Cheat River fishing
The watershed offers a number of recreational opportunities, and is especially known as a haven for whitewater enthusiasts. The Canyon section of the Cheat River is a whitewater destination for thousands of rafters each year, while the Blackwater River, Otter Creek, Big Sandy Creek, and a number of other tributaries attract expert whitewater kayakers. Calmer sections of the river offer scenic flat water float trips. The summer months attract hikers to the watershed’s numerous waterfalls and swimming holes while winter months bring skiers to alpine and Nordic ski areas.
The Cheat River, photo by Chris Hering
The health of the Cheat River watershed is threatened primarily by Acid Mine Drainage (AMD). AMD occurs when water, oxygen, and bacteria come into contact with pyrite, a mineral that is often associated with the Upper Freeport coal seam. Water draining from these mines is acidic and often contains high concentrations of metals such as iron, aluminum, and manganese. Aquatic life including insects and fish are often unable to survive in streams receiving AMD from mined lands. As a result, many miles of streams within the Cheat River watershed are void of stream life due to the legacy of over a century of coal mining.
Many of the AMD discharges in the Cheat River watershed are from abandoned mine lands, or defunct mining operations executed before the passage of the Surface Mining and Reclamation Control Act in 1977. Over 7, 500 miles of streams in Appalachia are polluted by AMD from abandoned mine lands. The Cheat is one of many watersheds whose water quality is slowly improving due to combined efforts of state and federal agencies, academia, private businesses, and non-profit groups like Friends of the Cheat.