LANSING, W.Va. — After over $1 million in renovations, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve officials anticipate the park’s busiest visitors centers to be getting even busier this year with its fresh new features for those coming in to see and do.

Funded by the National Park Services Recreation Fee program, the $1.7 million in upgrades completed at the Canyon Rim Visitors Center in Fayette County, on the parks’ northern end, includes all new exhibits, new lights and flooring, as well as a new ceiling and seating in the auditorium.

NPS officials say that this was the first major series of renovations done at the visitors center since it opened on May 23,1991.

New River Gorge National Park District Supervisor, Dave Bieri told MetroNews that timing was just right in undertaking the project, which took five years to complete, because its finalization comes amid the ever-increasing number of people pouring into the park.

Dave Bieri

“It’s a really good time for this, we started over five years ago when we started planning it, at that point we were still the New River Gorge National River, and luckily this all happened when we were still in the planning phases so we could change all of the wording in the text, but you know, we were re-designated as a national park and preserve and that really has changed our visitation here,” said Bieri.

He said visitation in the park has gone from about 300,000 a year to 500,000.

Park Service officials joined representatives from the state and federal level, along with many community leaders and partnering organizations Thursday afternoon to celebrate the completed upgrades and reopening of the visitors center with a ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony.

The installation of the all-new, state-of-the-art exhibits were a major upgrade to come to the visitors center as they include orientation of the geology, biology, history, and recreational opportunities of all sites in the park beyond just the New River Gorge area.

Bieri said Canyon Rim has been somewhat looked at as the starting point for people to get out and explore the entirety of the park, and he said the new exhibits were designed with that factor in mind.

“Ultimately we want to get people out into the park, so the exhibits were designed to kind of hit the high points, so here’s what’s significant about the place and here’s where to go to learn more, so you’ll get to see a little bit about coal mining and why that’s significant to the history here, and then you’ll find an explorer panel that will direct you to Nuttallburg so you’ll get to learn more about that story,” he said.

Bieri said the previous exhibits didn’t contain much information on the other park sites, such as the Bluestone National River area on the southern end and the Gauley River National Recreation area further north.

He said having a newly-expanded and more inclusive collection of national park education and information on display at the visitors center for people passionate about being there may also serve as a testament to the visitor increase in the park itself as they will be more educated about all of the areas it has to offer.

“The people that are coming here with the increase in visitation, a lot of them are park visitors, this is what they do on their vacation, they go to national parks, and one of the first things they want to do when they come in is they want to stamp their passport books with the passport stamp of the park, they want to go wherever there’s a passport, they want to hit all of the parks that they can, so there’s two other parks in the area that they can hit while they’re here,” said Bieri.

NRG National Park Service Superintendent Charles Sellars said the new exhibits ensure that they don’t lose sight of the fact that they manage two other major areas within the park.

“It’s an emphasis area for me as the park manager of all three parks is that we communicate that it’s much bigger than just New River Gorge National Park and Preserve,” Sellars said.

Charles Sellars

He added that he agrees that the timing was just right with the completion of the project, and he was glad they were able to take up the opportunity to fund it when they did.

“It is really a wonderful opportunity for us here at this park to be able to update our exhibits, it’s one of those things where funding is difficult to get to upgrade our exhibits, so we’re very fortunate to get the Recreation Fee dollars to be able to do this,” Sellars said.

A portion of the cost in undertaking the project went to the Harpers Ferry Center for Media Services (HFC), a branch of the National Park Service which does the design and media work in order to contract the project out.

Brendon Bray, Director of HFC was one of the several who got up and spoke in the newly-renovated Canyon Rim Auditorium Thursday. He said they typically see these projects through from beginning to end, and Bray added, it’s always awe-inspiring to see them come to fruition.

“We see the dirty work, we see the planning, we see the designs that get crumpled up and thrown in the trash and then re-made and refabricated,” said Bray. “To see this in its final state and how beautiful, how unique, and inspirational these exhibits are is truly a special experience and I’m glad to represent us here today.”

Another project NPS officials were celebrating Thursday were the new bookstores to come to the Canyon Rim Visitors Center and the Thurmond Depot.

This project was funded by Eastern National, the park’s primary partner in providing book sales and other park-related merchandise.

After just recently reopening back up to the public, the Canyon Rim Visitor Center had been closed for the renovations since the beginning of January.