While much of the attention surrounding the Consolidated Appropriations Act—the spending bill recently passed by Congress—was focused on COVID-19 stimulus relief, one addition should please nature lovers in West Virginia. The Act provides for the state’s New River Gorge to become the country’s 63rd national park and reserve.
The New River Gorge and its 70,000 acres run from Bluestone Dam to Hawk’s Nest Lake. According to the National Park Service, it’s one of the oldest rivers on Earth. The outlying land features a forest and sheer cliffs surrounding a 53-mile river perfect for water sports like kayaking and whitewater rafting. The site also attracts rock climbers, mountain bikers, campers, and hunters.
So what changes when a park gets an official national park designation and a kind of upgrade from its prior status as a National River? Dave Arnold, a board member for the New River Gorge Development Authority, told WVVA that federal funding could mean more attention on a national level. Hikers may be charged an entry fee, but the money will be directed toward the park’s budget. The site is also expected to be classified into four distinct areas—the lower Gorge, Thurmond, Grandview, and Sandstone Falls—along with new land open for hunting. The NPS will even work to acquire adjacent land for increased parking.
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More visitors will also mean a boost to the local economy, including a bump for the Bridge Walk, a guided tour under the New River Gorge Bridge.
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