It was a wet start to the weekend for Gauley Fest, with about an inch of rain coming down per hour, but that didn’t stop nearly 2,500 people from attending the annual event. Although attendance was down 20 percent from previous years, the rain didn’t deter the hardcore Gauley crowd. “Boaters are used to rain, the wet conditions didn’t slow anyone down,” says Mark Singleton, Executive Director of American Whitewater, “This is exactly the kind of core audience we throw the Gauley Fest party for.”
On the Saturday, the Gauley River peaked at 8,000 cfs (cubic feet per second), with 4,000 cfs coming from the Meadows, giving people plenty to talk about as the party got underway. Deals on gear were to be had from companies such as Werner Paddles, Level Six and Chaco, while big name kayak companies like Jackson and Dagger gave away brand new boats to an excited crowd.
This year celebrated 30 years of the event, which speaks to its popularity among the whitewater crowd. The party and giveaways are certainly highlights of attending the annual festival, but they are nothing compared to the main event – the river. “The reason so many people come is because of the river, it’s just in a class of its own. We almost lost that 30 years ago when a hydro project would have dewatered the upper 4 miles,” says Singleton, “It’s a reminder that if you love paddling rivers, you also have to be an advocate and protect what you love.”
Money raised from the event goes towards other stewardship projects American Whitewater is involved in, ranging from building a parking lot at the Upper Youghiogheny River in Friendsville, Maryland, to submitting recommendations for protecting rivers across the USA.
The six-week window in which there are regular releases from the dam result in some big volume water, attracting folks from all around the world. “You can paddle the river down to lower level, around 800cfs and below, but the river is really known for the big booming high water lines that come in above 3000cfs,” explains Singleton.
When it’s all said and done, Gauley Fest is an event you’ll want to attend at least once in your lifetime, and you won’t soon forget about it. “It’s a party with 2500 of your closest friends, what’s not to like about that?” Singleton quips.