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Interns enthusiastic about Coal River

By Charles Young

Bill Currey, chairman and co-founder of the Coal River Group, realizes the limitations of running a volunteer-driven organization.

Although the group is making great strides in its effort to revitalize the more than 100 miles of the Coal River, Currey said a nonprofit like theirs is only able to be effective when staffed by capable, passionate volunteers.

Luckily for Currey, the group is joined for 10 weeks this summer by three student interns who will be earning college credit as they run the organization's business end, staff events and work on projects furthering the group's goals. 

 "For us, it's a wonderful program," Currey said. "We don't have a labor expense and we've got young, enthusiastic people."

Bryan Shamblin, a 24-year-old West Virginia University student studying wildlife and fisheries management, said he read about the internship opportunity in a newspaper and realized a summer spent working on the river would be a perfect fit.

Shamblin, an experienced boater and paddler, said the internship allows him to not only get experience with customer service and finance, but allows him to indulge his aquatic passions.

As he travels up and down the river's three main bodies in a one-person sit-on-top kayak, he makes note of the various beaches, public access spots and fishing locations that would need to be marked for guests.  

"We're trying to get some signage up and break it up into different sections of trips for fishermen and people who want to get out for a day," he said.

Shamblin is also undertaking a project to map the entirety of the river's 586 named streams using GPS. Before the summer is over, he said he hopes to have completed physical and digital maps of the river trail that will be both informative and allow visitors to travel safely.

A friend at school told Lauren Carte, a 21-year-old Marshall student majoring in natural recourses and recreations management, about the program.

"There's a girl in one of my classes who was doing her senior project here on river restoration," she said. "She said they were doing a canoe and kayak rental internships, and I know that would be more my field."

Carte's personal project is educational outreach for children. She organizes and promotes days where local school children can come learn about the history of the river and get a chance to try their hand at kayaking. She's also working on writing and constructing displays illuminating local wildlife and telling guests about the group's goals.

"We're trying to make it visitor friendly and educational," she said. "We want something that is hands-on, attractive and eye-catching."  

Kali Cuttaia, a 24-year-old University of Charleston student studying sports management and business, joins the pair. Currey's 10-year-old grandson, Kellen, assists the trio of students.

Each morning the interns arrive early at the group's headquarters in Tornado's Meadowlands Park to open its boat rental business and prepare for the day.

They clean and service the fleet of kayaks and canoes, stock merchandise and sale displays. When guests arrive at the park for a day on the water, the interns handle their business transactions, go over safety procedures, outfit boaters with lifejackets and help them get their boats in the water. Weekends are their busiest time for rentals, so they devote much of the weekdays to working on their own projects. 

The students will also be staffing this year's 11-mile float trip fundraiser, The Tour de Coal, taking place June 20 to 23. Last year's event featured more than 600 paddlers in 400 boats and the group expects an even greater turnout this time around.

"We'll be getting busy pretty soon figuring out how we're going to run that," Shamblin said.

Before the trip, the interns will staff a "Pre-registration Bash" where participants can register early, take paddling lessons and enjoy the park's amenities.

"We'll be helping people learn to kayak," Shamblin said. "We plan to orient them on safety, teach them some different paddle stokes and actually get them in the water. We'll let everyone play around and kind of get used to being in the water."

With the help of the interns this summer, Currey said he hopes to attract new visitors and customers to the river, some of who will inevitably decide to denote their time to the revitalization effort.

"The only real challenge is getting people to come out," he said. "Once they're here, see what we're doing and see the river, they'll want to help out and come back."

Contact writer Charles Young at charles.young@dailymail.com or 304-348-1796.


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