American Whitewater’s Gauley Fest
September 2011— For twenty-eight years, on the third weekend in September, paddlers from around the world have come to central West Virginia for the world’s largest paddling festival, American Whitewater’s Gauley Fest.
The festival is held at Summersville Lake, which is host to thousands of visitors who come for swimming, boating, waterskiing and other water sports. Each fall USACE hydrologists drop the lake levels by 77 feet to provide room for possible floodwaters, thus protecting the region from flooding. Every tenth year hydrologists take the water down an additional 55 feet to conduct inspections of the lake’s intake infrastructure to ensure it is in proper working order. In the process they create a great kayaking course.
This year, for the first time, whitewater outfitters and associations were invited by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide input on how to maximize this powerful resource and make the whitewater season as exciting as possible for kayak and raft enthusiasts. USACE hydrologists and water sports experts worked hard to set up a schedule of releases and increased the rate of flow from 2800 cubic feet per second of previous Gauley seasons to a more thrilling 3200 cubic feet per second. Word of the faster flows has spread fast.
“The Corps of Engineers was great to work with,” said Mark Lewis, Executive Director of the West Virginia Professional River Outfitters. “We put in a lot of hard work to make this a great season.”
Summersville Lake resource manager C.J. Hamilton agreed: “By working with the outfitters, we were able to make one of the top 5 commercially runnable rivers in the world that much more exciting.”