TORNADO, WV (WOWK) – The tourism industry is extremely important to the Mountain State. The beautiful mountains, ridges and waterways have given a financial boost to many small communities, but the coronavirus is threatening their most important season.
The Coal River has blossomed into one of the state’s most beautiful hideaways. It’s also the home to one of the largest kayaking events in the country.
“This river is 88 miles long,” explained Bill Currey, “Our water trail we created is one of the most popular in the United States.”
Currey is the chairman of the Coal River Group. The group was created to protect local water quality, but it’s also a way to get people out fishing, paddling and kayaking on the river. The non-profit runs on grants, donations and some money from their kayak rentals.
“We only have so many ways we can make money as a nonprofit,” Currey says.
One of those ways is through their kayak rental business. Tuesday, Currey says he was given the green light to open this season by Gov. Jim Justice in Phase 4 of his “comeback” plan. This year they will operate on a “Grab-and-Go” system.
Their primary source of income, however, comes from their annual fundraiser, the Tour de Coal. The event is now in its 16th year.
“Our Tour de Coal is the second-largest kayak event in the U.S. — that’s how big it is,” Currey says. “Which is too big to do this year.”
So they’re adjusting and switching to a virtual platform. This year, people can register online, pay the $30 and get a cool new t-shirt just like year’s past. Then they can complete the event on their own time, practicing safe social distancing.
“Then from that point, that’s where it changes, we want them to go out and explore on 88 miles on their own and take pictures and then we will blow it up on our social media for 30 days,” Currey says.
Currey says the event was expected to raise around $30,000. He says support this year, despite the changes, is crucial to keeping things afloat.
“If people will register and help us through this year, then next year, we can be back bigger and better than ever before,” Currey says.
Currey says now is the perfect time to give a try, as most kayaks are for one person and paddles are 6 feet long.
If you’d like to learn more about this year’s virtual event click here.