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Management of Commercial Whitewater Rafting in West Virginia is based on a multi-year study project. The study project was conducted by the Recreation, Parks and Tourism Resources program at West Virginia University and was designed to collect baseline data on river use distribution, crowding and congestion, safety, environmental impacts, and the economic impacts of commercial whitewater boating on five rivers in West Virginia: the New, Gauley, Cheat, Tygart, and Shenandoah.
The the ultimate objective of the study was the formulation of a statewide river management plan based on a Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC) model. With LAC, emphasis is given to environmental and social conditions desired for a recreation resource, rather than how much use the resource can tolerate. LAC was selected for the five study rivers to provide a framework for establishing acceptable and appropriate resource and social conditions, and developing management actions to achieve those conditions.
The authorizing legislation for the study identified four primary issues: (1) river crowding and congestion; (2) participant safety; (3) environmental impacts; and (4) economic impacts. Social and resource indicators relevant to these issues were identified and a comprehensive inventory of selected indicators was initiated in 1995. Results of the study and the LAC river management plan were accepted by the West Virginia Whitewater Commission in December, 1997, and implemented in the 1998 commercial rafting season by the WV Division of Natural Resources, Law Enforcement Section. A description of the LAC river manage plan is included in the study report and may be viewed through a link to project publications and reports.
The study was lead by Andy Whisman, Ph.D., who at the time was a Research Associate in the RPTR program at West Virginia University. Dr. Whisman is now Senior Evaluation Specialist at the WV Prevention Resource Center, Marshall University Graduate College, and continues to be involved in the project by providing technical assistance services to the WVDNR and managing this website.