National Park Service Designates New River Gorge as National Park and Preserve


Kevin Zhang

Contributing Writer

Since the 1960s, West Virginia’s New River Gorge has been a hidden gem for thrill-seekers and nature enthusiasts. After being designated the nation’s newest national park and preserve on Dec. 27, 2020, the region is gaining nationwide interest as a destination for idyllic scenery and grand opportunities for adventure. 

The park’s star attraction is the New River. For those seeking adventure, the class III to V rapids guarantee an exhilarating rush of action-packed rafting. River guides work to accommodate all skill levels to ensure an unforgettable experience for all visitors. If you’re looking for a more relaxed activity, then head towards the southern part of the river, where the water is calmer and habitable to a wide variety of fish.

New River Gorge is also known as a destination for rock climbers. The region features “over 1,400 established rock climbs.” Climbers get to scale its vertical cliffs and take in the stunning views while hanging 1,000 feet above the river.

For those wanting to immerse themselves in the natural environment, the park’s trails are getaways in themselves. The Long Point Trail is a 3-mile round trip hike with some of the most scenic overlooks and an iconic view of the New River Gorge Bridge. The Endless Wall Trail is for more experienced hikers as they traverse along rocky cliffs high above the New River.

With all the attention as the nation’s newest national park, the region has been faced with an onset of significant changes. Though the designation has little effect on the park directly, it has had varying and massive indirect effects. Economically, the park and surrounding areas stand to gain tremendously. Being recognized as the newest addition to the line of national parks has sparked an influx of visitors, which boosts the tourism industry in nearby federal lands and local towns. Visitor spending data compiled by Headwaters Economics revealed that since being recognized as a national park, the New River Gorge has had over 40 percent more visitors seasonally. Jobs created and income generated have also increased by over 60 percent. 

In addition to increased tourism, Headwaters Economics finds that “in today’s economy, the greatest value of natural amenities and recreation opportunities often lies in the ability of protected lands to attract and retain residents, entrepreneurs, businesses, and the growing number of retirees who relocate for improved quality of life.” 

Thus, the designation has done wonders for the park and its surrounding communities financially.

With the New River Gorge’s sudden rise in visitors, there are some concerns regarding the safety and preservation of the region’s environment. The New River Gorge is a hotspot for biodiversity, home to many rare and endangered species. The National Park Service speculates that “increased visitation to the national rivers has the potential to cause severe impacts to plant and animal communities, particularly those existing in the riverine habitats and rock outcrops.”

However, as a national park, the New River Gorge has an increased ability to enlist support and attain resources. More environmental protection organizations are able to aid conservation efforts, and the increased revenue can be used to hire more people to serve the park. Status as a national park also provides protection against potential industrial developments on parkland. 

Overall, both the park and the larger region have benefitted from its recent designation as the country’s newest national park. With all it has to offer, it will certainly leave a lasting impression on its visitors, and perhaps teach them a thing or two about the natural world.