BRANCHLAND, W.Va. - A new trail is offering a different way to experience southern West Virginia - on the river.
The Guyandotte Water Trail spans 169 miles from Wyoming County to Huntington, offering a unique and scenic recreation opportunity, according to officials familiar with the project.
Access to the river is available from 24 access points across five counties, and local leaders are hopeful that it will attract a number of tourists from West Virginia and beyond.
Lincoln County celebrated the opening of the water trail and a new adjacent park, Branchland Park along W.Va. 10 between Harts and West Hamlin, with a ceremony and cookout a few weeks ago.
"We have three access points in Lincoln County and we want to create more. It's our hope that more kayakers, anglers and students from Marshall University will take advantage of Branchland Park and the access points along the Guyandotte Water Trail," said Ralph Triplett, known informally as the mayor of Branchland.
U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., attended the celebration, presented a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol for the new park, and praised the trail's creation and potential for expansion.
"Tourism is an important part of our state's economy - we have natural beauty that's second to none. What we need to do is make sure even more opportunities are available, and that the word is getting out about these attractions," Jenkins said. "This water trail is unlike anything I've seen before and is a new way of looking at how we can capitalize on our natural resources."
The river averages eight to 10 feet, but can be deeper after a heavy rain, says Kody Crawford, the Guyandotte Water Trail coordinator with the National Coal Heritage Area VISTA.
"The trail is a collaborative effort among Cabell, Lincoln, Logan, Mingo and Wyoming counties, with members of the Guyandotte Water Trail Alliance hosting river cleanups and beautifying projects," said National Coal Heritage Area Authority Executive Director Christy Bailey.
"The National Coal Heritage Area has taken this project on because of the potential it has to continue to build tourism in the five counties and contribute to economic development efforts," Bailey said. "We know that flat-water paddling is a rapidly growing activity and in addition to bringing new visitors, it provides another activity for people already coming to ride the Hatfield McCoy trails. We hope it will encourage them to bring more people with them and stay an extra day or two. We also see the potential it has to provide activities for residents and help them become stewards of this beautiful river."
Five more river access points are planned, as well as marketing materials to spread the word, Bailey added.
Laura Moore owns K.L.M. Worms in Verdunville and hopes increased tourism will bring more people in to shop for fishing gear for the Guyandotte's small mouth bass.
"I am so in love with this river and the opportunity it creates for small businesses like mine. We are looking forward to increased tourist traffic to use the Guyandotte River Trail and spend hours on the river fishing, kayaking, playing and enjoying the beautiful nature of southern West Virginia," Moore said.
West Hamlin Mayor Farris Burton has big plans for what's next with the trail. Access is already available behind the town hall and fire department, but he has even more in mind.
"We have future plans for picnic tables, small shelter, and more and feel that the increased tourism created by the Guyandotte River Trail System will afford an opportunity for the creation of small businesses, including street vendors, food trucks and special events like a Spring Fling and Oktoberfest," Burton said.
In Cabell County, the water trail has untapped potential, with only three access points in Huntington near the Marshall campus, as well as in Barboursville and Salt Rock. Officials said they hope more access points can be added soon to open up this resource for families and outdoor enthusiasts across Cabell and the surrounding counties.
"There aren't many places that have a world-class university and top-notch outdoor attractions within the same city," Jenkins said. "We've got to get the word out so people know about this hidden gem and can enjoy a day off right near home."
For more information about the trail, including access points, call 304-465-3720 or email email@example.com
Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter at @FredPaceHD.