The valley of the Guyandotte might be counted among West Virginia's more remote regions. Devil Anse Hatfield was born and died here, and the Battle of Blair Mountain was fought among the twisting ridges that feed its middle course. Tens of thousands of miners worked its rich coal seams, though outsiders seldom ventured into its interior.
Albeit slowly, much has changed. Mining employment declined, and miners begrudgingly out-migrated, loathe to leave the rugged land. Bustling towns were virtually abandoned, and coal camps filled with miner's cottages were consumed by the forest.
Long regarded as little more than a place to fish, the river, however, has since taken on an entirely different, energetic aspect. Victoria Surber, who grew up along its pebbly shores, recalls that she was hardly aware of it as a youth.
"It wasn't something I paid a lot of attention to growing up," Surber says, "but, not long ago, I was watching my grand-daughter play by the edge of the water, and it struck me what an absolutely beautiful thing the river is and how lucky we are to have it."
In truth, Surber is acutely aware of the river. Executive director of the Gilbert Convention and Visitors Bureau, she and others have watched as an increasing number of anglers cast lures from its banks and as kayakers dart like colorful minnows through its eddies and pools.
"The river really has become a chief focus for growth here," she says. "In addition to the enormous number of ATVers who visit year-round, the river has been a big part of this positive change."
The river and the mountains are attracting thousands of tourists looking for an escape, allured by the region's native mystique and beauty. More than 500 miles of off-road vehicle trails extend outward from Gilbert in the Hatfield-McCoy Trails system.
While other towns in the region have fallen into disrepair, Gilbert has maintained and built on its character. Ten guest cabins welcome visitors to the town of fewer than 450 residents, and another eight have opened just beyond its limits. Public and private campgrounds have opened throughout the area.
The Town of Gilbert and its visitor's bureau are local sponsors of the second annual "Great Guyandotte River Regatta," being held July 13 on the river at Mullens, Gilbert, Logan, Branchland, and Barboursville.
Beginning at 10 a.m., the two-hour float is expected to attract hundreds of kayakers and canoers to the river. At Gilbert, festivities coincide with the inauguration of the town's new veteran's memorial park, located in a wooded area in the downtown.
The regatta is the chief fundraiser for the 160-mile Guyandotte Water Trail, which includes 25 river access points between its sources near Mullens and the river's mouth on the Ohio River near Huntington.
A $10 fee for registration helps support the trail and event. Participants will receive a regatta t-shirt, a water bottle, and a wristband. Participants are encouraged to register by July 10 to ensure proper shirt size. Participants who register after July 10 will be provided shirts as available.
Registration is available on Eventbrite.com, and registration forms are available at each put-in locations. The recommended age for participation is eight years old and older, and all participants are required to wear a Coast Guard-approved personal floatation device.
Put-in locations for the 2019 Guyandotte Regatta include—
- Mullens, West Virginia, sponsored by the Rural Appalachian Improvement League, with the put-in location at the Mullens Opportunity Center.
- Gilbert, West Virginia, sponsored by the Town of Gilbert and Gilbert Convention and Visitors Bureau, with the put-in location at the Ned's Branch Bridge.
- Logan, West Virginia, sponsored by the Logan Lions Club, with the put-in location at Peach Creek.
- Branchland, West Virginia, sponsored by Branchland Yacht Club, with the put-in location at the Branchland Park.
- Barboursville, West Virginia, sponsored by the Village of Barboursville, with the put-in location at the Barboursville Park.
The Guyandotte Water Trail Alliance, the National Coal Heritage Area Authority, and Cabell Huntington Hospital are chief sponsors of the regatta.
For more information, please visit www.guyandottewatertrail.com or call the National Coal Heritage office at 304-465-3720.