Organizers of an annual flat-water kayaking tour on the Coal River at Saint Albans, West Virginia, say they think their event may now be the nation's largest.
Following a 14 percent increase in kayaking participation, Bill Currey, co-founder and chair of Coal River Group, said the June 16 festival may have broken a national record.
More than 1,400 kayakers and as many as 2,000 people floated during the event, which was established 14 years ago to help raise funds for the restoration of the river, which descends out of the southern coalfields of West Virginia.
"We may sound like we are bragging, but, as far as we can determine, the Tour De Coal is truly the largest flatwater kayak event ever held in the U.S.," Currey said.
This year the organization teamed up with the City of Saint Albans, located at the mouth of the Coal on the Kanawha River to launch "Yakfest" — a two day celebration of flatwater kayaking that proffered live music, craft beer, local food, local arts, and provided visitors the opportunity to survey kayak boats, gear, and river-sporting merchandise.
More than 65 vendors registered for a first truly a successful first year for the Yakfest, Currey said.
Paddlers from more than 18 states participate in the tour, during which riverfront homes along the 12-mile route became centers of entertainment, which in most cases offered the paddlers opportunities to enjoy good old West Virginia hospitality, he said.
Entrepreneurs along the river provided free music, food, drink, and services, and offered to ferry paddlers upstream to the launch at Tornado, West Virginia.
"One enterprising group, the nonprofit Bully Buddies adoption group, offered food, drinks, and livery services to take people back to their vehicles in return for a donation and reported that they raised over $1,000 during the event for the paddlers.
Coal River Group has helped restore the entire 88 miles of the Big Coal and Little Coal rivers through funding it generates from tour along with other events that support clean-up, restoration, tourism-creation promotions, and training and learning programs and helps maintain and support their designated committees in the Big Coal Branch and the Little Coal River Branch.
"These committees work tirelessly to improve their sections of the Coal River Watershed," Currey said. "We all work as a team and together we have brought life back to the Coal Rivers."