By Shirley Shuman
Some time ago, an individual was kayaking on the Elk River. It was getting dark, and this man had no idea where he was or where to exit the river. When he called 911, he could not describe his location. Because of that, it took responders some time to locate him.
Lori Dittman, owner of Paddle and Yak, recently told a similar story. She had dropped clients off at Sutton and arranged a pick-up at the Frametown Bridge. As she waited, at Frametown, she received a call from her clients. “We are here,” they told her, but they were not at Frametown. Instead, they were at another bridge. However, they could not describe their location. The search for them took some time.
Dittman reported this incident to members of the Elk River Trail Foundation. They decided that mile markers needed to be placed along the downstream bank of the river to allow those water travelers having any problems to identify their locations. Thus began the placement of the mile markers beginning at the Sutton Dam. ERTF president Ken Tawny and ERRF’s Water Trail Committee headed by Barry Curry are responsible for the project, according to Lois Cole, one of the volunteers.
Currently, 24 have been placed with volunteers from various agencies including Braxton EMS, Frametown Fire Department, Elk River Trail Foundation, and WVU Extension as well as GAIA and the Town of Gassaway. These 24 mark the Elk through Braxton. The goal is to have markers every mile on the river from Sutton to Charleston.
Mike Shamblin, WVU Extension Agent in Clay County and one of those who helped put up the mile markers, explained that in 2010 the WV Department of Highways designated the Elk as a water trail. “The ERTF has since that time been working to make that come true,” Shamblin noted. He explained that they tried to stay within the river’s high water mark to ensure they weren’t on private property. Shamblin and Tyler Long, EMS dispatcher, put up the first four mile markers. A definitely positive note which Shamblin mentioned is that these mile markers will allow kayakers to plan their time on the river according to their ability. Also, he would like to build more accesses along the river.
Long explained he became involved in the installation because these markers “will definitely help any first responders answering a call from someone in distress on the river.” He added, “I’ve always wanted to see something like those along the river.”
One of those helping put up the markers, although Shamblin was always the one on the ladder standing in the river water, is Curry. Showing how much time was involved with this project, Curry indicated that it took “about an hour on each sign as it took time to travel to the spot, find an appropriate place to put the marker, and then getting it up securely.” Curry also pointed out that another needed project is “access markers to be viewed from the river because often all the water travelers can see is a path up from the river but they don’t know whether it’s an access or not.” This is the next step, according to Curry, and a grant application has been made to acquire funds for the project.
Frametown fire-fighter Nik Salvo, another of those who worked to put up the markers, said that these markers are actually essential to their rescue efforts. “There have been some occasions when our fire department, most of the time in a boat, had to use the best guess to try to find individuals lost on the river,” he explained.
Cole, one of those eager to finish the project with markers the entire 120 miles to Charleston, sees another need which was brought to her attention by Dittman’s story. “Currently,” she said, “there are no signs on bridges which can be read from the water.” Once mile markers are up the entire 120 miles of the Elk from Sutton to Charleston, this group and others will almost surely begin work to solve that problem.