By Tina Alvey
In many ways, the history of West Virginia is the history of its rivers. Thus, an enthusiastic crowd of more than 60 people gathered on the Mountain State’s 150th birthday at The Ritz theater for an apropos screening of the documentary film “3 Rivers: The Bluestone, Gauley and New.”
A West Virginia Public Broadcasting Service production, “3 Rivers” explores the geography, ecology, beauty and power of the trio of federally protected waterways. Just as the New, Gauley and Bluestone rivers have carved out gorges through the millennia, so too has human civilization made lasting imprints — for good or bad — on the rivers and their habitats, the documentary illustrates.
Historian Mack Gillenwater — one of dozens of experts who appear on camera in the well-crafted documentary — points out, “Water is essential to life in every form.”
John Perez of the National Park Service reinforces that point, noting there are 1,300 kinds of plants found in the New River Gorge, what he describes as “almost a rainforest” environment.
Other sections of the 90-minute documentary focus on the recreational opportunities afforded by the rivers — especially after the construction of such dams as the Bluestone and Summersville — and the communities and industries that blossomed in the watersheds, with the narrator saying the Gauley is “the economic backbone of Nicholas County.”
Yet another segment showcases the Lilly family and its annual reunion, touted as “the largest on the planet.”
And throughout the film, which premiered March 3 on WVPBS, there are breathtaking aerial shots, bringing home the beauty of the rivers and their watersheds.
The West Virginia Day screening of the documentary was staged as a fundraiser for what is dubbed “the Confluence Campaign” — a joint endeavor by the National Committee for the New River (NCNR) and Friends of the Lower Greenbrier River (FOLGR) to raise both funds and awareness for conservation projects.
“Both groups focus a lot on water quality,” said Anna Ziegler, now in her fifth consecutive year serving on NCNR’s board of directors.
She explained that the groups’ science-based projects include everything from riverbank restoration and water quality monitoring to assisting with land conservation easements.
This cooperative venture between the two organizations recognizes the ultimate connectedness of the river systems, the Summers County resident said.
“We can protect the New all we want to, but if the Greenbrier is not being maintained, we’ll be fighting a losing battle,” she said.
Funds raised at Thursday’s event — which included a post-screening dinner with filmmaker Russ Barbour for a limited number of the attendees — will be split between the two sponsoring organizations, with around 66 percent going to FOLGR and the remainder to NCNR.
The goal of the Confluence Campaign is to raise $18,000.
A joint statement issued by Chris Chanlett, president of FOLGR, and George Santucci, president of NCNR, urging support for the Confluence Campaign says, in part, “Lovers of the New River know that the Greenbrier must deliver its undammed water as cleanly as possible to maintain the New’s great ecological and recreational quality. Lovers of the Greenbrier River care deeply about what becomes of this water downstream.”
For more information on the Confluence Campaign or FOLGR, visit www.lowergreenbrierriver.org.
For more information on NCNR, visit www.ncnr.org.
WVPBS is scheduled to re-air “3 Rivers: The Bluestone, Gauley and New” at 7 p.m. today. Clips from the film have also been posted on YouTube.
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