As the Birthplace of Rivers, Pocahontas County is chock full of waterways, which are chock full of all kinds of living species and mini ecosystems.
In an effort to study and examine all that the waterways have to offer, the U.S. Forest Service started a freshwater snorkeling program in which individuals can get face-to-face with the creatures that live below the surface of the streams
This summer, the Forest Service is offering snorkeling sessions in the Greenbrier River through a partnership with Cass Scenic Railroad State Park.
“It’s so great that we’ve gotten a chance to bring our program to Cass,” Forest Service watershed and fisheries AmeriCorps Rachel Geiger said. “Cass has been an incredible sponsor and partner for this program. Working with [park superintendent Marshall Markley] has been great. He’s been very enthusiastic about getting people outside and showing people what’s inside the Greenbrier River, which runs straight through Cass.”
All equipment is provided by the Forest Service, and Geiger said they are taking great precautions to make sure everyone is safe and comfortable through social distancing.
“All the equipment is completely disinfected, and it is only going to be used once by one person per day – so we have time to properly disinfect all of the equipment between uses,” she said. “People are also asked to wear masks and keep within their family groups.”
There has already been one snorkeling event at Cass, and it was attended by several families from the area.
“We’ve had a lot of families come to this event, and it’s been super helpful to have the parents in the water with the kids – learning and exploring the space with them,” Geiger said. “That also helps us not have to directly interact as much – but we’re there to help educate the public about what’s in the stream.”
In some places, the Greenbrier River can be rather shallow, but Geiger said that depth isn’t necessary to enjoy the critters of the stream.
“Really, you just need the water to be deep enough to stick your face in, so maybe two feet is the minimum,” she said. “But sticking your face into some of those shallower riffle areas can uncover so much more than people realize.
“There are a lot of cool, vibrant fish – such as darters – in those riffle habitats,” she continued. “We actually encourage people to not just explore the pools, but to go into the shallow waters, as well, because they’ll find different fish in those areas.”
While the program is intended for school-age children from seven to 14, Geiger said everyone is welcome to join in and see what they can find.
“Everybody can learn from this kind of stuff,” she said. “We had some adults at the last event which was super awesome,” she said. “I should say that we want kids younger than fifteen to be accompanied by an adult in the water which helps us keep kids safe and encourages people to learn together.”
The next two snorkeling events will be Saturday, August 22, and Saturday, August 29, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Each day has openings for 20 individuals. Those interested must pre-register for the event by calling the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park visitors center at 304-456-4300.