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Canyon Rim State Park

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For a brief period of time, the Canyon Rim State Park existed as part of the West Virginia state park system. Eventually, the park was absorbed into the New River Gorge National River, a unit of the National Park System, sometime during the late 1970s or early 1980s.

The park's origin is closely associated with the construction of the New River Gorge Bridge, which took place during 1973-1977. Because of the uniqueness of the bridge, included in the contract for the bridge was the construction of a parking area and overlook at one end of the structure, allowing sightseers to view the surrounding landscape and watch the progress of the bridge construction. [1] Shortly before the contract for the construction of the New River Gorge Bridge was awarded (June 28, 1973), various officials of the state announced plans for construction of a park to allow visitors to view the construction of the bridge, and spoke of even more elaborate plans which centered around a state park, named Canyon Rim State Park, which was to be built on the north side of the bridge. [2]

In April of 1972, Gov. Arch Moore, Jr., announced at a Fayette Plateau Chamber of Commerce meeting that the New River Gorge Bridge could result in a shift in the location of Interstate 64 (to Beckley) and noted that the bridge would undoubtedly become a major tourism attraction. Moore reported the state was planning to soon purchase about 2,000 acres of land at "Canyon Rim" near the bridge site for tourism related development. [3] In a May 21, 1973 Fayette County newspaper article, State Senator Pat R. Hamilton, of Oak Hill, commented on plans by the West Virginia's Department of Natural Resources to build the park, saying that the new sites plans were something fabulous, adding that the planners were calling it the "crossroads of West Virginia." Hamilton noted that some of the ideas for the New River Gorge park included: an interpretative center; picnic grounds; recreational facilities; residences for park staff and employees; restoration of the Ames coal mining community; arts and crafts facility; walking and riding trails; tramway; camp grounds; and a scenic highway. Senator Hamilton indicated that the state would "like to purchase all the land you could see from the rim of the gorge." [4] In June of 1973 the state awarded the contract for construction of the New River Gorge Bridge, and by July, rumors had begun to circulate in Fayette County of land speculators converging on the area for the purpose of buying land for hotels/motels and other commercial enterprises. [5]

Sometime during the early construction phases of the bridge, the state established two overlooks on opposite sides of New River. At the end of October 1974, John Beane, Public Information Director of the West Virginia Department of Highways, announced that the 4.78 mile section of Corridor L from the intersection with US-60, at Hico, to the north side bridge overlook was open to motorists, which would enable those wishing to watch the construction of the New River Gorge Bridge to more easily do so. [6] By 1976, the Canyon Rim State Park was still in the "planning stages", but the two overlooks had been expanded, and were opened from dawn until dusk. The north side visitor's overlook could be reached from the opened section of Corridor L, and signs directed motorists along secondary roads leading to Fayetteville, to the south side overlook, just downstream of the coal mining community of Kaymoor.

During the years of the bridge's construction, tourist and visitors came "by the thousands" to the overlooks according to several newspaper accounts from the era, although precise records of visitors were never kept. One spokesman of the DOH reported that it was common to see dozens of cars with out-of-state license plates each day at the both overlooks, and one newspaper article stated that the overlooks were drawing more visitors than Hawks Nest State Park, which had the reputation of being one of the most visited state parks in West Virginia. Considering the fact that the visitors had to travel many miles over secondary roads to reach the bridge construction site, the popularity of the overlooks impressed local and state leaders.

By about 1975, many of the elected and business leaders of the state and region had began advocating the establishment of a New River Gorge National Park, a concept that can be traced back to 1959, when such a park was proposed by Sen. Jennings Randolph. One of the chief proponents of the national park idea during the mid-1970s was the Fayette Plateau Chamber of Commerce, which represented Fayette County businesses in Oak Hill, Fayetteville, Mount Hope and Ansted. But the concept also had enthusiastic support from Gov. Arch Moore, the state legislature and the citizens of Fayette, Raleigh and Summers counties. But unfortunately, a five-month study by the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (BOR), conducted at the insistence of Sen. Robert C. Byrd, examined the New River Gorge from the Bluestone Dam, at Hinton, in Summers County, to Gauley Bridge concluded that the "cumulative effects of the man-made developments in the gorge are sufficient justification for not establishing the New River Gorge as a national park." Instead, the BOR recommended the gorge for inclusion in the national wild and scenic rivers system. Undaunted by the BOR's rejection, various state, regional and local organizations continued to promote the concept of a New River Gorge park, be it state, federal or otherwise.

By December of 1978, a sign reading "Canyon Rim State Park" had been placed at the entrance to the overlook on the north side of the New River Gorge Bridge, near Lansing, WV, by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources. During the previous year, the Legislature appropriated $250,000 to build the overlook, rest area and park areas on the north side of the New River Gorge. [7] The West Virginia Department of Highways (DOH) was given the authority to award bids for the construction of the facility, and was responsible for the construction of the overlook. Once completed the DOH would turn the park facility over to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) which would operate the park. [8]

As Fayette County's newest state park, Canyon Rim was open to the public year round, and featured three overlooks -- one providing a "breathtaking view" view of the New River Gorge, and two providing a of the New River Gorge Bridge. The original parking area of the park was expanded to provide parking for 108 cars and 12 trailers. [9] One of the new elements added to Canyon Rim State Park during 1978 was a boardwalk running down some 200 vertical feet down the hillside into the gorge, of about 700 feet in length. Following the natural contour of the north wall of the gorge, the boardwalk consisted of 220 steps and 22 landings and was constructed of osmosalt treated oak wood. Future expansion of the state park were being planned. Phase II of the park expansion would include development of facilities on the south side of the New River Gorge, near Fayetteville, WV. Phase III, would would include construction of walkways and hiking and biking trails, which included the possible development an extensive trail system of several miles in length, running between Canyon Rim State Park and Hawks Nest State Park, near Ansted.

An article in The Fayette Tribune of March 26, 1979, announced the park was "ready for tourists", and reported that Phase I of Canyon Rim State Park had been completed, citing the approximate cost of the project at $217,000. Development of the park area included installation of a vault-type toilet facilities, safety fencing, parking, access road, several trails, boardwalks, water system, signage, interpretive displays and lighting, and two overlooks. However, the article noted that according to Del. Adam Toney, no allocation of money for additional improvements to the park had been made by the state legislature for the upcoming year.

Sources:


1. Fayette Tribune article New River Span To Have Largest Arch In World, Oct. 10, 1973

2. Fayette Tribune article Fabulous Bridge, May 21, 1973

3. Fayette Tribune article Largest Steel-Arch Bridge 'Designed and Ready To Go', April 24, 1972

4. Fayette Tribune article Fabulous Bridge to Bring Canyon Rim State Park, May 21, 1973

5. Charleston Gazette article A Big Hole to Fill With a Bridge, July 7, 1973

6. Fayette Tribune" article Corridor "L" To Bridge Site Now Open To Public, Says SDH, Oct. 31, 1975

7. Register and Post-Herald article Overlook Improvements Made, Dec. 25, 1978

8. The Fayette Tribune article Canyon Rim Park Ready for Tourists, March 26, 1979

9. Beckley Post Herald article Gorge Overlook Being Built: Complete Date is Dec. 7, Sept. 8, 1978