In case you missed the news, West Virginia is getting its first real national park.
For years, the Mountain State has had places run by the National Park Service, but none of them were specifically called parks.
The New River Gorge, for example, was a National River. Harpers Ferry was, and is, a National Historic Park. The Bluestone and Gauley rivers are both National Recreation Areas.
But when Congress passed a year-end 5,593-page omnibus spending bill on Dec. 21, the state’s Park Service map changed a bit.
Included in the bill was a provision that converted the New River Gorge National River into the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
The wording of that title is important to hunters and anglers. Before the legislation passed, almost all of the New River Gorge National River’s 72,186 acres were open to hunting and fishing.
Now that the legislation has passed and been signed into law, 7,021 of those 72,186 acres will become a full-fledged national park, and hunting will not be allowed there. The remaining 65,165 acres will comprise the preserve, where hunting will continue as before.
A lot of hunters are bent out of shape at what they perceive as a loss of 7,021 acres of pretty good hunting land. Truth be told, they didn’t lose nearly that much.
Almost half of that land was already closed to hunting — the areas around National Park Service visitor centers, the town of Thurmond, the area immediately downstream from Sandstone Falls, and the Grandview area, which had been closed since it became Grandview State Park.
The rest, an area of some 4,385 acres, will make up the bulk of the new national park. The tract stretches from the old town of Nuttallburg downstream through the lower New River Gorge to Hawks Nest Dam.
Anyone who has visited the area will recognize that most of that acreage is contained within the gorge’s steep, rugged walls. The hunting there was quite good, but tough to get to.
To try to mitigate hunters’ understandable bitterness at having those 4,385 acres taken away, the drafters of the legislation wrote in provisions to replace almost all of it.
They set aside a 301-acre tract adjacent to the lower gorge for the preserve, and they opened to hunting an additional 368 acres in the formerly closed Grandview area.
Yes, that’s only 669 acres. But also written into the legislation was language that authorizes the Park Service to bid on 3,711 acres, all of which would be added to the preserve. If and when that happens, the net “loss” of hunting land due to the park would be a whopping 5 acres.
All that said, I’m not naïve. The legislation didn’t establish a timeline for acquiring those 3,711 acres. It also didn’t pre-appropriate the necessary funding. At best, it was a vague promise to do right by hunters.
It reminds me of the J. Wellington Wimpy character in the old Popeye cartoons, who so often said, “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”
In this case, the role of Wimpy is being played by Sen. Joe Manchin, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and Rep. Carol Miller. With the passage of the New River Gorge National Park legislation, they got their hamburger.
So, senators and congresswoman, when will Tuesday arrive? Or are you hoping we sportsmen will soon forget the promise you made?
Good luck with that; every time we hear or read the words “New River Gorge National Park,” we’ll be reminded of it.