Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin are co-sponsoring a bill that would make the New River Gorge National River a national park and preserve. If successful, it could be a big boost not only to tourism, but to the economically battered southern counties. 

Capito had introduced a bill last year that would have designated the New River Gorge as a national park. But the bill failed because lawmakers were concerned it would prevent hunting. 

Although some national park properties allow hunting, the majority don’t. 

Capito went back to the drawing board, working with local government, business and tourism interests to change the designation to a park and preserve. 

West Virginia’s House of Representative members, Rep. David McKinley, Rep. Alex Mooney and Rep. Carol Miller, all Republicans, also have introduced companion legislation in the House in support of the effort. 

This would be a very big deal if it passes. A study last year showed in areas that are designated as national parks, visitation increases an average of 21 percent. 

Manchin said the new designation would be a big boost to the tourism industry. 

“The New River Gorge is one of our most treasured playgrounds and largest tourist attractions in West Virginia. Over the last several months, I have met with sportsmen and other interested groups to discuss ideas to make our backyard an even bigger attraction to visitors,” he said. 

Capito said a national park and preserve would help enhance a tourism industry that already brings in $9 billion and supports 91,000 jobs. 

“Redesignating the national river to a national park and preserve will shine a new, brighter light on the New River Gorge and its many offerings — including hunting and fishing — to help drive tourism and spur the local and regional economy,” she said. 

Capito said the measure would maintain hunting and fishing within the preserve area and would protect hunting, fishing and trapping on privately owned land. 

With its whitewater rafting and breathtaking beauty, the New River Gorge already is a gem in the hills of West Virginia. The iconic bridge is, according to the National Park Service, one of the most photographed places in West Virginia. 

The idea that Capito’s bill could bring more people to the region is quite tantalizing. 

Let’s hope Congress makes quick work of this bill and help convince more people to visit the Mountain State and enjoy all it has to offer.