United States Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), have introduced the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve Designation Act—legislation that would change the New River Gorge’s designation from the “New River Gorge National River” to the “New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.”
The Senators’ goal in proposing this change is to make the area more attractive to tourism. It assumes that if the area is labeled as a National Park people would believe that it offers more recreational opportunities.
Ms. Capito introduced a similar bill last year. It foundered because of concern about hunting. While hunting is allowed in a National Preserve, it would not be allowed in a National Park.
To address this concern, this new bill divides the property into two parts. Some 5-6,000 acres would become a National Park where no hunting would be allowed. The rest of the current 72,000 acre New River Gorge National River would be designated as a National Preserve where hunting would be allowed.
Such a proposed change sparked questions. To answer these questions, Senators Manchin and Capito, along with Representative Carol Miller, met with a standing room only crowd at the Canyon Rim Visitors Center Auditorium to answer questions. Here are some of the questions and answers:
Usage and Restrictions:
How will the designation change affect private boater access? Hunting access? Fishing access?
There will be no change to private boater and fishing access. Hunting access will be restricted in some areas. There was a lot of pushback against restricted hunting north of Nuttallburg. Maps are going to be reviewed.
How will this designation change affect current and future commercial outfitter usage?
No change. The state governs water usage, the bill is written to defer to the state.
Will boaters have to obtain permits? Will they have to go through a commercial company to gain access to the river? Will the New River become a lottery system for private permits?
Where will camping being allowed? Will it be allowed only in designated areas?
Yes. You’ll be able to camp along the river.
What are the proposed trapping changes? How will animals be trapped?
Trapping is allowed.
No fees. Park Service could always add fees in the future if the need is determined.
What funding will be provided to support NPS with increased maintenance costs, current backlog, new signage, staff to oversee projects and provide visitor programs?
Funding will be made through appropriations. An increase in appropriations will be based on visitorship. No one could give a firm answer about accommodating infrastructure needs. National Park Service doesn’t believe there will be issues accommodating the increased visitorship. They see a seamless transition to Park and Preserve.
Will there be any private land purchased under the new designation?
Private land will be incorporated
The Senate Natural Resources and Energy committee would like to take this matter up before end of the year. Because it is early in the legislative process there are still opportunities to change details of the proposal as it moves along.