FAYETTEVILLE, WV (WVNS) — The country’s newest national park, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, is full of surprises, historic sites and charming stories and for most West Virginians the park is only a day’s drive away.

The New River Gorge was named a national park in December 2020 and is within an eight-hour drive for 60 percent of the U.S. population. The national park features multiple ghost towns that were once booming coal mining towns. One of the oldest rivers in the world, the New River is renowned for its rafting.

Here are twelve surprising facts about the New River Gorge:

  • 1.) The New River is one of the oldest rivers in the world, with some estimates dating it back 360 million years. It is also one of only 48 rivers in the world that flows south to north.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson
  • 2.) The historian known as the “Father of Black History”, Dr. Carter G. Woodson shoveled coal in the Nuttalburg and Kaymoor mines. Woodson was the founder of the precursor to Black History Month, “Negro History Week”.
Thurmond, WV
  • 3.) Thurmond, a now well-preserved ghost town, was incorporated in 1903. It was once considered the primary stop in the region along the C&O Railway and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service has preserved many of the town’s buildings including the depot, which is now a visitor center.
The Dun Glen Hotel
  • 4.) One hotel situated in the town’s bustling red light district, the Lafayette, was known locally as the “Lay-flat.” The other hotel, the Dun Glen, was the site of a 14-year-long poker party, which Ripley’s Believe It or Not claimed was the world’s longest-lasting card game.
Nuttallburg Mine
  • 5.) Henry Ford once leased the mines in the town of Nuttallburg, as part of the automobile tycoon’s efforts to control all aspects of automobile production. His Fordson Coal Company improved the mine and town over an eight-year period, but Ford sold his interests in the mines when railroad transportation of the coal became unreliable.
Red Ash Island
  • 6.) Red Ash Island was a quarantine site during a smallpox epidemic during the 1870s. Some 30 percent of people living in New River Gorge communities were infected. Patients were sent to the island to live until they recovered or they died. You can still see gravestones of the victims of smallpox as well as victims of mine disasters and the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic.
New River Gorge Bridge – Fayette County
  • 7.) The New River Gorge Bridge is the most-photographed site in the state of West Virginia. The distinctive 3,030-foot-long, 876-foot-high bridge is the longest single-arch bridge in the Western hemisphere and the third-longest single-arch bridge in the world.
Monarch Butterly
  • 8.) The park’s Sandstone Visitor Center is a registered monarch waystation, with a well-maintained native garden planted with milkweed to attract the endangered butterflies to the site. Monarch populations have been in decline due to habitat loss.
Mother Jones – 1924
  • 9.) A well-known union leader and advocate for workers’ rights, Mother Jones trekked from coal camp to coal camp as a delegate for the United Mine Workers of America.
Mary Draper Ingles Statue
  • 10.) In 1755, Mary Draper Ingles endured and survived captivity by the Shawnee nation of Ohio and eventually made her way back to the New River after a harrowing escape.
Adventures on The Gorge – Upper New River
  • 11.) The region is home to one of the world’s first resorts dedicated to outdoor adventures, Adventures on the Gorge. Located adjacent to the national park boundaries and less than three miles from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center, the resort features more than two dozen guided adventures, a variety of accommodations, restaurants and shops.
Summer Rafting on The Gauley River | Adventures on The Gorge
  • 12.) Commercial whitewater rafting began in 1968, and as the sport grew in popularity, the region became known as a whitewater rafting destination. It still is, with rafting from spring to fall on the New River as well as the nearby Gauley River.

Travelers wishing to find more information on the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, can visit their website.