LANSING, W.V. (LOOTPRESS) – On Wednesday, May 5, U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) joined Superintendent of New River Gorge Park and Preserve Lizzie Watts, as well as other park staff and leaders of the local communities to participate in the unveiling of the National Park’s new signage.
The announcement of the new signage shortly follows that of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve Designation. This piece of legislation, which was included and passed in a year-end legislative package in December of 2020, redesignated the New River Gorge National River as a National Park and Preserve, making the site the 63rd National Park and the 20th National Preserve in the United States.
Since its original introduction in October of 2019, the legislation has been adjusted to include several changes that would:
• Create a 65,165-acre Preserve and a 7,021-acre Park.
• Open up 368 acres to hunting in Grandview for the first time ever.
• Keeps open 301 acres of the Lower Gorge following the requests of local hunters.
• Authorize the National Park System (NPS) to bid on additional land for the Preserve that amounts to 3,711 acres.
• Authorizes the NPS to acquire up to 100 acres for parking only, which is needed as the area has seen an increase in visitors.
“We are proud, delighted and just plain happy that this day came,” Watts said during Wednesday’s press conference. “Becoming a National Park really is a true honor for all of us. For the people that live next to this park, the people that work here, the people and all of the citizens of West Virginia, they now get to know what we knew: that this really, truthfully is one of the most spectacular places on the face of the earth.”
Taking the podium, Manchin stated that he was recently been concerned about the state’s census but knows this new designation will draw people in.
“We need people, workers and young families. We need people who left to come back and people to move here. They need something special to do that and, well, this park is something special.”
Multiple times, Manchin highlighted the comradery between Senator Capito and himself, explaining that things get accomplished when you put political parties aside and focus on friendship and common goals.
“All hands were on deck. We all worked together, and we will continue to. There’s an old saying…that you better tell your story before someone tells one on ya. We have allowed for years and years and years for people to define us who didn’t know us and have never come to our state and had no idea who we were and define us in sometimes the most unflattering terms. We have a chance now to show them who we really are, and this park is basically a window to West Virginia.”
“The New River Gorge is such an important part of West Virginia and a real source of pride in our state. Whether it’s cheering on the BASE jumpers at Bridge Day, experiencing the thrill of world-class white-water rafting, or taking in the beautiful panoramic views, the New River Gorge provides unlimited opportunities for thousands of visitors each year,” Capito stated.
“This new designation will shine a light on the New River Gorge and its many offerings so individuals around the world can see all that West Virginia has to offer. Updating and unveiling the signage today at the Gorge marks the culmination of years of hard work toward this goal that has been a major priority. This would not be possible without the dedicated support of local leaders here that have diligently seen this redesignation effort through. I’m incredibly optimistic about the future benefits New River Gorge National Park and Preserve will bring to the region and the entire state of West Virginia.”
While many talked of the traffic that the National Park designation would bring in the future, Secretary of State Tourism Chelsea Ruby shared that the area is already seeing an increase in traffic.
According to Ruby, hits on the region’s tourism websites are up 90 percent, and 89 percent of people who visit the Gorge come back to visit again.
“The Gorge is sort of like the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. When you visit it, you will always remember it. You’ll remember the first time. You’ll remember what it looked like, and it’s something you’ll never forget.
Ruby said perhaps her favorite statistic is that in the first quarter of this year, which is usually a slow time for most tourism in the area, the Gorge’s visitation was up 14 percent not over 2020 but 2019, a normal year.
“That is a large volume of traffic that we are seeing, and if I were to tell you our projections for the rest of the year, you’d be even more impressed. We are seeing higher and higher numbers. Bookings are up, traffic us up, and this is just the beginning.”
After unveiling the sign for the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve Headquarters sign, Watts revealed that there are 52 other updated signs waiting to be installed across the park and nearby interstates.
For more information on the New River Gorge, click here.