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  • Writer's pictureGeografeats

The United States' Newest National Park

Updated: May 3, 2021

The New River Gorge National Park and Preserve joined the National Park System in December 2020. This makes it the 63rd area to be designated with the highest level of protection from the National Park Service. The area was first appointed as a National River in 1978. Through a COVID-19 relief bill funds were dedicated to safeguard the region as a National Park and Preserve.

Located in the Appalachians of West Virginia about an hour southeast of Charleston, New River begins in the far west of North Carolina. As it flows north, first through Virginia and then West Virginia, it cuts through the rugged Appalachian Plateau resulting in a gorge reaching depths up to 1,600 feet (487.6 meters).

The New River is a bit of a misnomer as it is actually one of the oldest rivers in the world and among the top 5 oldest rivers in North America. After many millennia of erosion the river exposed layers of rock that were created over 300 million years ago, fostering one of the most active coal mining regions in the state. Even today tourists can find remnants of the past with historic coal mining structures and coke ovens hidden amongst the forest.

In addition to the impressive geologic features, the flora and fauna of the area are nothing to scoff at. The gorge is home to 63 species of mammals and countless birds as it is a vital region on the north-south migratory flyway. Occasionally peregrine falcons can be seen soaring above or diving down towards the river.

These geologic forces have made the area a haven for rock climbers. There are over 1,400 established rock climbs ranging from 30-120 feet (9.1-36.6 meters) in height. If that doesn't get your endorphins pumping the New River is a premier whitewater rafting destination, with rapids ranging in difficulty from Class III to Class V.

If rock climbing or whitewater rafting is not your cup of tea, crossing the New River Gorge Bridge is a (Geogra)feat in itself. Soaring 876 feet above the river, the bridge holds the honor of being the third highest vehicular bridge in the country. Every October hundreds of people are permitted to rappel, ascend, or even BASE jump from the span.

Don't worry; the park can be a relaxing place as well. With its miles of trails, abundant fishing areas, and jaw dropping scenery this place has something for everyone. All in all the New River Gorge is a welcome addition to the US National Park system.

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