New River Gorge National Park Superintendent Don Striker Wednesday described his outlook as “cautiously optimistic” about the Gorge’s potential swelling by 100 acres in the near future — courtesy of a land purchase being negotiated between the Park Service and the owner of BridgeView Estates housing development.
According to Striker, that land — along with over 500 more acres that he hopes to acquire from BridgeView in the long-term — lies within the park’s boundaries. “It’s clearly within the viewshed from the river. It doesn’t lend itself easily to building homes. It’s pretty vertical, tough terrain,” Striker observed.
Striker and BridgeView Estates owner Gary Driggs met for what Striker called a “preliminary meet-and-greet” last Friday to tour the riverfront property. “I’ve been here (as superintendent) a little over a year. Gary and I have been trying to get together for that entire year. It took almost a year for it to happen,” Striker explained.
“In the intervening time, the housing market — especially for second, third and fourth homes — has tanked. Bankers are looking at it as a risky proposition.”
The next step in the process is for an appraisal to be performed in accordance with federally approved criteria. Striker insisted that the process is very similar to that for purchasing a home. The parties are also pinning down details like ingress and egress for the landlocked property.
“The next step is that we order an appraisal and see where the numbers come in. If he (Driggs) likes the numbers, we sign a contract and move forward just like you would with any home purchase,” he added.
An appraisal had not been scheduled as of Wednesday, but Striker said that he hopes to make a formal announcement in the next couple of months on the sale’s closing.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that if we do the one deal (100 acres), we can do the other (more than 500 acres) and get all the acreage that’s in the park boundary,” said Striker.
“A hundred acres is about all I can afford right now. Our land folks have been working around the clock. The last year has been really crazy (with land acquisitions). We’re just about tapped out in terms of money in the bank for land purchases.”
In “river-rat terms,” as Striker put it, the land is upstream from the Fayette Station takeout for rafters when you go into Fayette Station on “river left.” In other words, if a person were standing on the New River Gorge Bridge, it would be straight below and westward on the south side of the bridge.
“It’s a good time to be having a ‘vision’ conversation,” Striker noted, when asked about his visions or goals for the property.
“We’re in the middle of our General Management Plan. This is an area we initially designated as front country. It’s pretty rugged terrain with a lot of rocks. It’s a hard walking terrain. We would like to develop it into uses people would like to have.”
Possible ideas mentioned by Striker include a boardwalk that would allow people to see more of the river and have easier access to it. It could even be a destination, he said, for people to see rafters coming in for their final rapid.
Striker had positive words for Driggs, who initially bought 1,400 acres of land. The park superintendent sees “potential for longer term relationships, partnerships as neighbors who share a common border,” Striker surmised.
“I think he (Driggs) understands the long term. I get the sense that, in his heart of hearts, he’s very motivated by what is in the best long-term interest of our area. He’s a great guy to work with. We have an awful lot of common ground. I’m really optimistic that we’ll put this deal together relatively quickly.”