Cheat Canyon is the only place on Earth where the federally listed as threatened Cheat threetooth snail occurs.
In an agreement announced in April, The Nature Conservancy and The Conservation Fund have taken action to protect 3,800 acres along a seven-mile stretch of the Cheat River in Preston County, conserving the spectacular scenic and natural values of the canyon and improving public access for recreation. When completed, the $7 million project will protect most of the canyon not already included in Cooper’s Rock State Forest and Snake Hill Wildlife Management Area. The Nature Conservancy has committed over $3 million to the project.
Known mostly as a whitewater hotspot and for the spectacular view it provides from Cooper’s Rock, the Cheat Canyon is a deep gorge through which the Cheat River flows on its way to Cheat Lake near Morgantown.
The canyon and its river have been conservation priorities for the Conservancy for decades, said Rodney Bartgis, state director for the Conservancy in West Virginia. It is home to a diversity of wildlife from the endangered Indiana bat to more common species like bobcats, otters, and bald eagles, and is the only place on Earth where the federally listed as threatened Cheat threetooth snail occurs. In addition to whitewater sports, the canyon provides ample opportunities for hunting, fishing, and hiking.
And now, through the coordinated efforts of multiple partners, Cheat Canyon is being protected. “After the New and Gauley rivers, the Cheat is the most important stretch of whitewater in West Virginia,” said Bartgis. “It’s one of the great beloved landscapes in West Virginia and has tremendous beauty, significant plant and animal diversity, and abundant recreation potential.” Indeed, this project includes nearly all of the canyon, rim to rim, traversed by commercial whitewater rafters.
The Conservancy and Conservation Fund have purchased approximately 3,800 acres previously owned by timber investors, the Forestland Group. The Conservancy will retain about 1,300 acres as a new nature preserve, paid for through a bequest from the estate of Charlotte Ryde. Over the coming two years, the remaining land will be transferred to the Division of Natural Resources, which will manage it as a complement to the complex of public recreation lands on the lower Cheat River.
Additional funding is being provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, mitigation and settlement money set aside for habitat conservation purposes, and the Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund, the state’s only fund dedicated for conservation of important wildlife habitat, forests, and lands of public significance.
The project also provides the opportunity to reopen a section of the 330-mile Allegheny Trail that had to be re-routed after it was closed off by a previous owner.