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Blackwater Falls blocked by storm debris

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Because of superstorm Sandy, visitors seeking a close-up look at Blackwater Falls State Park's namesake waterfall might have to wait until next spring to take the 214-step boardwalk to an eye-level viewing platform of the often-photographed cataract.

More than 30 inches of snow fell on Blackwater Falls as the remnants of Sandy swept through West Virginia's northeastern mountains, downing trees, snapping off limbs and shearing power lines at the 2,358-acre Tucker County park. On Friday, after being without power for 18 days, the park was able to resume its lodge, cabin and restaurant operations for the first time since the storm struck.

"The roads are open now, but Lindy Point Trail and a number of other trails are closed due to the need to remove debris," said Rob Gilligan, who serves as superintendent of the Blackwater Falls and Canaan Valley state parks.

Gilligan said work has resumed on a new surface lift at Blackwater's sledding area, which should be completed early this winter.

Heavy snowfall caused several large trees to slide down the slopes overlooking the point where the Blackwater River flows off a stream-wide ledge and plunges 62 feet into a pool below. Several sections of the viewing area boardwalk were destroyed as the trees plummeted into the gorge.

"It's a mess at the falls and a difficult site to work in," Gilligan said. Lingering cold temperatures and mist from the waterfall make the boardwalk an icy, hazardous repair site.

Depending on the weather during winter, it could take several months to rebuild the boardwalk, Gilligan said.

Meanwhile, in the Monongahela National Forest, which borders Blackwater Falls and extends southward into Greenbrier County, saw crews have cleared roads leading to campgrounds at Summit Lake, Bishop Knob, Tea Creek and the Cranberry River.

Monongahela National Forest campgrounds remaining closed because of storm-toppled trees include Big Rock, along the Cranberry River in the Gauley Ranger District, and the roadside campsites along Williams River Road between Dyer and the Highland Scenic Highway.

Tea Creek Campground along the Williams River can be accessed only from the nearby Highlands Scenic Highway, but any significant snowfall will make the campground inaccessible because the scenic highway is not plowed. Cranberry Campground, along the Cranberry River, can be reached by following Forest Road 101 from Dyer or Forest Road 76 from Richwood.

Many forest roads in the Monongahela, particularly in its northern section, might not reopen until spring, as saw crews concentrate on opening roads leading to campgrounds and recreation areas to the south that normally are open at this time of year.

Forest Service officials caution hunters to be wary of hazards posed by hanging branches and toppling trees.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.


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