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Summersville Whitewater

USACE-LRH
Published Sept. 5, 2014
Just below the Summersville Dam, some of the season’s first whitewater rafters begin their trip down the challenging Gauley.

Just below the Summersville Dam, some of the season’s first whitewater rafters begin their trip down the challenging Gauley.

Federal, state and local officials take part in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Bolivar Dam seepage barrier.

Federal, state and local officials take part in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Bolivar Dam seepage barrier.

It’s a thundering sound that is rarely heard along the Gauley River these days.

Since the hydropower plant went into operation in 2001 at Summersville Dam, most of the water flowing through the dam and into the river has quietly been pumped through the power plant - but to celebrate the beginning of the short whitewater season (and just for fun), the morning of Sept. 5, 2014, one of the giant Howell-Bunger valves was opened and a roaring jet of cold water greeted the rafters as they started their journey down the river.

As the rafters loaded into the river about 100 yards below the spray, the flow gave them a boost downriver.

The whitewater season on the Gauley River is only possible during six weeks in the fall, when Summersville Dam releases water to bring the lake down to its winter pool level.

Only then is there enough water for the thrilling ride. There are more than 100 rapids (areas of rough water) along the way, each one of which is rated on a scale ranging from an easy Class III to a vigorous

Class V. (If a rapid is rated Class VI, the only way to pass it is to get out of the river and walk around it.)

The whitewater season is a magnet for visitors from all over the world, who take advantage of this once-a-year opportunity to pit their skills against the river.