TORNADO, W.Va. -- Bill Currey believes that the more people you can get to try paddling on the Coal River, the greater the interest will be in preserving and restoring the 100-mile river system.
That's one reason the Coal River Group, the watershed protection organization Currey co-founded in 2004, has assembled a fleet of 35 rental kayaks and canoes and is offering three self-guided trips from its headquarters in Meadowood Park at Tornado.
If the CRG's Coal River Kayak and Canoe Rental enterprise makes a little money, that's icing on the cake, since "every penny we make goes into our river restoration program," Currey said.
Earlier this year, the CRG bought and expanded on the kayak and canoe livery service created in 2010 by former Division of Environmental Protection inspector and supervisor Bill Simmons, who was looking for an opportunity to retire from his second career.
During the peak summer season, the business will be run by a group of college interns -- Bryan Shamblin of West Virginia University, Kali Cuttaia of the University of Charleston and Lauren Carte of Marshall University. Sara Cottingham of VISTA's Appalachian Coal Country Team is supervising the trio.
The three interns have received hands-on training and are already keeping busy -- mainly on weekends, so far -- with renting and shuttling canoes and kayaks.
The most popular trip is a seven-mile float back to the CRG headquarters, and Coal River Kayak and Canoe Rental office.
"It starts from Lock 4, part of the lock and dam system used on the Coal River in the 1860s," said Shamblin. "A lot of it is still visible."
The take-out point for the trip is a ramp built last year near the entrance to Meadowood Park, in the shadow of the Tornado Bridge.