New River Gorge, America's Most Recent National Park

New River Gorge, America's Most Recent National Park

Despite the unprecedented events of 2020, the U.S. still managed to add a new National Park to the roster. Its designation on December 27th, 2020 may have slipped by the radar given everything else that was going on, but we'd like to take a moment to introduce, and to welcome, New River Gorge National Park.

New River Gorge National Park; The Unveiling

Except for Gateway Arch National Park added in 2018, and Indiana Dunes National Park and White Sands National Park, both of which were added to the National Park roster in 2019, the U.S. hadn't created a new National Park in half a decade. But in 2020, in the midst of a nationwide pandemic, a presidential election, and unprecedented economic and social upheavals, the U.S. Congress still managed to add a new National Park to the roster, a silver lining for all park enthusiasts and adventurers out there. 

New River Gorge was designated America's 63rd National Park on December 27th, 2020, one of the last major acts of Congress in the calendar year. New River Gorge had initially been designated a National River in 1978, but Congress sought to provide the park with additional protections, conservation efforts, and funding, hence the upgraded designation to that most coveted of all park labels, the designation of a National Park. 

About the Park

Located in West Virginia, near the town of Beckley, New River Gorge National Park was created to protect, conserve, and offer to the public over 70,000 acres of the natural features of the New River Valley, Gorge, and River. The park extends 53 miles from just downstream of the town of Hinton to the edge of Hawks Nest State Park, near the town of Ansted. 

Unique features abound in the New River, in its watershed region, and in the surrounding geography. New River Gorge is the longest and deepest river gorge in the Appalachian Mountains. In some areas of the park where the gorge is especially steep, there are thousands of feet of exposed sandstone and shale, house-sized boulders scattered from the gorge's rim all the way down to the river's edge. Forever in the stone, one can find plant and invertebrate fossils, as well as a stunning geologic record. 

As for the park's flora and fauna, New River Gorge is home to rare plants, animals, and diverse ecosystems. The river contains distinct populations of native fish, mussels, and crayfish. There are at least 48 known species of amphibians in the park and many reptile species. The park is also home to at least 63 species of mammals, dozens of species of birds, and hundreds of both aquatic and land-based plant species. 

The History Behind New River Gorge

On November 10th, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed legislation establishing New River Gorge National River. Congress had sought to preserve the region, and quoting the legislation:

"... For the purpose of conserving and interpreting outstanding natural, scenic, and historic values and objects in and around the New River Gorge, and preserving as a free-flowing stream an important segment of the New River in West Virginia for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations."

There was a time when New River Gorge was the source of the nation's best seams of bituminous coal, colloquially called "Smokeless New River Coal." For a time, this coal was used all over the country in the nation's boilers, trains, factories, fleets, and power plants.

While West Virginians have a great deal of culture and history of the 19th and 20th centuries steeped into and around the river, the human history of New River Gorge goes back much, much further. For example, there are remnants of Indigenous Shawnee subsistence farms, former community sites, and homesteads located in the park.

And finally, the river itself, the New River, is not "new" at all. In fact, according to carbon dating, it's the oldest river in North America, approximately 260 to 325 million years old.

Activities and Adventures in the Park

New River Gorge is a local and regional favorite for rock climbing, white water rafting, hiking, swimming, and fishing. And now in the national spotlight with the new National Park designation, wilderness adventurers will certainly travel from across the country to dip their toes in the waters of West Virginia's most cherished river.

Activities abound at New River Gorge National Park. Whitewater rafting outfitters conduct guided tours down the river, with rapids on the Lower Gorge ranging from Class III to Class V. On the upper part of the river, somewhat less challenging Class I to Class III rapids offer exciting adventures for canoers and kayakers. 

The park is also home to some of the most coveted rock climbing opportunities east of the Rocky Mountains. There are over 1,400 documented and established rock climbs in the park, meaning climbers can come back year after year and still not climb all of the routes available.

New River Gorge is a cherished hiking location, with over 50 miles of trails, ranging from easy strolls to challenging hikes. Several of the trails follow old railroad grades from when the Gorge was a major coal-mining center, adding a touch of human history to the hiking trails.

For overnight stays and more information, the park features four camping areas and two year-round visitor centers, one located at Sandstone and the other at Canyon Rim.

Poster Art of New River Gorge and Local Attractions

Since its designation last year, Anderson Design Group's award-winning poster artists have created two original illustrations of New River Gorge National Park. These vintage posters complement the other illustrations our team has made of West Virginia landmarks, towns, and attractions over the years.

Part of our excitement behind creating poster art of the National Parks is that the project is never over! Every time we travel to a National Park, even if we've been there before, we find new inspiration for poster works, new ideas for vintage-styled designs of our favorite features of the parks. And even after we've traveled to every National Park in the U.S., every time a new park is designated, that means new inspiration and ideas for art!

Check out the 63 Illustrated American National Parks to see the 388 (and counting!) original designs we've created so far.

Until next time,

-Ren Brabenec

Anderson Design Group Staff Writer

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