The National Park Service announced today that it purchased a steep and forested slope along the New River Gorge, permanently protecting a large slice of West Virginia scenery including that selected for the ‘tails’ side of the West Virginia state quarter and seen from the overlooks at Hawks Nest State Park.
The Park Service purchased the 619-acre tract from a West Virginia real estate developer. The land, which will become part of the 70,000-acre New River Gorge National River, extends for nearly six miles along the New River from underneath the New River Gorge Bridge – the largest arch bridge in the U.S. --past Hawk’s Nest State Park. The newly protected land is familiar to whitewater rafters, who pass beneath the bridge, and to rock climbers who can see it while climbing some of the Gorge’s famed cliffs directly across the river.
But it’s best known to many Americans as the land just downstream from the bridge, an image engraved for posterity on the reverse side of West Virginia version of the U.S. Mint’s “50 State Quarters” series.
“This purchase is critical to the New River Gorge National River in many ways,” said Don Striker, the park superintendent. “Protecting these large, intact forests is crucial to protecting the gorge. But it also will allow us to add six miles to the through-the-park trail, which will eventually stretch 100 miles through the park.”
The Nature Conservancy, which has worked closely with the Park Service and state agencies over the past decade to protect about 8,000 acres along the New River Gorge, helped move this project along by having the land appraised and acting as a trusted third party in the negotiations, said Rodney Bartgis, state director for The Nature Conservancy’s West Virginia program.
“Not only does this protect a large tract of important forest, but to maintain such an iconic example of West Virginia scenery is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Rodney Bartgis.
The landowner was a group of investors led by Gary Driggs, who said he is pleased that the land will become part of the park.
“Personally, I’m happy to see the land protected, because it’s so important to the health of the forest and preserving the beauty of the gorge,” Driggs said. “The New River Gorge is important to West Virginia recreation and it’s good for businesses that rely on natural beauty, and that includes our nearby residential development.”
The New River Gorge National River is managed by the National Park Service and was established in 1978. The gorge’s steep walls make it one of the top five rock-climbing destinations in the country, but the park’s 1.2 million visitors also come to camp, ride horses, raft and hike.
The land was purchased with funds made available from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. The property sold for approximately $1,500 an acre – or a total of about 3.7 million quarters.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
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