Conservation News

Passed Alongside the Covid-19 Relief Bill: A New National Park

The New River Gorge became the United States’ 63rd national park with the passage of the year-end omnibus spending bill.

Nestled between the lush forests, sheer cliffs, and marshy wetlands of West Virginia is the New River Gorge, a historic outdoors and adventure sport hub that attracts around one million visitors every year. It’s also the United States’ newest (and West Virginia’s first) national park and preserve.

“The New River Gorge is truly one of West Virginia’s most treasured playgrounds and largest tourist attractions because of its whitewater rafting, hunting, fishing, outdoor sports and natural beauty,” said West Virginia’s Sen. Joe Manchin in a press release. The legislation, along with Covid-19 relief, is part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, an omnibus spending bill that President Trump signed on December 27.

The move comes as the state continues to emphasize its tourism industry, which brought in $4.6 billion in 2018, the last year for which data is available. After seeing declines in tourism revenue from 2012 to 2016, the sector grew between 2016 and 2018.

“The New River Gorge is such an important part of West Virginia and…will shine a brighter light on West Virginia and all that it has to offer,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, also of West Virginia. 

One thing that makes New River Gorge National Park and Preserve stand out is the diversity of activities available there. Visitors can whitewater raft through the park’s 53 miles of rivers, climb up its rocky outcroppings, or mountain bike through its lush thickets. Manchin said that one sticking point with his constituents was access for hunting, a popular activity in the area; by making the gorge a park and preserve, the legislation preserves access for hunters and even opens up a few new areas.

For the most part, not much in the park has changed. Activities like hiking, fishing, biking and camping will operate as usual.

As far as hikers are concerned, the biggest change to New River Gorge’s operations could be the addition of an entry fee. But the legislation also creates opportunities for federal funding of the park that could help attract and grow visitation.