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WV's Future: The Elk River Runs Through It

Adam Swisher and Matt Kearns traveled the length of the Elk River. They say protecting it will be good for West Virginia's future. (Chad Cordell)
Adam Swisher and Matt Kearns traveled the length of the Elk River. They say protecting it will be good for West Virginia's future. (Chad Cordell)
June 16, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – As West Virginians consider their future, some say the Elk River runs right through it.

In part to build support for the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument, Adam Swisher and Matt Kearns hiked, biked and paddled the entire Elk River in what they called the Elkspedition.

Swisher is an outdoor guide from Wyoming. He says he was impressed and surprised during the 180- mile trip from the headwaters – in what would be the national monument – downstream to Charleston.

"It's actually a hidden gem in many ways,” he states. “I see an opportunity for people to almost recreate the Elkspedition on their own. It's got so much going for it, from top to bottom."

The birthplace would be made from Monongahela National Forest land already owned by the federal government.

Advocates are in Washington now, pressing for what would be the state's first national monument.

But they say time is short, given Congress' election year calendar and the end of the presidential term.

The monument would include about 125,000 acres in and around the Cranberry Wilderness. It's designed to protect the headwaters of six separate rivers, including the Elk.

Kearns says the Freedom Industries spill two years ago shows what can happen to a river and the drinking water it provides if it's not taken care of.

"We made a point to drink straight from this headwater stream, and no one would do that here in Charleston, with the chemical spills and all the mining and everything that's taken place upstream," he states.

Kearns and Swisher say the state has a choice – protect the Elk and other waterways, and build a future around them, or continue to take them for granted.

Kearns adds there is a lot of good that can flow though the Elk, as long as it's taken care of.

"It goes right through the heart of the state,” he stresses. “It's like the best of West Virginia all rolled into one. We know that if the Elk gets a good start, those benefits are just going to flow downstream."

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV