Cheat Canyon Preserved for Future Generations
13 April 2014
By Rebecca Olsavsky, Staff Writer
ROWLESBURG, W.Va. - Tucked away in the rocks of north-central West
Virginia is the secret to a multi-million dollar conservation
effort - a "threetooth" snail that actually has just one tooth.
Cheat Canyon, the only place on Earth the Cheat threetooth snail
calls home, will be protected for future generations by a
conservation partnership that includes The Nature Conservancy, The
Conservation Fund, and the West Virginia Division of Natural
Resources. The snail is federally listed as a threatened species.
The groups announced the partnership on Thursday. When the $7
million project is completed, it will conserve most of the canyon
not already included in Cooper's Rock State Forest and Snake Hill
Wildlife Management Area.
The canyon, a deep gorge through which the Cheat River flows
between Rowlesburg in Preston County to Cheat Lake in Monongalia
County, is a popular whitewater rafting destination and home to
diverse wildlife such as the endangered Indiana bat.
Within the Cheat, the threatened threetooth snail lives in deep,
cool rocky habitats often identifiable by their coverage from
rhododendrons. WVDNR Wildlife Specialist Craig Stihler said the
snail's name can be misleading - it has one tooth on its shell,
not three. The tooth keeps snail-eating beetles from pulling the
creature out of its protective flat shell.
Stihler said the quarter-sized Cheat threetooth snail never
ventures more than a meter - a little more than 3 feet - from its
Acquiring a 7-mile stretch of one of West Virginia's most iconic
landscapes turned out to be no small feat, as there have been
various conservation efforts under way since 1976. This particular
effort has been in the works for the past five years.
In partnership with The Nature Conservancy, The Conservation Fund
acquired 3,800 acres along the Cheat River. The Conservation Fund
negotiated the purchase from The Forestland Group, a timber
investment firm that currently owns the property. The Nature
Conservancy is providing $3 million in private funding and is
acquiring 2,300 acres of the property, and will retain 1,300 acres
as the new Charlotte Ryde Nature Preserve, funded from a bequest
from the estate of Charlotte Ryde. The DNR will acquire the
remaining acreage - about 2,500 acres - to complement existing
public recreation lands on the lower Cheat River.
Additional funding comes from money dedicated for land
conservation from the West Virginia Outdoor Heritage Conservation
Fund, a $1.5 million grant from the Land and Water Conservation
Fund through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Cooperative
Endangered Species Conservation Fund, and $400,000 from the West
Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
"Private, state and federal funds used for conservation not only
leverage each other; they also reflect the national significance
of the state's land, water and wildlife resources, the commitment
of West Virginia's citizens through our public investment in our
'Wild and Wonderful' outdoors, and the creativity to bring
together various partners to go the distance and reach this
milestone," said Reggie Hall, West Virginia state director for The
Hall thanked Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for recognizing the value of
the landscape to West Virginians.
"We are very lucky that a lot of things came together," added
Rodney Bartgis, state director of The Nature Conservancy in West
Bartgis believes without the Cheat threetooth snail's need for
protection, gathering the proper funding for the project would
have proven near impossible. Curtis Taylor, chief of the WVDNR
Wildlife Resources Section, said every management decision the
group makes moving forward will center on the question, "Is this
good or bad for the snail?"
Along with working to protect the snail's habitat, the groups also
are considering a plan to re-open a section of the Allegheny Trail
that had been turned into a logging road.
"It's not a matter of opening a gate," Bartgis said, citing trail
uses, safety regulations and funding terms as items to consider
beyond maintaining the snail's habitat.
In terms of connecting the trail to the Cheat River, the groups
are treading carefully on the idea of developing additional
put-ins or take-outs for fishermen and whitewater rafters to have
increased access to the water. Steve Brown, stream restoration
program administrator for the DNR, said there are limited places
for such access. One possible spot, located between the rapids of
Big Nasty and Even Nastier, already shows the remains of a path to
the river. Plus, the access point doesn't feature a prime snail
The river, having dealt with mine drainage over the years, is
steadily recovering because of the decades of work and millions of
dollars in investments by local people, state agencies, and groups
such as Friends of the Cheat.
Friends of the Cheat Executive Director Amanda Pitzer believes the
true sign of success is when visitors can walk down to the river
and catch a fish. As a population of smallmouth bass is growing as
a result of investments to improve water quality, Pitzer's vision
of success is becoming a reality.
"Over 20 years we've worked with many partners. We're seeing the
Cheat River come back," Pitzer said about efforts to mitigate the
acid mining drainage problem. "The water quality is only going to
Although Bartgis emphasized "there's a fair amount of work to go,"
the Cheat Canyon conservation partnership is ready to progress
carefully with projects that will conserve the area for wildlife
to live and outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy - even if it moves at a