Yep, it’s that time of year again. Time for one of the East’s best whitewater runs to kick into gear, thanks to releases from the Summersville Dam. So what are you waiting for? It’s Gauley Season, by golly…
Early on the morning on Sept. 11, paddlers from around the country will put in on the Gauley River at the Summersville Dam ready to run some of the best whitewater in the world. They’ll also be able to on 21 other weekend days throughout the fall, thanks to the Army Corps of Engineers’ water releases from West Virginia’s Summersville Lake. The 2015 season is from Sept. 11 through Oct. 18, with most weekends featuring flows Fridays through Mondays.
The flows will result in some 100 great rapids, more than half of them rated Class III and above, on both the 12-mile Upper and 13-mile Lower sections. The run, largely protected by the National Park Service, is considered by many to be the ultimate big water river in the eastern U.S. “There’s a reason we call it the ‘Beast of the East,’” says Dave Arnold, co-founder of rafting outfitter Adventures on the Gorge. “When the Corps is drawing down the lake, the Gauley is the top rafting river in the world.”
But it hasn’t always been that way, with paddlers fighting for its protection and management since its first descent in 1968.
Thirty years ago, the Gauley was threatened by a proposed hydropower project that would have dewatered its upper three miles and placed a generating facility below Pillow Rock Rapid. Behind the efforts of American Whitewater, the whitewater boating community rallied to defeat the proposal, and the annual Gauley Fest, held the third weekend in September every year, is now an annual celebration of this early success.
In 1968 plans were in the works for a second dam, the largest earthen core dam in the world, that would have flooded the entire stretch. Upon completing the first descent of the Gauley in 1968, paddlers immediately made plans to oppose it. On the second decent rapids were named and articles written, and outfitters were then introduced to the river, adding to its cadre of protectors. The plans to flood it eventually died away and the river is now protected by the National Park Service.
On October 17, 1986, Congress made whitewater recreation an official project purpose of the Summersville Dam, requiring 20 scheduled releases during the fall drawdown. It was the first Corps project in the nation to manage flows for the benefit of whitewater recreation.
For info on this year’s Gauley Fest, click here!.