Inaugural Kanawha Falls Festival to feature world-class kayak competitors
Some of America’s best professional whitewater athletes will challenge the feisty, frothy waters -- and each other -- at the first-time Kanawha Falls Festival Thursday, Sept. 14, at the falls site near Gauley Bridge.
The festival will include a whitewater downriver kayak race on the river, as well as a freestyle kayak competition. From the banks and quieter waters of the river, spectators are encouraged to capture the action and surrounding scenery by taking part in a photography competition, as well.
ACE Adventure Gear is sponsoring the inaugural Kanawha Falls Festival, which will run from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. on the 14th. Kayakers and photographers can register from 10 a.m. to noon in the Kanawha Falls parking lot. They also have the option of preregistering on Wednesday, Sept. 13, at the ACE Adventure Gear shop at 239 North Court St. in Fayetteville.
The river events will have three separate heats of downriver and slalom races and freestyle/best line competition.
The registration fees are $15 for the race or freestyle competition only, $20 for both and $10 for the photography competition. The cost to enter all three categories is $30.
Corey Lilly, marketing manager for ACE Adventure Gear, conceived the notion of the local kayaking showcase. “It was kind of my idea,” he said. “I presented it to the DNR and Brookfield Energy. Kanawha Falls, for whatever reason, kind of fell out of the sight of a lot of whitewater enthusiasts; no one knew about it for a long time. A group of kayakers around here, including myself, started going down there and found it was a world-class whitewater attraction. The falls have multiple channels that are Class V rapids; they’re really high-quality whitewater.
“The catch is, everyone thought it was illegal to do. If you drop in above the low-head dam and go into the falls, it is illegal, but if you hike up from the bottom of the falls and don’t go up to the low-head dam, it’s legal,” Lilly explained. “We realized it would be a really great spot to have professional kayakers come in and have races and freestyles. It’s a perfect location for that.”
Lilly and his kayaking compadres posted videos of their Kanawha Falls exploits on various websites and social media outlets, and national interest in the Fayette County venue flourished, he said.
“I’m from the area,” he said, “and grew up kayaking here. I’ve been kayaking all over, and I wanted to highlight this area as being a really world-class spot. I thought a festival would bring that to light and show people here what a wonderful opportunity it is to get out and recreate right in their own back yard.”
Lilly said the festival’s Thursday date was chosen to precede the weekend’s Gauley Fest in the vicinity and attract Gauley Fest attendees to witness or participate in the first-time event.
“Gauley Fest has been really well accepted, and people are really excited by it. A lot of people have been to the area, since Fayetteville is a world-class place for whitewater, but, for some reason, they thought it was illegal to kayak on the falls. It deterred a lot of people from exploring down there, until we found out what was really possible there,” Lilly said.
Festival whitewater competitors must be sound, experienced Class IV-plus kayakers, given the natural challenges and inherent hazards of the Kanawha Falls rapids.
“This is a Class V rapid that we are going to be going down,” said Lilly. “We’re going to have some of the best swiftwater crews setting safety for this. But we don’t want that to deter spectators. They’ll be able to come up from the boat launch and paddle across the flat water in whatever craft they have. The people who are competing in the event are world-class athletes, but I don’t want people to be scared away from coming to the event. There will be places for people to be able to watch from a safe location as these athletes from all over the world compete. They are seasoned professions that do this for a living.”
Adjacent to Kanawha Falls, the Glen Ferris Inn will supply food and the award ceremony venue for the Kanawha Falls Festival. Winners will be announced at the inn following the competition.
Additionally, the historical hotel will provide festival participants a 10 percent discount on lodging.
More information regarding accommodations and reservations is available by calling the Glen Ferris Inn at 304-632-1111.
Lilly said he would be pleased if the Kanawha Falls Festival turns into an annual -- and expanding -- outdoor occurrence.
“I hope this can turn into its own entity,” he said, postulating that fishing tournaments, stand-up paddleboarding and other recreational attractions could be added to the kayaking and photography enticements. “This could turn into an event that has a really positive impact for Gauley Bridge, that local people can look forward to, as we could potentially turn this into a regular weekend event. I hope it does really well for the community. I’m from Southern West Virginia, and I feel we need more things like this to build up morale and give people something fun to do.”
To volunteer for the festival or obtain additional information, contact Corey Lilly at Clilly@aceraft.com
For more information about the festival and registration, as well, contact Lilly ot ACE Adventure Gear at 304-574-1900.