Everyone may have been watching Congress for news of pandemic-related aid, but Monday's relief and spending bill also brings good news for anyone who enjoys national parks.
The 2021 spending package, passed by the U.S. Senate late Monday in conjunction with a pandemic relief package, includes The New River Gorge National Park and Preservation Designation Act. The act redesignates the New River Gorge National River as the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
If enacted by the White House, the act will make the site the 63rd national park and 20th national preserve in the U.S.
The park, which includes more than 70,000 acres of land along the New River, is already managed by the National Park Service. However, national river lands have different regulations than national park lands.
According to Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Representative Carol Miller (R-WV), the act will create a 65,165-acre preserve and a 7,021-acre park. Following requests and feedback from hunters, it also will keep 301 acres of the Lower Gorge open and authorize 368 acres in Grandview for hunting.
Additionally, the act will authorize the National Park Service to bid on up to 3,711 acres of additional land for the preserve. There is also a provision for acquiring up to 100 acres for parking, which the legislators say will be needed to accommodate growing numbers of visitors.
“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,” Senator Manchin said in a joint statement. “This designation will increase its international recognition by highlighting West Virginia’s world-class beauty and resources.”
Senator Capito told reporters in a phone call that outdoor recreation is a $9 billion industry in West Virginia, and the redesignation to national park status will potentially increase the number of visits by 21 percent.
“This is going to be a major investment in tourism in West Virginia,” Senator Capito said.
This isn’t the first time a proposal has been brought up to redesignate the area. Senators Capito and Manchin first introduced the New River Gorge Park and Preserve Designation Act in 2019, while Representative Miller introduced a companion bill in the House, arguing that such a designation could boost tourism in West Virginia.
Since then, the legislation has been amended based on local feedback.
“I’m grateful to all of the West Virginians -- sportsmen, business owners, and constituents -- for their feedback and involvement during this entire process,” Senator Capito said in the statement. “Redesignation of the National River to a National Park and Preserve will shine a brighter light on West Virginia and all that it has to offer, and provide another catalyst for our tourism industry and local businesses.”