A Senate Energy and Natural Resources field hearing took place Saturday as members of the public had the opportunity to give their opinions on the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve Act — a piece of legislation that would re-designate the New River Gorge National River as the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
The piece of legislation was introduced by U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who both say designating the river as the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve will boost the tourism industry, which will help the state's economy.
The legislation would have the National Park and Preserve consist of 72,186 acres. The National Preserve would have 64,495 acres, and hunting and fishing will be allowed, and the National Park side will have 7,691 acres and will consist of four areas: The Lower Gorge, Thurmond, Grandview and Sandstone Falls.
Hunting would be restricted on the National Park side if the legislation passes. Some areas making up the National Park currently restrict hunting, but this brings forward a concern for some hunters, because if passed, the legislation would require they lose another 4,385 acres to hunt on.
While some hunters are opposed to the new designation, many members of the public spoke in favor of it during Saturday's public hearing.
Jack David Woodrum, president of the Summers County Commission, is on board with the designation. He said he supports Manchin and Capito in believing it will improve the state's economy.
"We [Summers County Commission] feel as far as economy goes, this will be a great improvement, and advance tourism in the region," Woodrum said. "I'm one of the few elected officials that spent a great deal of their life in this area, decades of my life, so I really support this."
Brenda Howes, an employee of ACE Adventure Resort in Oak Hill, told senators that ACE employees are constantly looking for ways to bring people into the area, including opening up their waterpark to the public and conducting Mountain Music Festival.
"I feel designating this area is a great economic move for southern West Virginia," Howes said. "Our area is desperately needing jobs to bring new, young people into our state, and keep our young people from leaving."
Jenna Grayson, a board member for Generation New River Gorge, agreed with Howe's comment about bringing young people to the state. She said she was in favor of the designation, and feels it would increase jobs and individual opportunities in the area.
"I am a transplant to West Virginia. I moved here because of the river, but when I got here I realized how difficult it was to find a job here," Grayson said. "It would give this area a boost in the economy and bring young people, who want to stay in this area, stay like myself."
Larry Case, of Fayetteville, said he felt speaking out against the legislation was a hard thing to do, and although Fayetteville is a small community, he felt as a hunter, he needed to speak out against it.
"I would be ashamed as a hunter if we didn't speak out about this," Case said. "We cannot stand and say it's OK if you want to take some 4,000 acres from us. Hunters were promised when this area was formed that hunting would remain. We would like to see it stay that way."
Both Manchin and Capito stated the public's comments would be reported to Washington, D.C., to be considered as crafting of the legislation continues.