The late Keith Pitzer was a native of Ohio and a full-time farmer who moved with his wife and four sons to West Virginia after a trip on the Cheat River captured his heart. Not long after settling-in to his new home, Keith worked as an advocate for the Friends of Laurel Mountain and successfully helped to defeat a quarry on Laurel Mountain. He was also active in the effort to pass the Wild Monongahela Act: federal legislation that protects more than 38,000 acres of national forest land.
In 1997, Keith began his relationship with Friends of the Cheat, serving as a board member for four years and then, as the executive director. During his 8 year tenure as director, Keith administered over $2 million in acid mine drainage funds, developed a comprehensive monitoring and mapping program, developed a rail-to-trail route, built an outdoor classroom and developed river and trail access. Keith set a project schedule for 2010 that would make Sovern Run, a tributary to the Cheat River, the first acid-polluted stream in West Virginia to be taken off the DEP’s 303(d) list of Acid-Mine-Drainage impaired streams. In addition to being a staunch and relentless defender of water in West Virginia, Keith was a remarkable songwriter and musician. Hear some of his music here.
Through Keith’s efforts, the Cheat River Watershed, once considered dead in several reaches, now has water water quality that supports fish, eagles, herons and otters. Keith passed away on the morning of December 22, 2009, following a long battle with cancer. His dream of clean streams flowing through the mountains and hills of Appalachia lives on in all those fortunate enough to work and play with Keith.
Keith’s successor and daughter-in-law, Amanda Pitzer, was awarded the River Hero award a decade after Keith in 2020.