The West Virginia. Cyclopedia
New River Gorge National River
The New River Gorge National River is a unit of the U.S. National Park Service established in 1978 to protect 53 miles (85 km) of the New River and its gorge in southern West Virginia. The area encompasses more than 70,000 acres along and near the New River between Hinton, WV, in the south, and Ansted, WV, in the north.
Designation as a "national river" is conferred by the NPS to rivers of significant national value, culturally and naturally, among which the New River is prominent. National rivers are managed by the National Park Service, in the same manner and with the same goals as national parks. Thirty-nine national river areas are preserved in the U.S., including the nearby Bluestone National Scenic River and Gauley River National Recreation Area, though these latter national river areas are somewhat differently defined. The National Park Service headquarters for the New River Gorge National River are located in Glen Jean, WV. All three national river areas are managed through the Glen Jean headquarters.
Though largely uninhabited today, the New River Gorge was once among the most active coal mining regions in West Virginia. Thousands of miners lived with their families in small towns throughout the gorge. As the process of mining coal became more mechanized, and as accessible coal seams near the gorge were mined out, employment in the industry gradually dwindled. Most mining communities in the gorge were abandoned by the mid-1900s and exist today only as ghost towns. The National Park Service has preserved and interpreted relics of the region's industrial heritage at several sites within the gorge. Park visitors are invited to tour interpreted sites at Thurmond, one of the major shipping points in the gorge along the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad.
A large part of the popularity of the national parkland of the New River Gorge is due to the fame of the New River as a whitewater stream. Thousands of vacationers secure commercial whitewater rafting trips on the river annually while thousands more kayak or explore its rapids in other whitewater-worthy craft. Only the lower third of the river within the park is a whitewater stream: it's upper thirds are generally far more gentle, ideal for leisurely float trips and canoe expeditions. The gorge is also well known as a destination for rock climbing. Thousands of climbers tour the cliffs of the northern gorge each year. Hiking and biking trails also attract thousands of visitors annually, and new hiking trails. Fishing is popular on the river and in many of its tributary streams, and the New River has been cited as being among the best warm-water fisheries in the eastern U.S. Hunting is also popular within the park, though it is disallowed in areas near developed park service facilities such as camping areas and visitor centers.
The National Park Service operates four visitor centers in the territory of the New River Gorge National River. The Sandstone Visitor Center and Canyon Rim Visitor Center are open daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., except on Christmas Day, New Year's Day, and Thanksgiving Day. The Thurmond Depot and Grandview Visitor Center operate seasonally from June until August: the depot is open seasonally from 10 a.m. until to 5 p.m.; Grandview, from noon to 5 p.m.
The National Park Service operates six primitive campgrounds and two special-use group campgrounds within the territory of the New River Gorge National River. Back-country camping is also available.
Fees, Permits & Reservations
No entrance fees are charged at the New River Gorge National River or for the use of its facilities. Reservations, however, must be made for the use of some facilities, including picnic shelters, such as those at Grandview, Burnwood, or Dun Glen. Permits may be required for commercial and non-commercial group activities within the park, including weddings, film making, and guided tours of 10 or more participants.
Earlier efforts to establish the New River Gorge National Park
Local efforts to establish the New River Gorge National Park began as early as 1959, when a proposal was advanced during hearings before the Senate Special Committee on Unemployment, chaired by Sen. Jennings Randolph. A formal study, conducted the following year, concluded the New River Gorge was unsuitable for such a national park due to the man-made development that had occurred within the gorge, which first began during the 1870s. Circa 1960, coal was still being mined in the gorge, a few of the coal mining towns of the New River Gorge were still occupied, and the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway's line through the gorge was active, hauling freight and transporting passengers. Again, in 1961, the Fayette County Court, acting in regards to the Federal Area Redevelopment Act, officially recommended the establishment of a New River Gorge National Park, calling it "by far the greatest recreational opportunity in southern West Virginia."
The construction of the New River Gorge Bridge acted as catalyst for renewed efforts to establish the New River Gorge National Park during the period of 1973-1977, and the concept enjoyed wide support among state and local elected and civil leaders as well as popular support among the general populace. A five-month study of the New River Gorge by the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (BOR) in 1975 concluded that "the cumulative effects of the man-made developments in the gorage are sufficient justification for not establishing the New River Gorge as a... National Park." The study was the result an amendment sponsored by Sen. Robert Byrd in 1974. That same year, Sen. Randolph introduced a bill to create the New River Gorge National Park, but the bill did not reach the Senate floor.
The original vision of the ill-fated efforts of the 1970s for the park was to include the 66 mile long stretch of the New River Gorge between Bluestone Dam, near Hinton, in Summers County, to Gauley Bridge, in Fayette County. One proposal would have included Hawks Nest State Park, Babcock State Park, Grandview State Park, Canyon Rim State Park and Sandstone Falls State Park in the proposed park.