The New River Gorge National River would become New River Gorge National Park, under a bill introduced on Tuesday by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.
The re-designation as a national park would not change the way the 72,808-acre preserve of canyons, cliffs, forested plateaus and whitewater rapids is currently managed, with hunting, rafting, fishing, bicycling and Bridge Day BASE-jumping permitted as “traditional” uses of the land.
The New River Gorge National River has been a unit of the National Park Service since its creation in 1978.
“The New River Gorge is a special part of West Virginia and a real source of pride for our state,” Capito said. “Whether it’s cheering on the BASE jumpers at Bridge Day, experiencing the thrill of world-class whitewater rafting, or taking in the beautiful panoramic views, the New River Gorge provides unlimited opportunities for thousands of visitors each year.”
The move to re-designate the Gorge as a national park was initiated by a group of whitewater outfitters, who saw the name change as a way to give the preserve a higher profile and attract more visitors, at virtually no cost, due to the National Park “brand” as an outdoor attraction worth visiting.
A study completed in May for a proposal to re-designate New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument as a national park showed that eight former national monuments that had become national parks during the previous five years had experienced average increases in visitors of 21 percent.
This summer, county commissions, city councils, regional development agencies and convention and visitors bureaus along the 53-mile length of the Gorge signed proclamations favoring the name-change, provided all of the “traditional” uses of the preserve continue to be permitted.
“Re-designating the national river as a national park will shine a light on the New River Gorge and its many offerings to help drive tourism and spur the local and regional economy,” Capito said, in a statement announcing the introduction of the bill.
While national monuments may be become national parks through presidential designation, it takes an act of Congress to bring national park status to national rivers. The title of Capito’s proposed legislation is the New River Gorge National Park Designation Act.
The name change would apply only to the New River Gorge National River, and would not include the Gauley River National Recreation Area or the Bluestone National Scenic River, which are National Park Service properties managed by the New River Gorge National River.