West Virginia’s New River Gorge is the newest U.S. national park, joining such giants as Yellowstone, Death Valley, and Grand Tetons on the list of parks with the nation’s highest protective designation. The park comprises 72,000 acres along 53 miles of the New River Gorge, writes Zach Montague in the New York Times, an area which first first received federal protection in 1978.
The gorge offers a dramatic look into the region’s geological history—if estimates are correct, the New River could be the second oldest river in the world. With canyon walls soaring up to 1,600 feet and miles of hiking and biking routes, New River Gorge is a popular destination for adventure sports including whitewater rafting, fishing, and rock climbing. In the past, it was a booming coal mining region. “Especially after the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway linked the New River coal fields to markets in 1873, dozens of boom towns popped up along the river’s edge, thriving well into the 1920s.” Many now dot the landscape as ghost towns.
The bill elevating the park’s status was introduced by West Virginia’s senators in 2019. Although “the new title for New River Gorge does not fundamentally alter the area’s day-to-day operations,” the new designation could help bring in more tourist dollars, jobs, and resources to the state.