December 3, 2021

New River Gorce, America’s Latest Nationwide Park, Will Lure You to an Underrated State

9 min read


When I first visited West Virginia in October, 2020, I didn’t know fairly what to anticipate past the stereotypes I’d seen on TV and heard about on the radio. I used to be visiting a pal in Ohio and the arrival of unseasonably heat climate impressed us to go to West Virginia for a number of days within the woods. We spent the following few days mountaineering and backcountry tenting and I noticed my first wild bear working by the woods. Our journey was the right combination of lonely wilderness and small city attraction and I knew I wished to return to discover extra of the state. Just some months later, I used to be given new motivation.

In December 2020, the US designated the New River Gorge as its latest nationwide park. West Virginia could also be identified to a lot of the world as coal nation (and because the dwelling of a sure senator that continues to carry up Democratic proposals) however their new Nationwide Park simply would possibly replace The Mountain State’s fame to higher replicate its lush panorama.

As a nationwide park fanatic and obsessive national parks passport stamp collector, I used to be thrilled, notably as a result of so few nationwide parks exist within the jap a part of the nation, the place I reside. By the point nationwide parks turned a factor, many of the east coast had been so developed that it was more durable to seek out areas that will meet the (considerably subjective) standards required to earn nationwide park standing, which is why most nationwide parks exist out west, in areas that weren’t so developed early on.

I got down to discover New River Gorge on a heat, sunny week in late summer time, starting with certainly one of its best-known treks, the Grandview Rim path. The densely wooded path wound by the forest, often coming out to supply a view of the New River, dotted with kayakers, and the huge gorge that bears its title. It was the right day for mountaineering—calm and comfy—however I used to be shocked to solely encounter 4 different individuals throughout my two-hour hike.

Given the weekday crowds of holiday makers I witnessed in Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier Nationwide Park in Could—whereas most trails have been nonetheless closed and lined with snow—I used to be stunned there weren’t extra individuals right here throughout prime mountaineering season.

Journey-seekers have sought out the New River Gorge since earlier than Nixon was president however the area nonetheless stays comparatively beneath the radar so far as nationwide parks go. Nature lovers from surrounding states and the District of Columbia have lengthy come for mountaineering, rafting, and mountain climbing, however till the previous Nationwide River transitioned to change into the nation’s 63rd nationwide park (signage continues to be being up to date within the park), this scenic southwestern part of West Virginia was one thing of a secret, and form of nonetheless is.

West Virginia has the most effective state mottos within the nation, “Wild and Fantastic”, which is proudly emblazoned on license plates, welcome indicators, and mother and pop outlets throughout the state. New River Gorge reinforces this motto, giving guests a way of marvel and of wilderness that’s additionally pretty accessible. The park is about an hour southeast of West Virginia’s capital metropolis, Charleston, and a five-hour drive from DC.

What Makes New River Gorge Distinctive

Once I consider nationwide parks (apart from a handful of Arctic or desert parks), I consider large expanses of forested land blanketed with mountaineering trails and campsites. This isn’t the case with New River Gorge, a protracted and slender park that primarily follows the river. Do not forget that earlier than it was a nationwide park, this was a nationwide river, so the primary attraction right here is the New River (“the New” to locals). The park does have a handful of attractive mountaineering trails (Grandview Rim and the Infinite Wall trails are beautiful), however when in comparison with different nationwide parks, there are comparatively few choices for mountaineering and tenting. In the event you do wish to camp, know that many of the camping options are primitive and fairly a drive from any providers or facilities.

What this park has that others don’t, nonetheless, is accessibility to actions which might be normally unavailable—or outright prohibited—in most nationwide parks. Unsurprisingly, BASE leaping is banned in any respect Nationwide Park Service websites and one might fairly assume that it might even be banned on the New River Gorge Bridge, the longest metal arch span within the Western Hemisphere and the third-tallest bridge in the US. Nevertheless, West Virginia celebrates an annual occasion every October referred to as Bridge Day that permits jumpers to parachute the 876-foot distance from the bridge right down to the river. It’s just about an official vacation round right here so the park-creating laws included a provision that will permit the occasion to proceed.

Whereas many—dare I say “most”?—nationwide parks are nice for street biking, virtually none have single-track mountain bike trails on official park land (Scorching Springs Nationwide Park in Arkansas is one other exception). Since I’m comparatively new to mountain biking, I took a mountain biker “ability constructing” class at close by Arrowhead Bike Farm, which additionally has an ideal bike store, a superb restaurant, and wonderful campsites for lease. I wished to have somebody assist me enhance my type (and reduce the chance of my flying over the handlebars and crashing face-first right into a tree) so I additionally signed up for a guided experience by among the farm’s trails and on to nationwide park land. In the event you don’t need a information, you don’t must have one and also you’re free to discover the paths by yourself. You can even test New River Gorge’s events calendar to see when ranger-led bike rides could also be scheduled.

Like BASE leaping and mountain biking, rafting is one other exercise that’s each potential and allowed in solely a handful of nationwide parks. The identical stretch of wilderness seems completely different relying in your vantage level— mountaineering, biking, driving, or paddling—and essentially the most thrilling technique to expertise the New River Gorge Nationwide Park and Protect is unquestionably by whitewater rafting down the New River.

The river is split into higher and decrease sections and 8-13 mile rafting journeys can be found Could by October on each. The decrease part is a bit wilder (it consists of some class 4 rapids) so rafters have to be no less than 11 years outdated. In case you wish to carry your little ones—or keep away from another person’s— the higher part is a little more chill (class 1-3 rapids) so it’s possible you’ll be joined by children as younger as 6.

In a single day rafting journeys (the place the clothing store gives the tent, meals, and most gear) can be found on each the higher and the decrease journeys. The calmer higher river choice mainly does the identical distance because the day journey, however stretches it into an in a single day journey by breaking it up with a number of swimming, rock leaping, campfire video games, and s’mores. The decrease in a single day journey really begins out rafting the extra mellow higher part of the river on the primary day then tackles the extra substantial rapids within the decrease part on the second day. Both approach, anticipate fairly first rate camp meals in any respect the meals, loads of scorching espresso within the morning, and refreshingly chilly beer within the night. Don’t you simply like it when another person handles the meals state of affairs at camp?

In the event you’re in search of an much more adventurous river filled with fairly petrifying class 5 rapids, plan to raft the close by Gauley River throughout a much-anticipated four-week window in September and October, when the dam-fed river is at its strongest. I did the two-day in a single day Gauley rafting journey and I used to be totally terrified at instances—however I additionally had the time of my life.

Help for and Resistance Towards the Park

Final December, Congress handed a spending invoice that included a proposal put forth by West Virginia senators Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin that will reclassify 72,186 acres of the New River Gorge Nationwide River (and 53 miles of the New River) as a nationwide park and protect. Extra on the “protect” a part of it later. The senators noticed the passing of the invoice as an actual victory, each when it comes to the status related to federal standing, but additionally when it comes to the inflow of vacationer {dollars} that usually comply with such a designation.

A handful of coal miners now work within the tourism sector, main ATV, fishing, and airboat historical past excursions within the western a part of the state however West Virginia has not but recovered from the numerous lack of coal mining jobs and the state has one of many lowest job progress charges within the nation. Given the potential for tourism {dollars} the brand new nationwide park standing would afford, there had been a robust native push for the standing for years however there was additionally some native resistance.

Not everybody is happy concerning the thought of an inflow of vacationers and a few fear the realm might change into as crowded as different nationwide parks. Whereas this was removed from my expertise within the park, contemplating it’s inside a day’s drive of 40 p.c of the inhabitants of the US, overcrowding is a legit concern. Along with the tourism debate, looking was one other level of rivalry amongst locals for and in opposition to the brand new designation.

The New River Gorge’s up to date title doesn’t simply designate it as a nationwide park, but additionally a protect, making it solely the second website exterior of Alaska to obtain the designation (the primary was Nice Sand Dunes Nationwide Park in Colorado). Round 7,000 acres of the New River Gorge Nationwide Park and Protect encompass the New River and its surrounding gorge (that is the “park” a part of the “Nationwide Park and Protect” designation). Nearly all of the park’s land—simply over 65,000 acres—was designated as protect, not park.

West Virginians have been looking deer on this space for generations however the 7,000 acres designated as nationwide park land prohibit the exercise. As a result of looking is prohibited in all nationwide parks, nearly all of the New River Gorge was designated as a protect exactly as a result of it does permit looking. Like all compromises, each side give and each side take. Hunters reserved the best to hunt on 65,000 acres of land however misplaced 7,000 acres of land they beforehand hunted on.

No matter one’s stance on looking, I discover it attention-grabbing, and considerably encouraging, that the Nationwide Park Service may be versatile sufficient to accommodate the native communities that encompass the areas they’re hoping to carry into the NPS fold. Personally, I’d favor there can be zero looking within the space, but when banning looking would forestall the park and protect standing from going by, that means the looking would proceed anyway, then it appears preferable to me to safe the nationwide designation and all of its accompanying protections.

Basecamp in Fayetteville

Cabins, campsites, and resorts exist all through the area however you’ll discover essentially the most lodging, leisure, and eateries across the park’s gateway city, Fayetteville. Fayetteville additionally had among the finest meals choices that I encountered throughout the state. Seize a espresso (or inexperienced juice) and a sandwich to go from Cathedral Café, or snag a desk in entrance of two gigantic stained glass home windows on this church-turned-café. For dinner, seize pizza and beer at Pies and Pints and hit up Freefolk Brewery for a brewery tour and beer tasting,

For in a single day digs, I stayed on the ACE Adventure Resort as a result of my in a single day rafting journey was by them so it was actually handy to simply get up and stroll over to the assembly level. If cozy cabins and rustic glam chalets aren’t your fashion, in addition they supply tent tenting, which a number of of my pals instructed me was superb. Sure, I certain did sleep (fairly comfortably, in truth!) in a cabin (with a scorching tub!) whereas my pals slept exterior on the bottom. I wilderness camped on my final journey to West Virginia so this time, I opted for the wild and fantastic expertise of the indoor selection. Both approach you go, you’re in for a deal with.

Cassandra Brooklyn is a author, journey knowledgeable, and group tour chief. She runs EscapingNY, an off-the-beaten-path journey firm, and is the writer of the guidebook Cuba by Bike.

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