hundred watercraft, it ends up being just a fun-filled day on a small river with lots of fellow paddlers. There are a couple of nice small rapids along the way, but the organizers have plenty of support there to assist anyone who gets into trouble.

Before long, we started to see more signs of civilization. Many folks along the way were watching the spectacle of hundreds of different colored watercraft paddling down the river. Finally, we arrived at the finish—just upstream from the Route 60 Bridge in St. Albans. More volunteers helped carry our kayaks up to the parking lot, where most participants had parked their vehicles that morning before taking the free shuttle busses to Meadowood Park. However, I had a long-time friend with a pick-up truck who lived nearby, who met us there to shuttle us back to our vehicle at Tornado.

We were so impressed with the previous night’s fireworks that we decided to watch them again on Saturday night, but from a different vantage point. We went to the University of Charleston (my alma mater) on the opposite riverbank from the Capitol, and enjoyed that view as well.

Kayaking the lower Coal River was a nice way to celebrate the sesquicentennial, but you don’t have to wait until the annual Tour de Coal to check it out. The non-profit Coal River Group has worked hard to develop much of the Coal River watershed into a “water trail” for kayakers and canoeists at any time. Check out their website at for information about this great resource.

I don’t know that I will still be around when West Virginia celebrates its bicentennial, but if I am, I’ll do my best to enjoy the celebration! If I can’t make it, I hope some of you will cover for me, and honor our state’s 200th year of independence.

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