CLENDENIN, W.Va. – As I navigated my way back to Clendenin after an interview with Steven Grau (pronounced Grouw), owner of a new kayaking and shuttle business called Elk River Get-A-Way, I couldn’t seem to get an old song out of my head. Before I was even born, in the late 1950s, songwriter Pete Seeger wrote a song called “Turn, Turn, Turn” in which he derived the lyrics almost verbatim from the Book of Ecclesiastes in The Bible. The song was later recorded by the folk/rock band The Byrds and quickly soared to number one on the music charts in 1965. The opening line; “To everything (turn, turn, turn), there is a Season (turn, turn, turn), and a time to every purpose under Heaven.”

I’m not sure what this had to do with kayaking on the Elk, or why this song was so firmly planted in my head as I was driving downriver alongside the Elk on this day. I’m guessing it may have been inspired by a combination of things; the excitement of Spring’s ultimate arrival, the passion for adventure and the love of the river that Steven Grau had emitted during our interview, as well as the thoughts of struggle that this area and its people have endured since the Flood of 2016.

Overwhelmingly however, my thoughts were not so much on where we’ve been as a community, but of where we are going, new beginnings and the underlying optimism that is associated with it. A new outdoor adventure recreation business on the Elk River surely is a good and positive thing for the economy moving forward in the communities along the Elk. So the song, it was there, firmly stuck in my head and playing over and over; “To everything (turn, turn, turn), there is a Season (turn, turn, turn), and a time to every purpose under Heaven.”

Two fishermen enjoying the beautiful Spring day on The Elk

The beauty of the Elk was breathtaking on this day. Much of the debris that lay on the banks and that hung in the trees from the flood, is now gone. The Mighty Elk was a rich and clear green ribbon of water, flowing softly and calmly, and appeared so very inviting. Old Man Winter had been reluctant to relent this year. Spring would attempt to poke her head out on occasion only to be squashed again by Winter’s unrelenting will. He cast down random snow showers, cold temperatures, and had even deposited morning frost upon the area until recently. But on this day, Spring was here in all her glory and in total control, which takes me back to the unique story of Steven Grau and his new business, Elk River Get-A-Way which is slated to open on May 11.

Steven Grau was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. He grew up there and upon high school graduation became a pre-med student at Ohio State University. While at Ohio State, the Vietnam War was raging overseas and Steven was drafted in the lottery. He made the decision to go ahead and enlist in the United States Army feeling that there would be better opportunities in the military for enlisted men. “I didn’t mind going and didn’t mind doing anything they needed me to do, but I really wanted to use whatever I knew in the medical field to be able to help the GIs”, stated Steven.

Once in the Army, they offered enlisted men different assignment options and he requested the opportunity to work in a MASH unit. They selected a class of several candidates, to include Steven, for medical related assignments and started training them. “They put us all out in the field with little to nothing to work with. We had no medical instruments at all and had to do everything by hand; microscopes with mirrors, you name it. We did parasitology, chemistry, cross agglutination and all of that stuff out in a tent.” The officers were impressed with the group’s ingenuity, so they informed the class that one student, determined to be “top of the class”, would be offered an extended schooling opportunity in the medical field. It would require the student to do an early opt-out, but they would have to re-enlist for three additional years; the first year being the additional medical schooling, but once completed, the student would have their choice of where they wanted to be stationed for the next two years. Steven finished at the “top of the class” and entered a cancer screening educational program working in the study of cytology.

Once his schooling was complete, he opted to be stationed in Monterey, California and fell in love with the area. He completed the remaining two years of his obligation to the Army, opted out, and opened a health food store. Steven spent fifteen years in California but decided to move back to his home of Cincinnati where he worked for a large restaurant chain. The medical field continued to call him however and Christ Hospital in Cincinnati hired him in 1990. Two years later several medical laboratories combined to form a company called Laboratory Corporation of America (LabCorp) and Steven joined that company and has been there ever since.

He’s worked in six different laboratories and lived in five different states over the years while working for LabCorp. One of those locations was Charleston, West Virginia, where he was employed twice. Recalling the first time he moved to Charleston Steven said, “I didn’t fit in. I just didn’t fit in. I mean, I was a city guy, so I said I’ve just got to go. That was in 2007 and I transferred to Phoenix, Arizona, a wonderful place and I was there for three years. I loved it there; no bugs, no humidity.”

In 2010, he retired and went back to Cincinnati once again where he worked for a lab to improve their IT systems. His work there resulted in the doubling of their productivity, and a year later LabCorp took notice and took it over as well. Steven said, “So when that happened, I knew where I was going. I was going back to Charleston.”

While living in Charleston for the second time in his career, Steven happened to be at a WV Power baseball game and met some friends who invited him to go fishing on the Elk River just upstream from Clendenin. Once there he says he absolutely fell in love with the river and the area. Excitedly Steven said, “I walked out on this guy’s deck like this, looked at the river, and he even had his own island. I said, this is where I gotta live! An osprey went by, a little river otter, and a big blue heron. That was it. I was sold. Right then.”

Steven has since found his own slice of paradise on the Elk River just above Queen Shoals that he has owned for several years now. He continues to work for LabCorp for the time being, and when I asked him, “So you love this place so much, that for now, you continue that long drive to Charleston and back every day for work?” He laughed and responded, “Yeah Boy!”, verbiage proof that this “city guy”, as he referred to himself when first coming to the area, has quickly become an “Elk Riverian”.

County Line Get-A-Way

County Line Get-A-Way Restaurant and Supply, located adjacent to Elk River Get-A-Way

Steven has now taken on another venture in life and one he is very passionate about. On May 11th he will open his new business, Elk River Get-A-Way, a fully licensed outfitter by the WV Division of Natural Resources that is also bonded and insured. It is located on Route 4, just 8 miles north of Clendenin, in an area known as King Shoals and very close to the Kanawha/Clay County borderline. In fact, his facility sits adjacent to another relatively new business there, a small locally owned restaurant and supply business called The County Line, which is open 24 hours a day, and provides free parking for Elk River Get-A-Way customers.

Steven Grau and Elk River Getaway Transport Van in Partnership with Murdock's

Steven Grau with his customer and kayak shuttle van sponsored by Murdock’s Pre-Owned Auto Sales & Service of Clendenin

Elk River Get-A-Way rents kayaks, tubes, paddle boats, canoes, and even party platforms for use on the Elk River. They have partnered with Murdock’s Pre-Owned Auto Sales and Service in Clendenin to provide a shuttle service to assist with put-ins and/or take-outs at various designated public access points along the river. Locals with their own kayaks may want to take note that shuttle services through Elk River Get-A-Way are available whether a kayak is rented through them or not. All trips are non-guided but the multiple access points are clearly identifiable along the river and on the maps provided. Elk River Get-A-Way is even partnering with local eateries so that kayakers may stop off to rest and get a bite to eat along their journey. Steven points out, “In all, there’s about a twelve-mile gig here. That’s a lot, and most will not do all of that, but the numerous put-ins and take-out points allow for multiple experience options, distance, and time spent on the river.” There are many rest stops and small beaches along the river plus you can ask about VIP access to their Elk River Get-A-Way Activities Park for some cornhole, games, and fun.

Elk River Getaway Party Barges

Elk River Getaway Party Barges

Steven has two others assisting him with the business and has flexibility with his work in Charleston to be onsite when needed with larger bookings. He recently purchased 12 new adult-size kayaks with Bluetooth speakers in them, 8 new youth kayaks (4 sit-on and 4 sit-in), plus several additional kayaks of his own for a total of 16 adult kayaks and 10 youth. In addition, they have 2 family paddleboats with canopies, 2 brand new canoes that will hold three people, about a dozen river tubes, and 2 party barges for rent. Life vests and oars are provided. Shuttle services are available using his van as well as several trailers for shuttle use depending on the size of the groups. Because Elk River Get-A-Way is a new venture, Steven is unsure of the immediate demand for their services, but states that he is fully prepared and has already pre-planned for quick expansion of the business if necessary.

When asked if there was anything else Steven would like for people to know about his business, he responded, “The business is here to promote Clendenin and Clay, and the entire area. Its here to draw people in and have a good time on the river; people meeting other people. Not being from here originally and working to fit in over time was tough for me. I think it was sort of a fear of strangers for some. I started attending church at the Clendenin Advent Christian Church and was even baptized there. I became good friends with the folks there and with my pastor. Then when volunteers came in to assist after the flood that helped tremendously in exposing folks here to others of all places and other walks of life. It was absolutely amazing!”

So, as I’m driving home from this interview with Steven Grau, I feel inspired and hopeful for the future of the community and the economy here. It’s a new beginning after much tragedy and loss. I’m thinking of this man’s unique story, someone from the Vietnam War era, a “city guy” as he referred to himself in his early days here, and his journey through life which ultimately led him to the Elk River, a place he now calls home and adores. Couple that with the memory of a devastating flood and a community’s continuing resilience to recover from it, and “BAM!”, a song from 1965, based on the first eight verses of chapter 3 from the Book of Ecclesiastes, gets stuck in my head and I can’t seem to shake it. Why? I have no idea. But what I do know is that Spring is here, and it is a new Season on the Elk River, AND in more ways than one.

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late

Contact Elk River Get-A-Way by calling (304) 993-0006 or by visiting their website at www.elkgetaway.com.

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