WILLIAMSON, West Virginia (WSAZ) – People who live near the Tug Fork River have said it has been an eyesore for decades with tires lining the river’s water bed.
Micheal Hackney loves to fish the river whenever he has the chance.
“A lot of people just throw away garbage,” Hackney said. He said the appearance of the river is sad, but it has changed a lot in recent years.
“It’s actually been cleaned up a lot since I got out a lot of stripped tires, trash, picked up debris,” Hackney said.
Thanks to groups like Friends of the Tug Fork, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and local support, the river is cleaned up.
John Burchett is a member of the Friends of the Tug Fork, he decided to do something for the river in 2019.
“I have lived here most of my life,” said Burchett. “One of the big questions we get is ‘where are all these tires in the world coming from’ and there are a lot of tires in this river, that’s a huge problem.”
Burchett made a few calls and got the Virginia Department of Environmental Protection involved. The agency brings essential equipment to help dispose of waste and tires.
“I realized that I am somebody and that I can do something about it,” said Burchett.
It’s been three years since Burchett, the W.Va. DEP and local groups started cleaning up tires and trash. They removed 4,000 tires with 2,500 in the past year from a stretch of the river near Williamson, W.Va.
However, Burchett’s dreams for the river are much bigger. The economy of Williamson and Mingo County was once based on coal, but not now groups like Friends of the Tug Fork are trying to change that. Burchett said there was a new respect for the county’s main river and that he was working to develop the tourist potential of the river.
Thanks to the work done by Burchett and others, 60 miles of the Tug Fork that runs through Mingo County was recently classified as a West Virginia Flat Water River Trail by the Department of Transportation.
“With the designation of the river, it will give the people who come to the Hatfield-McCoy trail system something else to do and maybe they will stay a day or two longer,” said Burchett.
The designation, Burchett said, is just a piece of paper, but it opens the door to grants and tourism opportunities in a county that is already attracting people for hiking. Burchett hopes kayak rentals, boat launches, fishing grounds and bait shops will be part of the county’s growth.
Some of his inspiration comes from groups that have done similar work in West Virginia like the Coal River Group. The Coal River Group operates kayak rentals and other attractions along the Coal River waterways.
“It’s a very long process but we are starting and the key is to start,” said Burchett.
Burchett said a lot of the obstacles they face are similar, and while they do their own thing, it’s an inspiration to see another group of people defending the rivers of West Virginia. They will continue their cleanup efforts, apply for grants and lay the groundwork for new opportunities.
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