Congratulations, West Virginia

The New River Gorge Bridge, seen from Fayette Station, was once the world’s longest single-span arch bridge. Photograph: F Brian Ferguson/AP

A park is born. Challenges, yes, but opportunity too:

The New River Gorge in West Virginia: millions of years in the making; now a national park. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

America has a new national park but not all the locals are happy about it

The New River Gorge in West Virginia offers stunning views, rock climbing and rafting but some worry it is unprepared for an influx of visitors

The New River has spent millions of years carving a bucolic gorge in West Virginia. It is now home to one of the most biodiverse forests on the continent. And while humans have tracked prey along its jagged cliffs for thousands of years, now most people come to the gorge to find adventure.

Its sandstone cliffs make for world-class rock climbing. The whitewater rapids in the river below provide some of the wildest rafting on the east coast. Trails carve around the gorge’s hillsides, delivering hikers and bikers to some of West Virginia’s most scenic vistas.

This natural playground was something of a loosely kept secret for many years. But now, the secret is fully out. On 27 December 2020, the river became the New River Gorge national park and preserve, the United States’ newest national park. It is to the delight of many – but not all.

Locals are worried the area is not ready for the national spotlight. They say there simply aren’t enough amenities in the park or its surrounding communities to support the flood of visitors that will come, and the park does not have the money to fix these problems.

“There’s been so little thought put into this, it’s just kind of bizarre,” said Gene Kistler, co-owner of the outfitter Water Stone Outdoors in Fayetteville, West Virginia.

“The national park system of the United States of America is the gold standard in the world of conservation and stewardship,” he said. “I don’t want this to be the place where the brand is diminished.”

Kistler, who started climbing in the New River Gorge in the 1980s, says there aren’t enough campgrounds for the tourists that are coming. Popular rock climbing sites are becoming overcrowded. There aren’t enough trails for hikers and mountain bikers. And there aren’t enough parking spaces at the existing trails. Even now, on busy weekends, parked cars spill out on to the main roads.

This is especially true at popular ones like Long Point, which spits hikers on to an outcropping with a postcard-worthy view of the New River Gorge Bridge, once the world’s longest single-span arch bridge. Kistler said local drivers regularly have to dodge hikers walking along the main road to get to the trailhead…

Read the whole article here.

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