Blackwater River included on America’s Most Endangered Rivers list for 2024

DAVIS, W.Va. — One of West Virginia’s best known and most scenic waterways has been included on this year’s list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers. The Blackwater River in West Virginia is number ten on the list compiled and released today by the American Rivers organization.

In their announcement, American Rivers, an environmental organization, specifically noted the plans for construction of Corridor H through through the Tucker County towns of Thomas and Davis as the chief reason for the inclusion of the waterway on the endangered list.

“The Blackwater River is threatened by the currently State-preferred (but not yet adopted) route for a major four-lane highway, known as Corridor H, that would cross all of the river’s headwater streams
with major construction activity at each. This route was designed 30 years ago, with little thought to preserving the Blackwater River’s unique cultural, historic, and environmental integrity.” wrote the organization in a press release.

Judy Rodd is the longtime Executive Director of the Friends of Blackwater. She believed it was a significant development for their push to persuade the Federal Highway Administration to adopt what is often called the “northern route” for the Thomas and Davis section.

“This is a national group looking at the problems created by the mega-highway being built in the headwaters of the Blackwater River,” said Rodd. “It’s beloved by West Virginians and is a significant part of the tourism economy.”

The West Virginia Division of Highways and local advocates for the Corridor H project have maintained the current route, which would go between the two towns, is the most economical and appropriate route. However, the Federal Highway Administration in a notice of intent earlier this year allowed for an examination of not only the preferred route, but also the northern route.

Rodd said to her organization it’s an important shift in the analysis of the plans for the highway by the federal agency.

“It divides the historic towns of Thomas and Davis, with a big four-lane which is ridiculous in this day and age when the Biden Administration is saying, ‘We don’t want to divide towns anymore and make it difficult for people to visit each other,” said Rodd.

She added the other concern is environmental, which was what attracted the attention of American Rivers.

“It cuts over top of the North Fork of the Blackwater, which is the entry way to the Blackwater (Canyon). It cuts over top of the rail-trail, over top of a water treatment system we’re installing and over top of the Loop Trail which is a new venture. Then it cuts over five major waterways which feed into the Blackwater River,” she said.

“It would be a grave mistake on the part of the West Virginia Division of Highways and Federal Highway Administration, and a major disservice to local communities, to threaten the Blackwater River and simultaneously hinder the growth of the thriving outdoor recreation economy in this area,” said Olivia Miller, program director of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy in a press release. “To those who know and love Tucker County—the Blackwater Canyon is the heart and soul of this region. To rob present and future generations of the opportunity to fully experience these special places and reap their many benefits is a huge error in judgment.”

The West Virginia Division of Highways has long maintained the current route they are putting forward is the fastest, most economical route and deny it poses any of threats to the environment or the historical status of the region which are claimed. However, Rodd and her organization hoped the designation would change before dirt is turned on what will be one of the final stretches of Corridor H. It’s also one of the most environmentally sensitive areas of the entire longstanding project to connect Weston to I-81 in Virginia.

“A million people visit this area every year and those people are concerned their enjoyment of this area will be diminished and the people who live there are disturbed it’s going to tear up their landscape for years,” Rodd said.

“Part of this announcement is a call for people to take action and say what they think by sending those comments to the federal highway people,” she said.

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