Celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service at these special places in West Virginia.
This August marks the 100th anniversary of President Woodrow Wilson’s creation of the National Park Service, an agency he promised would manage the United States’ national lands and landmarks to “leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Thanks to that visionary idea, a century later millions of people each year are still enjoying pristine parks, rugged forests, and national landmarks protected by the National Park Service.
Celebrate this important milestone with a visit to West Virginia’s six National Park Service properties this summer.
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
Harpers Ferry was the spark that lit the powder keg of the American Civil War. In October 1859, radical abolitionist John Brown and his 21-member militia led a three-day siege of the United States Armory and Arsenal located at Harpers Ferry. Brown’s supporters intended to begin an uprising of slaves, and planned to use the 100,000 weapons stored at the armory to aid in the rebellion.
Although Brown and his men were not successful, the episode only deepened the divisions between North and South, and the ensuing war would prove disastrous for Harpers Ferry. The town would change hands between Union and Confederate troops eight times between 1861 and 1865—leaving it ravaged and burned by war’s end.
All of this rich history is on display at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. History buffs of all ages will love the guided tours provided by park rangers, allowing visitors to quite literally follow in Brown’s radical footsteps. The park is also renowned for its walking trails and serves as midpoint of the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail.
Gauley River National Recreation Area
The Gauley River National Recreation Area encompasses 25 miles of the Gauley River. Even more than its sister the New River, the Gauley is known throughout the world as some of the best whitewater rafting in the United States. The water gets really wild each September when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers begins releasing water from the Summersville Dam for its annual draw-down of Summersville Lake.
For a more relaxed experience, the Gauley River National Scenic River is also a great place for fishing. Anglers can catch trout, smallmouth bass, walleye, and muskellunge at public river access points Gauley Tailwaters, Masons Branch, and Woods Ferry.
The Appalachian Trail National Scenic Trail
This National Park Service-maintained trail—which runs down the East Coast from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Georgia’s Springer Mountain 2,200 miles away—is the thru-hiker’s equivalent of Mount Everest. While thousands of people each year set out to hike the entire length of the “AT,” as enthusiasts know it, only a few hundred achieve the goal. Only a short section of the Appalachian Trail passes through West Virginia’s eastern panhandle, but it’s an incredibly important section. Harpers Ferry marks the midpoint of the trail, and it’s where the Appalachian Trail Park Office is located.
Bluestone National Scenic River
This national land protects nearly 11 miles of the Bluestone River, which begins on East River Mountain in Virginia and flows 77 miles to Bluestone Lake in West Virginia. The waterway got its name for the limestone that lies on the bottom of the river. It is popular with fishermen for its smallmouth bass, rock bass, and bluegill. Hunters also make use of the area and there are hiking trails, too. Camping isn’t allowed at the Bluestone National Scenic River, but campgrounds are available at Pipestem Resort State Park and Bluestone State Park at either end of the scenic river.
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park
Long before President Dwight Eisenhower deemed the waterway a national monument in 1961—it would become a national historical park a decade later under President Nixon—the 184-mile Chesapeake and Ohio Canal spent nearly a century as the best way to transport coal from the Allegheny Mountains to Washington, D.C. Nowadays, it serves eastern West Virginia, Maryland, and Washington in a very different way. About 5 million people each year visit the park to hike, bike, boat, ride horses, and fish.
New River Gorge National River
This 70,000-acre property was named a national land in 1978. But despite its name, the history of the New River goes back millennia—geologists believe it might be one of the oldest rivers in the world. Over time the flowing waters cut what is now known as the New River Gorge, the deepest and longest river gorge in the Appalachians.
The New River Gorge National River follows 53 miles of the New River, running from Bluestone Dam near Hinton to Hawk’s Nest Lake in Ansted. The gorge contains all kinds of outdoor activities: miles of hiking trails, old railroad beds transformed to biking trails, world-class whitewater rafting, and huge rock faces perfect for climbing. And around every bend of the trail, there’s a chance you’ll find a vista that even the best camera won’t quite be able to capture.
The national river is marked with remnants of the area’s coal mining history. Climb down the 821 steps of the Kaymoor Miners Trail to see the remains of a coal processing plant and coke ovens. On the Headhouse Trail in nearby Nuttallburg, hikers can see the remains of the Nuttall coal mine entrance and a conveyor used to transport coal.