The newest spot to join the United States’ list of national parks is the stunning New River Gorge, which cuts through a scenic stretch of the Appalachian Mountains of southern West Virginia. The National Park Service had already managed the river and its surroundings since 1978, but politicians hope that elevating the area’s status and slightly changing its name – from New River Gorge National River to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve – will draw in more visitors.
The New River Gorge is the country’s 63rd national park, and it was signed into law as part of the pandemic relief package at the end of 2020. Despite its name, the New River is one of the oldest in the world, and the area is a hotspot for outdoor adventures, from white-water rafting on rapids up to Class V to hikes along the rim of the canyon. “The New River Gorge is truly one of West Virginia’s most treasured playgrounds and largest tourist attractions because of its whitewater rafting, hunting, fishing, outdoor sports and natural beauty,” US Senator Joe Manchin said. “This designation will increase its international recognition by highlighting West Virginia’s world-class beauty and resources.”
The New River Gorge will be split into two sections: a 7021-acre park portion that includes white-water rapids, hiking and mountain biking trails, rock climbing spots, waterfalls, a former coal-mining town and the magnificent New River Gorge Bridge, the longest single-arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere and the third-highest bridge in the United States. The other 65,165 acres of the area have been designated as a national preserve, where hunting and fishing are permitted.
The national park designation for the New River Gorge has been in the works for a couple of years, and state tourism officials hope to see a 20% increase in visitors, similar to the story with Indiana Dunes National Park, which received an upgraded status from a national lakeshore to a national park in February 2019.
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