Going with the Flow: Restoring the West Fork River Benefits
People and Wildlife
29 March 2015
By John Schmidt and Frank Jernejcic
[Frank Jernejcic is
Vice-President of UMRA and a retired WV-DNR Fisheries
The Clarksburg Water Board’s approval Monday to remove three dams
in the West Fork River is a decision that will benefit both people
and wildlife in the river’s surrounding communities of Harrison
County, West Virginia.
Our goal in removing the dams is to preserve our national heritage
and legacy of abundant fish and wildlife, with places for families
to experience nature, enjoy waterways and go fishing.
The waterway will be returned to free-flowing conditions not seen
in nearly a century. The projects, which also include modifying a
fourth dam for fish passage, will alleviate a safety hazard,
re-open nearly 40 miles of river and encourage expansion of native
smallmouth bass and muskellunge populations.
The river will be accessible and safe for fishermen, kayakers and
others enjoying the West Fork River Water Trail.
Good water flow for fish and paddlers alike is assured by the
mandatory minimum water release from Stonewall Jackson Dam in
upstream Lewis County.
In addition, removing these dams will encourage a more diverse and
resilient river environment that flushes nutrients, pollutants and
sediment, and supports thriving fish and freshwater mussel
These dam removals would be the first of their kind in the state
of West Virginia, according to the West Virginia Department of
Environmental Protection. Clarksburg will set a strong precedent
for the future health of rivers in the state.
The right people have partnered with Clarksburg Water Board to
ensure the success of this effort, including the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources
Conservation Service, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources
and Canaan Valley Institute.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has vast experience in
restoring rivers across the Northeast. Working closely with a
diverse group of partners, we have improved water quality, reduced
the effects of flooding and losses to property, and enhanced
rivers for fish and other wildlife by removing more than 200
barriers to fish passage in the Northeast since 2009.
According to the peer-reviewed report, “Conserving America’s
Fisheries: An Assessment of Economic Contributions from Fisheries
and Aquatic Resource Conservation,” each mile of restored stream
or river generates nearly $543,000 in direct and indirect benefit
to local and regional economies once the river is in full
For the nearly 40 miles of habitat opened on the West Fork, we
expect increased visitation and use of hotels and restaurants,
bait purchases, increased property values and improved water
quality to benefit the local economy.
We have secured funding from the Service’s National Fish Passage
Program to remove the first two dams and are seeking additional
support for removing the third dam and modifying the fourth dam.
We expect to complete all projects by fall 2016.
In recognition of the historical value of these dams to the
community, we welcome discussion on ways to honor and pay tribute
to the dams through interpretation or other means. We also
encourage public input as we create fisherman and boater accesses
at the restored dam sites.
The West Fork River watershed provides some of the most beautiful
scenery in this region and is a valuable natural resource. We
support and encourage recreational uses such as fishing, boating,
hiking and wildlife observation.
When the water flow is restored, the natural improvements to the
river and watershed will only enhance the outdoor recreational
opportunities and provide an economic boost for eco-tourism.
We believe this is a win-win solution for the local economy and
our conservation mission.