Rollicking Rivers of the Virginias

The Cheat River

The Cheat River is the largest dam-free watershed east of the Mississippi. It passes through steep mountain country, where the water runs off quickly. Locals say it got its name from the way it would rise without warning, taking away clothing and gear left along its banks. Because the headwaters are so far from the main stem, rain there can cause the river to rise in sunny weather. It's a large river that holds its water well, and it is often runnable well into the summer.

The countryside that the Cheat flows through is unspoiled for the most part. The last major tributary comes in above Parsons. The stretch between Parsons and Rowlesburg is flatwater, passing through picturesque rural countryside. From Rowlesburg to Cheat Lake outside Morgantown, the Cheat remains attractive despite considerable mining and timbering activity. The water quality is pretty good until the first acid stream enters at the take-out for the Narrows. At the mouth of Cheat Canyon, two more acid streams, Muddy Creek and Green's Run, enter the river. The acid is not noticeable to most paddlers except at very low summer flows.

In November, 1995, the Cheat River drainage was ravaged by a great flood. First, the area received four to six inches of rain on November 4. Late that evening a strong, low-pressure cell stalled at the headwaters, dumping another six to eight inches of rain in a short time. This caused a massive flood that forever altered the river. The entire watershed, including Shavers, Laurel, Glady, Dry, and Blackwater Forks, was scoured by the water. The unprecedented high water in the Cheat, Potomac, and Greenbrier watersheds had tragic results: 40 people dead, 2600 homeless, and 29 West Virginia counties declared disaster areas. These waters changed the riverbed and rolled giant boulders into Cheat Canyon.

Despite this assault, the river is remarkably scenic. Anyone who runs the Cheat will surely love it. If you want to help with the clean-up efforts, Friends of the Cheat is a local group working to restore, preserve, and promote the outstanding natural qualities of this river.

© Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press. All rights reserved.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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