Back in December, West Virginians were the latest to be torn about a treasure of nature.
Thanks to a bipartisan measure by Congress, New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia was designated the 63rd national park in the United States, and the first in West Virginia.
Earning the national park designation is important for a space, because it means it will be preserved and protected for purposes such as providing a habitat for wildlife, recreation and conservation -- not development.
So, why has this been a source of mixed emotions?
On one hand, it means that something the locals know is a treasure will get more attention and lead to crowds that could take away from the quiet experience many are used to.
On the other hand, those increased crowds could mean a lot more money for the state with a heavy increase in tourism.
Chelsea Ruby, the tourism commissioner for West Virginia, said she expects a significant increase in the already 1.4 million annual visitors to New River Gorge National Park, citing a 21% increase in tourism that Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore saw when it was designated a national park.
For those who don’t know much about New River Gorge National Park, it’s easy to see why West Virginians take so much pride in the place, because there is much to see and do.
Surrounded by miles of trees and mountains as part of the Appalachian Forest, the park is home to some of the country’s best white-water rafting. It also has biking and hiking trails, fishing, hunting and endless scenery.
The park also hosts one of the most famous bridges in the country, the New River Gorge Bridge, a breathtaking spectacle that is the longest single-span arched bridge in the nation.
Every October, thrill-seekers come to the bridge for “Bridge Day,” an annual event in which people jump and parachute the 876-foot distance from the bridge to the river.
The designation and increased tourism could pose a challenge to small towns that will serve as a de facto gateway to the park, according to the Washington Post.
But overall, politicians are hailing the newest designation as a win for the increased revenue it likely will bring the state.
“It’s a real victory,” West Virginia Sen. Shelley More Capito told the Washington Post. “These things aren’t easy.”