TORNADO, W.Va. — When somebody suggestion 30 years ago an outing on West Virginia’s Coal River the reaction would have been along the same lines of an outing on the county landfill.   The river’s three branches took their fair share of abuse over the course of the last 100 years.

But in the last 15 years, all of that is changing.   Bill Currey and a partner, Bill Queen, were concerned and formed the Coal River Group. The task of helping the river to recover was going to be daunting, but perhaps the larger task was helping repair the river’s image.

“We kept saying, ‘I don’t care what you read in the papers, this river is not that bad.’ The image was really suffering.  We had been named the most endangered river in the nation twice in four years.”  Currey recalled on Northside Automotive West Virginia Outdoors. “Now, there’s a whole lot of change.  The river is being fixed and more people are joining.  People are getting the message.”

The message is what the Coal River group has carried.   Their mission hasn’t been to assess blame or point fingers.  The mission is to identify problems and get them fixed.  The approach worked and the river has come a long way in a short amount of time.

“We talk about the river a lot.  I’ve given thousands of interviews and that’s helped us to get the DNR and DEP on board to fix things,” Currey said. “We don’t want to study it anymore, we know where the problems are.”

The results have been impressive.  Two of the great accomplishments were a $9 Million rerouting and restructuring project on the Little Coal River.   Coal River Group worked with the Greater St. Albans Public Service District and helped foster and fund a $26 Million project to put 1,500 homes on public sewer service along the lower Coal River.

Last weekend the organization staged it’s 12th annual Tour De Coal.  Currey recalled the float trip started out with a couple of dozen people in about that many boats.  Over time, as the river has rebounded and the word got out, more than 500 people showed up with more than 400 canoes and kayaks for last weekend’s events.

“It’s really amazing people are coming from everywhere and interest is growing,” Currey said as he stood at the registration center for the Tour De Coal. “A lot of these boats laying out here today for the trip look like they were just bought yesterday or last week.   People are buying kayaks and enjoying the water.”

That’s exactly what he and Bill Queen always hoped for and finally, the hard work is paying off, both in image and in water quality.

“Last year the Mountain State Kayak Anglers did a tournament on the Coal River and the average catch per fisherman was 40 to 60 fish and that compared to the numbers they had on the Greenbrier River,” Currey said. “We didn’t have so many lunkers come in, but we’ve got fish.”

Now when somebody suggests going fishing on the Coal River, there’s more excitement and a greater chance for success.  That is a success story all its own.

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