West Virginia’s New River Gorge just became America’s 63rd national park. The new designation upgrades New River Gorge from a national river, a classification held since 1978.
Located in the southeastern part of West Virginia, “the New” is a 73,000-acre region of rugged canyon. The gorge is the largest in the Appalachian Mountain area. Wildlife includes white-tailed deer, river otters and bald eagles.
The New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is best known for 53 miles of free-flowing whitewater running through cliffs 1,000 feet high, presenting a challenge for even the most experienced rafters. More casual rafters can find calmer waters in the upper part of the river. There are also 1,500 climbing routes and 12.8 miles of biking trails.
The new designation puts even more emphasis on recreation, despite the loss of some hunting grounds. Already popular with area residents, it is hopeful national park status will make it more of a recreation destination for outsiders, providing a boost for West Virginia tourism and local businesses. West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito stated, “Redesignation of the National River to a National Park and Preserve will shine a brighter light on West Virginia and all that it has to offer and provide another catalyst for our tourism industry and local businesses.”
The new designation also continues moving West Virginia’s image from a coal mining state to more of a recreation and conservation area, bringing more cachet and revenue to the area. Coal mining isn’t much of a draw, but the new national park status of New River Gorge is already drawing welcome attention.
— John Wroblewski, online writer
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