Anderson Design Group Interviews Friends of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve!
As artists and wilderness explorers, our passion is to venture into the 63 American National Parks, photograph and document these wonderful natural places, and share our enthusiasm for our nation’s natural wonders by creating original, high-quality poster art.
Truly America’s Best Idea, the National Parks were created to preserve our nation’s natural beauty and cultural history. Each park represents a significant chapter in a story that predates the United States. To do our part as stewards of the parks, we’re always seeking new opportunities to support the conservancies, associations, foundations, and friend groups that protect the parks.
To raise awareness for the important conservation activities in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, we took some time this week to sit down with Dave Bassage, Executive Director of Friends of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
Friends of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve
ADG: “Great to have you with us, Dave! What is Friends of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve?”
Dave: “Great to be here! Friends of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is a nonprofit organization that works in collaboration with the National Park Service at America’s newest National Park to support park-led programs and our own initiatives within the park.”
ADG: “I understand you work in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, but is your group also in charge of programs and activities outside the park? How does your group interact with the community?”
Dave: “Oh sure. We’re involved in activities within the park and in places adjacent to it. We set up tables at various events to fundraise and recruit volunteers for river cleanups and other park programs. We’ll also have staff aid stations for races that happen in the park, like 5Ks and even the 100 mile ultra marathon. These aid stations and the races they support have been a huge success. The races through the park are a real bump for the local economy, because they attract runners from all across the country. Our group sets up an aid station at Mile 19 (the old historic town of Thurmond) and we help support the runners along the way.”
“We manage several conservation projects and visitor support programs within the park too. For example, while working in conjunction with the National Park Service, we installed and now maintain hardened air blowers at Summersville Dam on the Gauley River and Cunard on the New River for users to inflate their craft. We help with maintenance of these popular units too.”
“And that’s just one example. We also plan to install a bike maintenance station at the Arrowhead trailhead this year and hopefully up to three more popular bike trailheads. These stations will include a stand, pump, and basic tools for mountain bike enthusiasts to service their bikes. Two of them are funded. We’re seeking funding for the others!”
ADG: “Those are some great programs! How did the Friends of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve get its start?”
Dave: “Well, it all started with a local collaborative effort to restore Camp Brookside, which used to be a summer camp for the children of employees at a nearby Union Carbide chemical facility. It was a place that kids could learn about nature, swim, paddle, pitch tents, tell ghost stories, and practice arts and crafts. The camp fell into disrepair, the park acquired it, so about 10 years ago our group was founded to restore it and convert it into an environmental education center. Now the site offers environmental education opportunities for groups like the Girl Scouts. We host community events there too, like a Grandparents and Grandkids Fishing Day. We provide their lunches and organize the event.”
“Another part of our origin story was there was this boardwalk at an overlook that caught fire and burned in 2016. The Friend's Group fundraised and did volunteer work to restore that boardwalk. It was a really popular boardwalk, and when folks saw what we did to restore it, our membership grew and we were able to begin funding other projects.”
ADG: “Incredible! What are some other types of projects your group works on each year? What are some of the projects you're most proud of?”
Dave: “In addition to the inflatable craft blowers, the bicycle maintenance center project, and the various restoration projects we’ve worked on, our group is also installing fish line recycling centers, which is good for fishermen so they have a place to dispose of tangled lines. And of course it’s good for the environment, because it gets fish line OUT of the park and sent to a recycling center.”
“We also want to get more involved with the rock climbing opportunities in the park, as New River Gorge has some of the best rock climbing in the country. Thousands of people travel from across the country to scale these rocks. We are still exploring best options for that demographic.
“Last but not least, we’re quite involved with helping to promote the trail systems here. A few years back, USA Today ran a contest of the most popular trails in the United States. Now New River Gorge is a victim of its success because we placed in the top ten for best hiking trails in America, and visitation exploded immediately after on our most popular trail. Combined with the recent National Park designation, the Park has had to find innovative ways to address vehicle parking issues at trailheads, trail hardening, the toll of traffic, etc. There are over 100 miles of lesser-known trails in the park that don’t get a lot of use, so we launched a contest to incentivize visitors to check out some of the less-used trails, all to spread usage out throughout the park. It’s been pretty successful thus far.”
ADG: “Those are some incredible accomplishments, Dave! And how does Friends of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve raise money to support all of the great programs you’re involved in?”
Dave: “This has been the real adventure for our group, because even though the National Park designation in 2020 more than doubled visitation at New River Gorge, there was no increase in federal funding at that time. So we were suddenly rushed with visitors, and the park service and support groups like ours were underfunded and understaffed to contend with the spike in visitation. Thankfully, the local communities here in West Virginia really stepped up. Several local businesses and charitable community members have funded our work, and dozens of volunteers have poured into the park to help with our river cleanups.”
ADG: “Speaking of river cleanups, given the extensive list of projects your group is working on, how do you enlist the help of the community in these projects?”
Dave: “We’re really active on social media, and we make big announcements several times per year there whenever we’re doing a community activity in the park. We do river cleanups about four times per year, and that’s a great way for folks to see how big of an impact they can have on the park in a relatively short amount of time. Last year we pulled 360 tires out of the river. Can you believe that? 360 tires! People feel really good when they help get trash out of the river and into proper disposal. It’s a very productive and collaborative effort. Various other local entities may get involved too. Local restaurants donate lunches, for example.”
“We’re also working with the Gaines Estate to host a Gear and Rummage Sale to benefit the park. People can sell or barter off their old gear and get new gear or gently used gear. It’s a great outreach opportunity, and half the proceeds will go to the Friends Group. We’re also involved with the New River Gorge Festival which occurs on the second weekend of May, and Bridge Day the third weekend in October. All of these opportunities get our group front and center in the community, and every time we appear at such an event, people sign up for memberships, donate to the group, or put their name down for a volunteer activity.”
ADG: “What goes on in the educational side of the Friends of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve? What are some of the educational programs your team is invested in?”
Dave: “We help arrange and cover the travel and food expenses for sixth graders who are bussed into the National Park from surrounding communities. Kids will come into the park on field trips and take educational courses from park rangers, and our Friends Group will help provide the funding and logistics to ensure equitable access to such programs. We ensure schoolchildren within all communities, regardless of socioeconomic status, can access the park.”
ADG: “Those sound like great projects, Dave! Looking to the future, what are the short-term and long-term goals for the Friends of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve?”
Dave: “We’re looking to expand our role in the park, expand our membership, do more outreach, arrange activities, and fundraise for conservation programs. We also want to work with other park visitors we haven’t made connections with, like the rock climbers I mentioned earlier.”
ADG: “Those sound like great goals! What do you think about our New River Gorge National Park and Preserve art? Any designs we should add to our series?”
Dave: “I have a few ideas, yeah! Your work is incredible. I’d like to see some art of the unexplored angles of the park. Like, if you look up the river and see the whitewater and the cliffs, that would make an incredible poster. There’s some great views that embody the activities in the park too. I could envision a poster of the rock climbing, mountain biking, or whitewater rafting. Our whitewater rafting is some of the best in the country. The Gauley River and the Bluestone River are also parts of the park, and people travel thousands of miles to raft the Gauley, because it's one of the few places in the world where there’s a scheduled season on world class whitewater, 22 days long with controlled releases from the upstream dam. The whitewater portion of the Gauley includes 26 miles with over 100 rapids. There are great views looking down on it from above too. I could see that making some great art. The New River has great rafting May through October and lots of opportunities for great art.”
“There are also historic locations in the park that could make for good art, like the old Thurmond Train Station where Amtrak still stops. The heritage of this region really goes back to coal mining, and old mine sites have been restored in the park with interpretative signs describing their history. Art of the mining sites could also be compelling.”
ADG: “Brilliant idea, Dave. I'll be sure to pass that on to our artists. One last question, if there would be one thing about your group or about National Park conservation/restoration/education generally that you’d want the broader public to know, what would that be?”
Dave: “This is a period of really important growth for our country, in terms of recognizing the need for conservation and environmental protections, as well as the benefits of outdoor recreation. I really want folks to be involved in it. Here locally, the New River Gorge is the showpiece for West Virginia. It embodies the incredible natural beauty of this state, and the amount of community activity in the park is emblematic of the wonderful people in this area. It’s a great place to showcase the best of West Virginia, and I hope more folks will get involved with our work in the coming years.”
ADG: “We couldn't agree more with those sentiments, Dave. Thanks for sitting down with us today!”
Dave: “Thanks for having me!”
The Importance of Supporting National Park Associations and Friend Groups
You can learn more about Friends of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve at their website. Their store has a selection of merchandise, and you can become a member to support their work in perpetuity.
If you represent a National Park Association, Foundation, History Association, Friend Group, or Conservancy that works in any of the 63 American National Parks, contact us today to schedule an interview! Just email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, we'll get back to creating vintage poster art for New River Gorge National Park and other National Parks. Let's enjoy these beautiful, historic places and do our part to preserve them for future generations.
Anderson Design Group Staff Writer