Used Boats Ivanhoe
The National Committee for the New River organized a float this summer from Boone, N.C. to Gauley Bridge, W.Va., where the New joins the Gauley to form the Kanawha. Tim Thornton paddled along and dropped a line whenever he found a wireless connection; this is his last installment. Thornton's work on the river was made possible in part by a grant from The Arts Council of the Blue Ridge.
The stretch of the New River between Ivanhoe and Foster Falls is a pretty float, with riffles and ledges that require your attention, though your attention is often wandering off to sights on and around the river. There’s history on the banks, including a shot tower built more than two hundred years ago to turn the local lead deposits into musket balls. There’s also a memorial to Stephen Austin. The monument, looking a bit like a headstone, calls him, “Father of Texas, man of peace, statesman, entrepreneur, colonizer.” Austin was born near what we now call Austinville. It was originally called Lead Mines.
The New River Trail State Park runs on one bank and then the other, crossing the river on an old railroad bridge. The trail follows the former railroad bed where trains hauled ore from Ivanhoe and Austinville. There’s a four-mile-long tunnel beneath the river, too, according to "The New River Atlas," but I can’t swear to it. The Atlas tells me there it was built in 1957 and abandoned and allowed to flood in 1981.
Between the trail and the river, across the road from the monument to Stephen Austin, is an old mine with warning signs telling people it’s not safe to be there.
Out in the river, the remnants of the old Lead Mines Dam include 50 iron spikes that used to reinforce the dam, according to The Atlas. I saw just one of them. My kayak bounced off another. They look like tree limbs in the water, particularly when leaves and little branches get caught on them, but they’re harder and sharper than any limbs I’ve run across.
Down river, the distractions are overhead – bridges carrying Interstate 77 and U.S. 52 and a 765-kilovolt power line that crackles with a sound somewhere between radio static and frying bacon.
At the end of the run is Foster Falls, a series of ledges that carry boaters past stables and the park headquarters and on toward the primitive camp sites on Baker Island.
They say the old orphanage at the land side entrance to the park is going to be turned into a hotel some day. There ought to be some pithy saying about evolution and the circle of life in there somewhere, but I can’t find it just now.