This weekend we made our yearly pilgrimage to the Historic Town of Sutton, the county seat of Braxton County, to kayak the Elk River Water Trail (ERWT) for the 5th Annual Elk River Float (ERFloat). This event has grown exponentially since its conception and is firmly becoming a first class experience.
Elk River Water Trail
The ERWT is a 96.5 mile Water Trail that starts at the South Abutment of the Sutton Dam in Braxton County, WV and runs to Mink Shoals at Coonskin Park in Kanawha County, WV. There are 12 primary access sites with kiosk and five other proposed sites along Interstate 79 and WV State Route 4.
Remembering our 1st Annual ERFloat, a small group of people, the river’s water level a little low, and all of us not knowing what to expect and feeling embarrassed. We did the 6.5-mile section from the Sutton Dam to Dairy Queen in Gassaway where we all got out and ate a small ice cream. It is now the 5th Annual, and the little group has grown from almost 30 people to nearly 500 people. We have been to this event every year and have made it our family pilgrimage to kick off our kayaking adventures for the Summer.
From experience, we have learned to pack all of our equipment the day before. Loading our stuff early allows us the luxury of quickly getting up and out the door. Starting our day by grabbing a few sausage biscuits from the good ole’ Mc. Double D’s and a few snacks at the local Go-Mart, we headed toward the staging area.
Staging, Registering, and hitting the Trail
The event is extremely organized and makes it easy to come and enjoy. Usually designating three different take out points giving participants boating options of 5.75 miles (9.25k), 6.5 miles (10.46k), and 10 miles (16k). After arriving at the assigned staging area at the Dam. We unloaded all of our gear and headed back to the designated parking lot across from the Dairy Queen access location while Heather checked us into the registration station, and she collected our shirts. Shuttle buses run throughout the morning taking families from parking access sites back to the staging area at the Dam.
Launching with so many people may seem a little crazy, but it isn’t. There were three different start groups scheduled, and we were on the first launch. But, due to so many people, launching started 30 minutes early for those who wanted to go. So, we got ourselves into the water and started down the trail.
Better Every Year
Every year we have the same complaint, “Not enough water flow.” Water flow is a necessity for this event, and there never seems to be enough of it, always dragging your bottom and needing to get out and pull your kayak, boat, or canoe at many low points. But, this year was fantastic. The event organizers were able to have the US Army Corps of Engineers increase the water flow for the event. By raising the water flow, it made for the best ERFloat yet.
Heading down the river, we noticed Boy Scouts in a canoe and asked if they were out to enjoy the trip. The answer was yes, but they volunteered to boat in sections of the trail to help anyone if the need would arise. 3.3 miles down we passed a courtesy stop hosted by the Shiloh Fellowship Church. They provided free drinks and hot dogs for those who stopped to rest on their shore. At each of the access points, volunteers were working to assist as well. It was unbelievable how many people came out to help with this event. With the organization, volunteers, and sponsorships supporting this event, it’s easy to recognize what’s driving their growth and success.
About 4.7 miles on the trail we stopped at the Little Buffalo Creek tributary. The river bank is flat and runs into the Elk River making it a beautiful place to stay for a short picnic, leg stretch, swim, and take a few extra photo shots with the family. With little over a mile to go, and receiving a nice little rest, we continued on our trip.
Exiting and Loading
Arriving at the Dairy Queen access point, there was about a 5-minute exit wait time. With a few families ahead of us, we took advantage of the slow current to float, relax, paddle around, and talk until our turn. Exiting the river is incredibly easy with concrete steps, and a concrete/wooden boat ramp. After bringing our gear over the bank, the kids ran to Dairy Queen to grab themselves an ice cream. While they snacked and rested, I walked over to the parking lot, got our vehicle, and brought it around to load our equipment.
The loading area at Dairy Queen is tight. In a spot designed for five, 15 vehicles will squeeze in to load their equipment and family. Once entering back onto Route 4, we headed home calling the 5th Annual Elk River Float a complete success and a great, adventurous, and fun family event.
With great organization, excellent sponsorships, and lots of friendly volunteers, the ERFloat is an event that you must come out and experience. It is an event that not only the Hosts can be proud of, but an event that should make all Braxton Countians proud. It is a time that people and small towns along the Elk River can be showcased and enjoyed by individuals exploring this hidden gem, the Elk River Water Trail.