Leaders Meet to Discuss Redesignation Effort

Overlooking the New River Gorge, U.S. Sen Shelly Moore Capito met with local government and business leaders Tuesday at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center to speak about the legislation she recently introduced to redesignate the New River Gorge National River as a national park. 

"I am extremely excited about what this could mean to our area and to our region for a whole for a lot of different reasons," Capito said. 

The senator praised the community level work she has seen on the effort and said she was drawn in by the broad-based support she has seen for the effort. 

"I think the sky's the limit here," Capito said. 

Quoting past studies on the impact of national land becoming a national park, Capito said that it is possible to see between 20 and 25 percent increase in the number of visitors. 

The general idea of the effort is that the redesignation effort will be a rebranding effort to draw in new visitors both from inside the United States and from outside. 

Capito also spoke on concerns from sportsmen that the name change will change the kind of activities allowed on the property explaining that her legislation includes stipulations to keep the park open to activities already allowed on the land. 

"We're going to make sure everybody is happy here," the senator said. 

Along with the senator, local economic leaders gave their support for the project. 

Joe Brouse, the executive director for the New River Gorge Development Authority said tourism can be a way to grow the local area. 

"From an economic development (standpoint), not only do we want them to recreate, we want them to potentially invest here, live here and work here," Brouse said. 

The CEO of Adventures on the Gorge Rick Wilson spoke about the redesignation effort. 

"The national park status is an investment, not only for today but for all generations to come," Wilson said. 

So close to the New River Gorge Bridge, Capito joked about her family's history in the area calling the bridge an engineering marvel. 

"It's an Arch bridge," Capito said, joking that some believe that her father chose the construction choice because of his name. 

While speaking on the park redesignation bill that she introduced, Capito also spoke on another bill that she has recently co-sponsored in an effort to push more money to national parks, the Restore Our Parks Act. 

"We know that our national parks have been undermaintained across the nation," Capito said, adding that the parks face long-term maintenance issues and a lack of follow through on long-term plans. "We need to be good stewards of our parks." 

Though in the early stages, Capito said that the bill has bi-partisan support and may possibly be used for projects in the New River Gorge. 

Capito also said that she hopes a redesignation will be an economic boost for the southern part of the state. 

While agreeing that a portion of the jobs associated with tourism are low paying, particularly in food and accommodation, Capito said that she sees a full spectrum of jobs coming in due to tourism including better-paying jobs in park management, tourism management, small business start-ups and the financial services associated with small businesses. 

The senator also said that by investing in recreation and tourism, that the state may be able to draw in new residents. 

"Part of the allure is to not just improve the area in general for people that stop in, but once they stop in they may realize how beautiful it is and what a great place to live," Capito said. 

While she introduced the legislation, Capito also praised the efforts of former Congressman Nick Joe Rahall. 

Rahall, a longtime congressman, was responsible for the legislation which created the New River Gorge National River was excited that the redesignation effort seems like it has gained its wings and praised the bi-partisan effort by local, state and federal officials. 

"It's exhilarating and heartwarming," Rahall said. "To see a continuation of a legacy of southern West Virginia that will continue to put us on the worldwide map." 

Rahall said that he is feeling "bullish" on the prospects for the southern part of the state, adding that he likes what he sees in diversification efforts though that more needed to be done. 

"I think the future of southern West Virginia is very bright," Rahall said. "We have problems, yes, but we are working together and we need to work together again in a bi-partisan manner to address those problems." 

Capito said that she is hopeful that the redesignation effort will quickly proceed though she added that what Congress looks like in the aftermath of the midterm elections will play a role but that she was confident that the West Virginia effort would be a unified effort.

By:  Matt Combs
Source: Beckley Register-Herald