Take a peek inside America’s newest national park
FAYTEETVILLE, West Virginia / ABC News – Americans certainly embraced the outdoors in 2020 when businesses closed and sporting seasons were canceled. People took to the great outdoors and walked, ran, and played new sports like golf and tennis. Many visited public lands.
The New River Gorge in West Virginia was named the nation’s 63rd national park under the December COVID-19 relief bill. Although it was popular in the region, its new designation quickly gained national attention.
“We have seen a slight increase this year since the designation,” said Park Superintendent Lizzie Watts. “We hope that this rise is related to two things: that COVID has given a lot of people the opportunity to learn about how safe the security outside is, and [also] encouraged families to hike and go out where we can actually do things.
With an influx of visitors coming in, Watts recommends people plan ahead and try to leave on a weekday.
“Know what popular trails are and then have an alternative as well,” Watts added.
Arrowhead Bike Farm and Campground owner in Fayetteville, Adam Stevens, said his business peaked during the pandemic and he anticipates another now that the park is gaining national attention.
“Not only are we this incredible and iconic geological preservation,” he said, “we are also a very popular activity point for people in the outdoors. So that was what we had before all of this happened.
More than 8 million more Americans hiked in 2020 compared to 2019, a trend that continued into 2021, with national park attendance reaching a record high, according to a report from the Outdoor Foundation.
Some are worried about the increase in pedestrian traffic.
Larry Case, writer for the Guns & Cornbread blog, has spent decades as a conservation officer and hunter in the New River Gorge.
“Many of us hunters,” he said, “feel the land has been taken from us. This is my position on this, and I believe many other local people.
“Hunters must be concerned about access to public lands,” he added. “We didn’t need to turn the area into a national park for the protection of the area. … We are not against tourism, not against national parks. Personally, I don’t see why they had to take this area away from the hunters. “
Hunting has a long tradition in West Virginia. It is still allowed in the 90% classified as a reserve, but not in the area designated as a national park.
Watts also recognized the role hunters play in conservation efforts and in reducing a growing deer population.
“A lot of hunters are some of the best environmentalists in the world,” Watts added. “I really think the best decisions are compromises… the compromise that senators proposed was a park and a reserve, where we can do both.”