With an abundance of rain, brief moments of sun, oh wait, and more rain, some might ask, how could a festival be fun with weather like this? Well, let me be the first to tell you, Cheat Fest 2016 was a hoot. Prime conditions provided the perfect atmosphere for spring in the Mid-Atlantic and hundreds of people showed up to bask in the glory of the rain gods. Kayakers, river lovers, bluegrassers, and festival goers alike joined together this past weekend and celebrated the Cheat River in an effort to restore, preserve, and promote an extremely pristine watershed that has endured a tortuous past.

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If the festival wasn’t already enough, we joined Blackwater Outdoor Adventures for a river cleanup that turned out to be one of the most successful meet-up missions yet this year! We filled five canoes with ten people and made our way down the Cheat River. With high water levels we were at first hesitant that there would be no beaches to clean or trash to collect. We were wrong. In the three hours it took us to paddle roughly three miles, we collected a lot of trash. So much actually, we had to stop, because there was no more space available to haul the rubbish.

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We collected remnants of old single-wide trailers, toilets, about 6 tires big and small, a box fan, plastic bottles of all shapes and sizes, and even some lawn furniture. There is no limit to the amount of garbage that could have been collected. With that said though, removing the hundreds of pounds of trash we did made us feel we yielded some kind of impact no matter how small.

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As my blade cut through the wire and plastic choking roots of young Sycamore trees I felt angry. Three separate species of ducks flew overhead as we finagled the trash into the canoe. A strong headwind blew. My j-strokes were ineffective, but the high water swiftly pushed us downriver as we kept a close eye on the riverbanks. I crashed my body through briers and knotweed to get to some trash, and in the process I trespassed into the home of a nesting Cormorant. Quickly I retreated. At that moment I was hopeful that some day we can all begin to live in harmony. So much life stems from the rivers we pollute everyday. Float down a river and be still, enjoy it. Make sure to notice the incredible amount of life that surrounds you. As we drug our canoes heaping with trash out of the water, a Great Blue Heron swooped low. I don’t know what it meant, but it felt right.

A huge shout out to the folks at Friends of the Cheat and Patrick at Blackwater Outdoor Adventures for making the cleanup happen, and to the folks who came out to give back and celebrate the abundance of life on the river.

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– Adam Ritter