The Upper Cheat River Water Trail is certainly a natural wonder of northern West Virginia, but its banks and towns are also home to a rich history. I recently took a kayak trip about 11 miles down the Cheat River from Parsons, the current county seat of Tucker County, to St. George, which was the original county seat of Tucker County.
Move Your Feet, Lose Your Seat
It is an interesting political tale as to how the Tucker County seat was moved from St. George to Parsons. In 1888, the railroad came to Parsons, adding quickly to its growth. Parsons already had the advantage of being more centrally located in the county, and now had an important transportation advantage. In three attempts (1889, 1890, and 1892), Parsons residents petitioned to have the county seat moved, but fell short of reaching the required level of support.
Finally, in 1893, it appeared they had garnered enough support, but the outcome was challenged—first in court and then as an appeal to the state government. Rather than waiting for the state’s response, vigilantes took the matter into their own hands and marched to St. George to forcibly capture the seat of county government. The county records were seized and relocated to Parsons. They even stole the bell from the clock tower of the old county courthouse at St. George! This happened on August 1, 1893, six days before the state officially recognized Parsons as the new county seat on August 7. If you think politics in local government gets crazy now, just think what that must have been like in those days!
Cheat River Water Trail
The Upper Cheat River Water Trail is a beginner-friendly class 1 to 2 river. Some people choose to float this section in inner tubes, but I think kayaking is more fun. We put our kayaks in the water at Parsons, and were soon going through rapids—the first of many that day. To me, it is both fun and challenging to try picking the best route to take through the rapids and avoid getting stuck on a rock—or worse yet, tipping your kayak.
Most of the time, we were alone under a beautiful blue sky surrounded by lush green trees, following a fast flowing river through a series of descending riffles to each subsequent pool. There was some farmland bordering the river at times, and on rare occasions some houses were visible. Some of the steep hillsides featured cascading waterfalls, as small tributaries flowing from recent rains joined the majestic Cheat River.
We encountered several islands in the river, and we always followed the advice we were given to choose the path to the right side. There was only one time that I momentarily became stuck on a rock in a shallow spot, but I was able to extricate myself and get right back into the flow.
We had been told that we would go past two bridges, and then the third bridge would be our destination of St. George. The first bridge was a modern one for a small road, but the second one was merely the remnants of an old suspension bridge that had been destroyed in the devastating 1985 flood. The final bridge at St. George gained some media notoriety after flood damage picture made its rounds showing a dead cow with its legs hanging down, stuck with other flood debris up in the air within the metal framework under the bridge.
All too soon we arrived at the St. George bridge and realized our wonderful day on the Cheat River had come to an end. However, it will not be our last visit there, as I hope to return to explore more of this beautiful river. For more information on the Cheat River, visit Friends of the Cheat.
This article originally appeared on David’s blog “Inquisineer.” Inquire for yourself to read about more of his West Virginia travels.