Who would have thought it?
Just because the New River Gorge Bridge is featured on the back of one of the United States quarters, the coin representing the Mountain State, people are flocking to the national park near Fayetteville in droves.
That’s the word from interpretive park rangerswith the National Park Service.
“Lots of people have noticed the bridge on the back of the quarter and that is the first thing they ask about when they come here: they want to see the bridge,” a ranger told me recently.
That’s good news for the Canyon Rim Visitors Center on U.S. Route 19. The facility will draw more than one million visitors this year to its famed landmark, where spectators can view the famous steel-arch bridge spanning New River that snakes its way through the gorge nearly 1000 feet below.
“It’s amazing how much of an impact the quarters had on our park system,” the ranger observed. “The coin sparked an interest in the New River Gorge Bridge that is beyond anything we could have imagined.”
The park ranger also noted that a residual effect of the U.S. coin is that those who come to Canyon Rim Visitors Center also learn about other units of the National Park System in the region: Gauley River National Recreation Area and Bluestone National Scenic River.
These attractions offer spectacular scenery and a wealth of recreational opportunities. The diversity of natural and historical resources found in these national park areas is being preserved as part of a larger family of 390 nationally significant places which make up the National Park System.
These special places in the Mountain State have become sanctuaries for pride, a sense of place, and renewal of mind, body, and soul, according to Fayetteville native Brenda Sue Kidd, whose roots run deep in the culture of the local mining community. “My father and grandfather were coal miners,” she said.
And there’s little doubt that residents share the same affinity with the gorge’s historic traditions and heritage.
“Whenever we ask what people value most about the park overlooking the New River Gorge, we get a wonderfully diverse response,” another park ranger observed. “Some common themes include opportunities for peace and solitude, access to diverse outdoor recreation, historic resources and stories, scenic beauty, the river and clean water, education, and economic development opportunities.”
The New, Gauley and Bluestone rivers are all part of the greater New River watershed that extends from the North Carolina mountains and pastoral farmlands of Southern Virginia to southern West Virginia. The rivers and streams of the watershed are affected by mining, logging, manufacturing, agriculture, and waste disposal.
To fulfill its mission to protect the natural resources of these parks, the National Park Service monitors water quality at about forty different sites. Park officials share information and work with watershed associations, local communities, counties, and state and other federal agencies, environmental groups, industries, schools, and individuals to foster a sense of responsibility for the nationally important waters so that water quality is improved and maintained to inspire future generations.
The New River is renowned for its excellent fishing, and it is a premier whitewater raftingriver, boasting of several companies that take tremendous pride in featuring the scenicqualities of the gorge area. Besides recreation, though, there are numerous other attractions that vie for tourists’ attention.
“Some of West Virginia’s rarest plants grow here,” explained Roger Armentrout, a veteran outdoorsman and river guide. “Wildflowers in spring offer an amazing display of color and variety. Seeds have traveled hundreds of miles in the currents of New River and have been transplanted on the hillsides along the riverbed.”
The park encompasses 70,000 acres along the New River between the towns of Hinton and Fayetteville.
The Canyon Rim and Sandstone visitor centers offer information, exhibits, program schedules and bookstores stocked with publications about the gorge.
And to many visitors, the New River offers some spectacular whitewater opportunities.
That is because New River falls some 750 feet in just 50 miles, from Bluestone Dam to Gauley Bridge, creating one of the finest whitewater rivers in the eastern United States.
By comparison, the Mississippi River falls just 1,428 feet from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, 2,300 miles.
Anglers, meanwhile, can fish from banks, shallows, or boats on the river. Float fishing is a popular diversion, for those who prefer the quiet atmosphere of the gorge area along the cool summer pools and remote mountain channels.
Climbers tackle the gorge’s sandstone cliffs.
Others explore scenic and historic areas by foot and mountain bike or from vehicles.
“You can pack your own picnic lunch and dine at the river level or they can feast along the canyon rim,” Armentrout explained, smiling. “Whether you like vigorous activities or prefer to just relax and take in the scenery, there’s something for you at one of our scenic attractions. We have a lot to give to everyone.”
Top o’ the morning!