Two conservation organizations will manage and maintain one of north central West Virginia’s most iconic spots.
Chances are, if you attended WVU, or if you’ve lived in Morgantown for a while, you’ve heard stories about Blue Hole: the idyllic swimming hole in a remote area of Preston County that’s popular with college students when the weather warms and school obligations abate. It sits right at the confluence of the Cheat River and Big Sandy Creek, and it’s accessed by two challenging roads, one from each direction, best driven in 4X4 vehicles—but the location is simply stunning.
The highlight for students may be the 60-plus-foot-high Jenkinsburg Bridge that spans the Cheat and entices the courageous among them to plummet off the span into the water below. But the real draw and hidden gem of the area is the whitewater access to what one local paddler calls “one of the most popular expert runs in the East.”
Charlie Walbridge was a guide on the Cheat from 1977 to 1983. At that time, outfitters were taking 40,000 paddlers down the river each season, he says, making it as big a venue as the Gauley and New rivers to the south. “It’s declined since then,” says Walbridge, who serves on the Board of Directors for Friends of Cheat. “But it is still West Virginia’s best kept whitewater secret.”
Parts of Big Sandy Creek and the Cheat, and the entire 13.5-acre area now known as the Jenkinsburg Recreation and Natural Area, are now protected for use by generations to come. The West Virginia Land Trust purchased the property in September 2020 from long-time owners Dave and Cynthia Hough. The acquisition was made possible by major support from the West Virginia Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund and friends of the whitewater community. The WVU Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic also contributed to the effort, according to WVLT Program Manager Adam Webster. The purpose of the purchase was to preserve permanent public access for river and trail recreation that is rapidly growing in north central West Virginia. On April 27 they announced the formal opening of the Recreation Area to the public. The WVLT and FOC will work together to manage and maintain the site.
The fruits of their cooperation will be on full display this weekend for the annual FOC Cheat River Massacre-ence that ends at the Recreation Area. If you’d like to visit the area, get directions here, and if you’d like to learn more about the project, read more here.