CHARLESTON – After more than a year of planning and obtaining necessary permits, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) has begun work on a river access site for the “Dries” section of the New River at Cotton Hill in Fayette County.
The new parking area will allow both commercial and private river users improved access to the remote stretch of river that runs from Cotton Hill downstream through the lower reaches of the New River Gorge to Gauley Bridge. A similar public access site was developed at the take-out along U.S. Route 60 in Gauley Bridge last year.
This 5.5-mile section of the New River is called the “Dries” since most of the flow of the New River is diverted by the Hawks Nest Dam and runs through a tunnel to a power plant before being released back into the streambed near the mouth of the New River Gorge. As a condition of the relicensing of the dam by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) two years ago, the WVDEP required Brookfield Renewable – the owner of the dam and power plant – to provide scheduled releases of water for recreational use through the Dries for seven weekends each summer. Included in that re-licensing agreement were provisions for the two new river access sites along with the opening of a new public hiking/biking trail that runs from the Cotton Hill bridge upstream along the river and dam to Hawks Nest State Park.
Both river access sites are expected to be ready for use by late June when the next scheduled release of water through the Dries will occur.