America’s newest national park could be just what your family needs for a socially-distanced getaway this year.New River Gorge National Park and Pr
America’s newest national park could be just what your family needs for a socially-distanced getaway this year.
New River Gorge National Park and Preserve encompasses 70,000 acres along 53 miles of the New River from Bluestone Dam to Hawk’s Nest Lake in West Virginia, according to the National Park Service. It is the 63rd U.S. national park.
The New River is said to be one of the oldest rivers in North America, and the park is home to the longest and deepest gorge in the Appalachian Mountains. The park offers a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities like hiking trails, whitewater rafting, rock climbing cliffs, cycling paths and hunting preserve land.
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The preserve, which permits hunting, accounts for about 90% of the park’s land. Officials noted that hunting is “a traditional use of the area.”
“We feel fortunate to play a role in preserving for future generations some of the most significant natural and cultural resources in our country,” park Superintendent Lizzie Watts said in a press release.
Even with the COVID-19 pandemic and the winter weather, some of the park’s campgrounds, hiking trails and one visitor center are currently open. Visitors are advised to follow CDC coronavirus guidelines and avoid crowded areas.
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During non-pandemic times, the park also offers guided activities like BASE jumping, rappelling, rafting and walking tours.
This stretch of the New River was established as a national river in 1978, so the infrastructure for outdoor fun is not new. What is new is its status as a national park, which was enabled by the coronavirus relief bill Congress passed in December.
The new designation recognizes the park’s “spectacular features” and allows for possible expansion through the future purchase of 3,700 acres.
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The upgrade to park and preserve status was a bi-partisan effort led by West Virginia lawmakers Sen. Jo Manchin (D), Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R) and Rep. Carol Miller (R).
“The New River Gorge is such an important part of West Virginia and a real source of pride in our state,” Capito said in a written statement. “I am thrilled my legislation redesignating the National River as a National Park and Preserve was included in the legislative package that became law at the end of last year. 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.”
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The park, along with the nearby Gauley River National Recreation Area and Bluestone National Scenic River, attract more than 1 million visitors each year, according to the park service. It provides an economic boost to the region – visitors spent more than $60 million in nearby communities in 2019.