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Our New National Park: The New River Gorge

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 1st, 2021

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Associate Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

The New River, among the oldest in the nation, has now been named the newest national park in the United States.  This designation comes as part of the recent stimulus package signed by President Trump.  With over 70,000 acres stretching along the New River, the new national park offers a variety of fine water activities, such as whitewater rafting, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing.  If dry land is more your speed, outdoor activities include hiking, rock climbing, hunting, bird watching, camping, as well as one of West Virginia’s most popular sports, mountain biking.

Of course, one of the most compelling features of the New River gorge is its stunning bridge.  Take a look at some of the photographs and postcards in the West Virginia and Regional History Center showing the gorge and the bridge over time.

The gorge is not far from other natural resources within the state.  The photograph below shows a view of the New River Gorge from Hawks Nest, dated 1939.  This photograph comes from the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company Advertising Department, A&M 1710. 

New River Gorge with bridge

The area is rich in cultural history as well.  Before the bridge, timber was an important resource.  This photograph, below, shows loggers and two small boys posing on a small Peerless Engine and its cargo of logs in the New River Gorge, Fayette County, date unknown.  Note that the track rails are made of logs.  A National Park Service Photo.  Published by Katy Miller. (postcard collection)

People standing on a train carrying logs

Under Construction

Jump forward nearly one hundred years to the technological marvel that was the building of the New River Gorge bridge.  Now known nationally and globally as the site for Bridge Day, when traffic is at a halt and people are allowed to traverse the bridge, and even jump off of it!  According to the Bridge Day website, every third Saturday in October, thousands of people gather on the bridge to base jump.  I think this falls under the heading: If you build it, they will come!

Two ends of New River Gorge bridge, with the middle missing, still under construction

 Above: This jaw dropping image shows the construction of the New River Gorge Bridge, Fayette County, W. Va.  ca. 1976.  Photo of the steel bridge construction by the United States Steel Corporation. The bridge’s arch was the world’s longest main arch at 1,700 feet.

New River Gorge bridge under construction

Above: ca. 1976.  A group of unidentified construction workers are scattered across the site.

New River Gorge Bridge under construction

This beautiful shot shows the New River Gorge Bridge under construction, ca. 1976.  Fayette County

New River Gorge from Hawk's Nest Rock State Park, drawing

This postcard from 1941 shows the New River Canyon from Hawk’s Nest Rock State Park, near Ansted.  The caption on the back of postcard reads: “Once called Marshall’s Pillar for Chief Justice John Marshall who came here in 1812. Engineers declare the New River Canyon, 585 feet deep, surpasses the famed Royal Gorge. Tunnel for river makes vast water power here. On U.S. Route 60.”  Published by Genuine Curteich. (From postcard collection).

So, what are you waiting for?  There are plenty of winter activities to enjoy at our newest national park and the gorge looks beautiful under a blanket of snow.  Need something for the whole family to do together?  See it firsthand this weekend!

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