How much is a key landscape in a park worth? It’s a lot more than 25 cents, although this particular view is featured on the West Virginia State Quarter in the U. S. Mint’s 50 State Quarters® Program. An important part of that scene has now been protected with the recent addition of 618 acres to the New River Gorge National River.
The tract lies on “river left” beneath the New River Gorge Bridge, site of the annual Bridge Day event, and it stretches approximately 5.6 miles downriver to Hawks Nest State Park. A large portion of this property was added to the park boundary with legislation enacted in 2002.
The parcel of land extends from the canyon rim park boundary to the shoreline of the New River in a small portion of the tract, and to the property line of the adjacent railroad corridor for the remainder of the parcel.
Gary Driggs, owner and developer of the adjacent Bridgeview Estates, sold the land to the United States, with assistance from the West Virginia office of The Nature Conservancy. Congress appropriated $980,000 for the purchase from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which receives revenue from offshore oil and gas leases. At under $1600 an acre, that’s got to be considered a good bargain for the park by almost any standard.
The Nature Conservancy has worked closely with the NPS and state agencies over the past decade to protect about 8,000 acres along the New River Gorge. The organization helped move this project along by having the land appraised and acting as a trusted third party in the negotiations, said Rodney Bartgis, state director for The Nature Conservancy’s West Virginia program.
“Not only does this protect a large tract of important forest, but to maintain such an iconic example of West Virginia scenery is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Bartgis.
The landowner was a group of investors led by Driggs, who said he is pleased that the land will become part of the park. “Personally, I’m happy to see the land protected, because it’s so important to the health of the forest and preserving the beauty of the gorge,” Driggs said. “The New River Gorge is important to West Virginia recreation and it’s good for businesses that rely on natural beauty, and that includes our nearby residential development.”
Driggs constructed a network of trails through the 618-acre parcel that connects with Bridgeview Estates, providing a recreational enhancement for the subdivision residents.
“This purchase is critical to New River Gorge National River in many ways,” said Superintendent Don Striker. “Protecting these large, intact forests is crucial to protecting the gorge. But it also will allow us to add six miles to the through-the-park trail, which will eventually stretch 100 miles through the park.”
The acquisition will help preserve the famous view on the southeast slope of the canyon downriver from the bridge. In addition to its billing on the West Virginia State Quarter, the scene is enjoyed by visitors on the river and by large crowds each year during the annual Bridge Day event in the park. The New River Gorge Bridge was completed in 1977, and is the longest steel span in the western hemisphere (3,030 feet) and the second highest in the United States (876 feet).