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Paddle and row the rivers and lakes


Many community leaders are recognizing that when they make it easier for people to get on the river, they are promoting both health and economic development. (Photo, Donnie Riggs)


Brent Samples of Charleston, about to hit the New River on a weekend paddle trip organized by the West Virginia Wildwater Association. Photo: Kate Long

“West Virginia has beautiful rivers, and I’ve got grandparents on both sides who died of heart disease, so I’m determined not to get it,” Brent Samples of Charleston said. Among other things, he hits West Virginia rivers with his kayak whenever he can.

Samples is not alone in his enthusiasm for paddling. West Virginia has some of the best paddling in the East, and it’s great exercise. In June 2013, when the nonprofit Coal River Group hosted a party, the Tour de Coal, 600 paddlers showed up with more than 400 kayaks and canoes.

The Outdoor Industry Foundation tracks the popularity of bicycling, hiking, skiing, kayaking and 18 other recreational activities. According to their numbers, kayaking has more than doubled in popularity since 1998, particularly among young people.

Sculling and rowing are still rare in West Virginia, though it’s great exercise, maybe because it’s more expensive.

But any community that develops paddling – canoeing and kayaking – is helping residents stay fit and also promoting an economic development tool.


Do you live near a river people can paddle? Here are ways to make it easier for them to do that: 



Kids’ paddling classes build the chance that the next generation will be on the river. Photo courtesy Coal River Group.

  • Start a group or club. Pull together people in your community who like to paddle or want to see it happen.
  • Go on some organized trips and get to know other paddlers: The West Virginia Wildwater Association, , based in Charleston, open to anybody, organizes paddling trips and sponsors beginner workshops and kayak rolling lessons in the Charleston area. The website often offers impromptu paddling trips anybody can join.
  • Check your river access points.  Can people get into the river easily to launch and take out their boats?  See the river access page.
  • Join some larger groups that can help you. Here is a list:
  • Take lessons if you need them: Type “paddling lessons” and “West Virginia” into a search engine. Whitewater paddling is dangerous. Lessons are recommended, whether commercial or from an experienced friend. If you’re promoting it, you need to be hip to the process.
  • Visit people who have a paddling club:
  • Paddling stores are great places to find out what’s happening. Type “paddling shops West Virginia” into a search engine for information on shops from Fayetteville to Shepherdstown.


    Paddling events often bring out new paddlers. Photo courtesy The Coal River Group.

  • Identify places to paddle in your area:



Rowing and Sculling


Les Pritchard of Parkersburg’s Ohio Valley Rowing Club enjoys an early-morning solo sculling trip.

Les Pritchard of Parkersburg’s Ohio Valley Rowing Club enjoys an early-morning solo sculling trip. Photo courtesy the Ohio Valley Rowing Club.

Rowing/sculling isn’t widespread in West Virginia, but it’s great exercise, alone or in a group. As many as eight people can row or scull in a shell.

The sport provides low-impact, full-body exercise, and West Virginia’s lakes and calm rivers are ideally set up for team or individual rowing, but the boats are expensive, and the sport is rare.


WVU scullers pull hard on the Monongahela River, urged on via bullhorn from the coaches boat. Photo: Kate Long

People can join sculling/rowing clubs in Parkersburg, Morgantown and Charleston.  They can also go for an old-fashioned rowboat.

Want to get sculling or rowing started in/near your community?


Also see these related Try This pages:

Create public access pointsGet your river designated a water trail, create a watershed association, encourage fishing


Have something to add? Write it in “reply” below, with your contact info, in case we have questions.


  1. I need to spend some time learning much more or working out more.
    Thank you for excellent information I was in search of this info for my mission.


  1. What are your community’s next steps? | Try This - […] Get people out on the rivers and lakes […]

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