New River Gorge National River
The New River and its gorge together present a majestic display of natural forces. The gorge remained almost inaccessible along its entire length until the railroad opened this isolated part of West Virginia in 1873. The railroad followed the riverbank and made possible the shipment of coal to the outside world. At one time, company men clashed with miners in now-famous disputes that defined American labor history.
Towns grew up, flourished, and were abandoned once the mines played out. In the southern stretches, where the river is receptively quiet in a broad floodplain, farming developed as a way of life devoid of the coalfield strife, providing its own contribution to Southern Appalachian culture. The river, too, has served as a migration route for plants and animals as well as people. Some of West Virginia’s rarest plants are found in the area.
Gauley River National Recreation Area
The 25 miles of Gauley River and six miles of the Meadow River pass through scenic gorges and valleys containing a wide variety of natural features. Dropping 26 feet per mile through a gorge that averages 500 feet in depth, the Gauley is famous for its outstanding whitewater and is one of the most technical rivers in the nation. The Meadow River gradient averages 71 feet per mile.
It is believed the first recreational use of the Gauley River began in the early 1900′s in the community of Swiss. Here city dwellers were invited to enjoy a country retreat along the river. Local residents remember childhood adventures of riding railroad ties when flood waters created huge curling waves. Today recreation along the Gauley and Meadow rivers is provided in a primitive setting, but not quite as primitive as floating on railroad ties.
Whitewater rafters and boaters are thrilled by the exciting, turbulence of the rapids ranging from Class I to Class V+. Rock climbers are challenged by the high cliff walls and hikers enjoy rustic trails and beautiful views. Fishing is permitted in accordance with federal and state laws and breeding areas are at a premium for smallmouth bass and walleye. The Gauley River historically has been both a corridor and a barrier to human activity. The first non-native settlement was established in the late 1700s at Peter’s Creek. In the early 1900s railroads and lumber companies came to the Gauley River gorge to harvest the vast supply of timber.
The Civil War was a major event of significance along the Gauley River. Life was disrupted as disorganization and turmoil affected everyone living in the area.A major Civil War incident occurred on September 10, 1861, at the confluence of the Gauley and Meadow rivers. Union troops engaged the -confederates and forced them to evacuate an entrenched position overlooking Carnifex Ferry. The site of this event is located two miles southwest of the Summersville Dam and is listed on the National Register of Historical Places as Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park.
Many species of plants and animals persist in the Gauley River National Recreation Area. Ranging from the ridgetop varieties adapted to constant winds and rocky, dry soils to the mixed hardwood forests, the plant and animal types vary at different levels along the gorge.
The Gauley River also may have the largest population in the world of Virginia Spiraea, a rare plant species. Ten other rare plants and six species of rare animals are present in the initial studies of this park service area. In addition to these rare varieties, an abundance of other plants and wildlife live in the Gauley River gorge.