CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Sutton-Charleston stretch of the Elk River may become the state's newest water trail, making it easier for kayakers, canoeists and johnboat-borne anglers to spend time on the peaceful, scenic lower reaches of West Virginia's longest river.
At the same time, an effort is also being made to designate segments of W.Va. 4, W.Va. 16, and Elkhurst Road that follow the Elk River from Sutton to Clendenin as the Elk River Scenic Byway.
Last month, the Braxton County Convention and Visitors Bureau submitted a request with State Trail Coordinator William Robinson for water trail status for the Elk between Sutton Dam and the river's confluence with the Kanawha River in downtown Charleston.
This week, public hearings on the water trail proposal were held in Elkview and Clay, with a final hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. today in the Braxton Convention and Visitors Bureau office in the Flatwoods Outlet Mall.
Water trail status could provide state and federal funds to help pay for additional river access points, highway signs, water trail brochures, informational kiosks and other promotional items.
"We've got a great resource here that's been overlooked for years," said Sutton Mayor J.L. Campbell, who will open a canoe and kayak livery service on the Elk in his hometown next spring.
"What they've done with the Coal River in developing the [Walhonde] water trail is nothing short of a miracle," Campbell said. "I think it would be a boon for this area, too."
The 70-mile stretch of the Elk between Sutton and Charleston is well suited for beginning and intermediate paddlers, offering gentle riffles, shoals and pools with no life-threatening falls or rapids.
"I'll be marketing my livery service to families, and church and scout groups," said Campbell.
People attending conferences at nearby Flatwoods are also potential water trail users. The Days Hotel and Conference Center has about 83,000 overnight guests annually, Campbell said, most of them in Flatwoods to attend business meetings, conventions and conferences.
"When 4 o'clock rolls around, almost to a person they go to the front desk and ask whoever's there, 'What's there to do?' It would be easy to work in a two- or three-hour float," Campbell said. Birders and anglers fishing for the lower Elk's muskie, smallmouth bass and walleye are also potential customers.
Other entrepreneurs are planning similar boat livery services in the Blue Creek and Clay areas, Campbell said.