As visitation increases on the heels of the relatively recent creation of the newest national park in the United States, National Park Service employees and the general public at large are aware of the need for expansion or updating. infrastructure in the future.
Eve West, chief of interpretation, visitor services and cultural resources for New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, Bluestone National Scenic River and Gauley River National Recreation Area, said officials from the park are considering several years.
Signed into law in 2020, the Great American Outdoors Act established the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to address the deferred maintenance backlog of five federal agencies and provided full permanent funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
West says it’s still “too early” to definitively discuss projects that will eventually help strengthen the infrastructure of local NPS entities.
“There were parks that submitted projects quite early that were funded for 23-24, but we weren’t one of those parks because we came in a bit later, so it’s really too early. to talk about it,” she said.
“With any type of funding process, the way we do things always takes us about three years and anyway,” West continued. “There are different ways to fund projects.
This includes cycle funding and project management information system funding.
According to West, specific projects always of major interest in prioritization are looking to wastewater and other projects that help protect park resources. Anything involving resource protection, as well as visitor safety, “is always our number one priority.”
According to information provided by West, the Great American Outdoors Act has provided the USDA Forest Service with new opportunities to provide benefits to the American public through major investments in recreational infrastructure, access to public lands and land and water conservation. These investments will enrich communities by contributing to economic growth and job creation in rural America.
GAOA is providing permanent full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) which will advance the administration’s 30×30 conservation goals and establish a new National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund ( LRF) to address the deferred maintenance backlog for the Department of Agriculture and Department of Home Affairs during fiscal years 2021-25.
A recent statutorily funded project was the Grandview Hearth and Shelter Restoration Project. The NPS dedicated $14.1 million from the FY21 LRF program to meet deferred maintenance needs in 33 states and 59 small and medium-sized parks. Grandview was one of the first smaller projects, West said, because New River was one of the first parks to receive law funding for a national park project.
This particular project, executed by the NPS Maintenance Action Team (MAT), preserved and maintained 30 of the original historic fire pits located in five different shelters and restored a picnic area to usable condition. It included tasks such as repointing, new firebricks, replacing cooking surfaces and repairing stones. Repairs to the frame and timber elements of the shelters have been completed, CCC road culverts and other masonry elements around the Grandview site have been repaired to improve the visitor experience.
According to West, MAT is a group of trained and experienced NPS masons and maintainers from the Historic Preservation Training Center and NRGNPP who have been brought together to carry out the “much needed preservation maintenance work that has long been reported on this site. “This GAOA MAT and future ones are designed to provide young and veterans the opportunity to work with and train in the skills associated with the upkeep and maintenance of NPS sites. This could include trades such as carpentry, masonry, plumbing, or even HVAC work.
West says a pending project — which was in the works before the national park was designated — will also make a big difference.
The planned expansion of the Canyon Rim Visitor Center in Lansing will be a boost, she said. “It will be a wonderful addition, and the timing just happens to be perfect.” New exhibits are expected to be added by early 2023, two years after the park was redesignated.
New signage around the park will also continue to be installed. The process of hiring seasonal staff is also underway.
“The park is looking at long-term plans to (strengthen) anything that is one of our heavily used areas,” West said. One aspect of the legislation passed under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 expanded the park’s boundaries by about 100 acres (non-consecutive), West said. “They did this in hopes of increased visitation which would lead to the need for expansion in certain areas.”
The New River Gorge National River was designated a national park in December 2020. Authorities have cited an increase in visitation since then.
According to a breakdown of park numbers from WV Public Broadcasting via the NPS, NRGNPP saw record visitor numbers in 2021. Nearly 1.7 million people (1,682,720 to be exact) visited the park in the year. last, an increase of more than 600,000 from 2020. According to recent figures revealed by the NPS, 60 million more people visited national parks in 2021 than in 2020.
Many national parks have seen a drop in visitor numbers in 2020 due to coronavirus-related closures.
“It is wonderful to see so many Americans continue to find comfort and inspiration in these incredible places in the second year of the pandemic,” National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said in a press release. .
The New River Gorge Nuclear Generating Station ranks 47th on the National Park Service’s list of most visited sites. With 70,000 acres in Fayette, Raleigh and Summers counties, it is the newest national park in the system.
For an in-depth look at visitation statistics, visit https://www.nps.gov/subjects/socialscience/highlights.htm. For national summaries and individual park figures, visit https://irma.nps.gov/STATS/
Becky Sullivan, executive director of the Fayette County/New River Gorge CVB Chamber of Commerce, said the number of visits to the CVB in 2021 was similar to 2019.
“In 2021, people were ready to get out and explore the new national park, so we had a lot more trips from that year on,” she said.
The CVB sees an increase in visitor guide requests. Volunteers have remained stable and the Chamber/CVB will soon add a full-time employee to serve as a reception center and events coordinator.
Looking down the road as visitation to the area is expected to increase, Sullivan said: “I think with the expected increase in tourism this year, I think we’re ready. But there are a lot of changes coming, a lot of new infrastructure coming. »
“As far as our increased numbers that we had last year, I think we’ve done a pretty good job of spreading the footprint,” West said. “We encouraged visitors to plan like a ranger, be sure to plan ahead and make sure you know where the most popular areas are.”
Areas of interest such as Long Point and Endless Wall are popular, but there are plenty of other options in the area, West said. “If you go and the parking lot is full, don’t go. Come back later.
“We have Grandview – a variety of trails there that are wonderful trails, which people go on less often. These are wonderful regions, they are simply not very well known.
“We have what we call the Wild and the Gentle, we have the Wild North and the Gentle South. The south end of the park has tended in the past to have fewer visitors, not because they aren’t beautiful areas, beautiful Grandview, historic Hinton – all of these areas are wonderful places where to go. It’s just that people didn’t know them as much.
Certain areas of the park, such as the trails, are obviously busier than other areas, but “I think in terms of (being) in good enough condition to not be impacted by people trampling the vegetation, and things like that. Highly used trails will obviously have more impact on those trails than less used trails. But, overall, yes, the trails are in good condition.
In the coming year, park staff will continue to adapt to more activity and look to when other infrastructure projects can begin.
“We’re going to try new things with bookings and things for some of our programs,” West said. “We’re looking to plan our programming well in advance, whereas before we were able to react to things more quickly. With more visits and interest, we are planning things well in advance. »
“I anticipate that we may have increased the number of visits from our foreign visitors,” she added, mentioning the visit of a group of travel writers to the region in 2021 which helped raise awareness of the new National Park. “Traditionally, when (foreign visitors) come to the United States, they like to go to national parks. Now that we have this national park, I envision that we could also attract more foreign visitors.
West said she appreciates everyone’s hard work as the adjustment period continues.
“Everyone has been very responsive in helping us … make the park safer for visitors,” she said. This includes West Virginia tourism, local businesses and outfitters and others. “We’re all trying to take care of this place for the good of all of us.”
To learn more about the park, visit https://www.nps.gov/neri/index.htm
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