New National Park designation spurs change at New River Gorge
NEW RIVER GORGE, W.Va (NewsNation Now) – When Kyle Kent isn’t teaching social studies in high school, you can find him climbing the Appalachians as a mountain guide.
“It only took me a few days to realize ‘Oh wow, I love this place and I think I want to make this house.’ It came really fast, as you can see here, it’s breathtaking and it came really fast, ”said Kent, co-owner of Appalachian Mountain Guides.
But, since it became a national park, you can definitely tell that there is a slight increase in interest.
These days the phone just keeps ringing and its revenue is already up 30% from last year.
“I think you’re always going to be a little caught off guard when this starts and you’re like, ‘Oh wow, my phone won’t stop, and wow, I have six new emails to reply to. But I certainly expected that getting that national park status would cause people to come here, ”said Kent.
Park warden Lisa Perkowski-Sisk has also been busy since the New River Gorge was designated a national park and reserve last month. Attendance is up 15% compared to last year. If there was anything positive about the pandemic, she says one of them reintroduced Americans to the great outdoors – drawing them to the lush, emerald slopes of West Virginia.
“It also helped them see the value of staying in the country as well, and perhaps opening up opportunities that they might not have taken advantage of before,” said Perkowski-Sisk.
The New River is not new at all. It’s actually one of the oldest in the world – with millions of years carved into the canyon walls.
But not everyone in the region welcomes the change.
“They took over 4,000 acres and said it was a national park – no hunting. So that was the problem that hunters, people like me, had with it. Not against the park, ”said hunter Larry Case.
Case watched the mountains and river for the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources for 36 years. He is now retired and spends most of his time hunting and writing about guns.
The majority of the New River Gorge is classified as a preserve, where hunting is still permitted, but for Case it will always be the land where generations of conservation-oriented hunters have roamed.
“I was called selfish for that. The hunters have become selfish. Hope you understand where I’m from. I don’t see it that way. Hunters of today, nowadays, we must be passionate about maintaining our lands of public access. They’re not making any more land, and that was promised to us 40 years ago, ”said Case.
U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (RW.V.), who has worked on legislation to make the Gorge the 63rd national park, says hunters and fishermen are a priority.
“There are only 7,000 of these acres in the national park, the other 63,000 are open for hunting, fishing and all kinds of outdoor activities,” she said. “So we tried to make sure. Everyone’s needs have been taken into account because hunting is an extremely important sport in our region.
Some have also expressed reservations about the millions of people the national park designation will attract to this quiet corner of paradise. Also, the lack of infrastructure and parking, the waste they fear will come with the crowd.
But in a state whose major charcoal and lumber industries are disappearing, Kent sees hope.
“I hope that tourism can continue to bring in money here,” he said. No, but I think it’s a good step in the right direction to get Americans to come and see this state that hasn’t been on a lot of people’s radar so far, so it’s exciting.