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The New River is one of North America’s oldest rivers, and has been protected as one of the four National Rivers in the U.S. for over 40 years, but it’s now officially a U.S. national park thanks to the recent COVID-19 stimulus package. Nestled in the Appalachians in southern West Virginia, it’s the country’s 63rd national park and covers 53 miles of the New River between Bluestone Dam and Hawk’s Nest Lake, along with 703,000 acres of land.
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New River has carved and continues to carve the Appalachian range’s deepest and longest river gorge, which has long attracted adventure seekers to its rapids and rock walls. It includes walls that are 1000-feet high walls, creating some 1,500 climbing routes as well as a nearly 13-mile trail route for hiking and mountain biking that was created by the Boy Scouts.
Of the park’s 73,000 acres, a little over 7,000 will form around the heart of the gorge, including trailheads that were already developed and a visitor center. The remaining 90% percent is designated a national preserve to allow for backcountry hunting.
Rafting the river, hiking the scenic trails, and biking along the old railroad grade, visitors will be surrounded by breathtaking scenery that makes this new national park well-worthy of its title, but its significance goes beyond the views.
When looking out from viewpoints like Long Point, Grandview, Diamond Point, and the many of others, you’ll be gazing out at a globally significant forest, home to the most diverse flora of any river gorge in the central and south Appalachians.
The Appalachian Mountain forests are some of the world’s oldest and most diverse ecosystems, with a wide range of habitats, from wetlands and cliffs to mature bottomland forests which offer shelter to endangered species, like the Allegheny woodrat. It’s inhabited by animals that are commonly spotted like gray and fox squirrel, chipmunk, groundhog, raccoon, and white-tailed deer, while the occasional river otter, beaver, and mink, can sometimes be seen here too.
Birdwatchers can discover plenty of birdlife and there are amphibians and aquatic species to look for as well.
The gorge is also known for its opportunity for quiet contemplation, providing kind of a spiritual aspect that soothes the soul. Visitors often come to escape the fast pace of life in busy, congested cities, as here it’s an entirely different, unspoiled world that’s wild and wonderfully tranquil, as Senator Shelley Capito noted in a recent press conference about the park’s new addition.
Taking a journey down the New River, climbing the steep rock walls, or embarking on a trek along the miles of magnificent trails may be the perfect way to recharge, and perhaps even provide a transformation of sorts.
New River Gorge National Park