LANSING, W.Va. — Members of West Virginia’s congressional delegation were in Fayette County on Wednesday for a panel discussion regarding a legislative proposal to change the federal designation for the New River Gorge National River.
U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., met with community leaders, business owners and other stakeholders during a question-and-answer session at the Canyon Rim Visitors Center.
If the proposal becomes law, the site will be renamed the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
Manchin told the audience the legislation contains specific language to ensure hunting and fishing access will be maintained within the preserve area. He said the legislation was drafted in a way that will protect hunting, fishing and trapping on privately owned land while facilitating additional growth of the outdoor recreation industry in the region.
“I was concerned from day one on the national park designation, and my reason for that (was) because we know that national parks don’t allow hunting, and we knew that would not be accepted in West Virginia — being a hunter myself — and the fishermen wouldn’t have accepted that,” he said.
“It’s the best of both worlds. You have the national park and name identification with it. That’s where the extra increase in visitation comes, and economic vitality. That’ll happen. We’re preserving and making every accommodation to anybody who has cultural and (historical) tie to the area. Private lands were not interfered with whatsoever. Basically, the hunting was not interfered with.”
Capito said the designation change will result in increased tourism.
“I was glad to hear from so many community leaders, business owners, sportsmen, and others, about this legislation and discuss with them in more detail about why this measure would benefit the area and those who call this place home,” she said.
“We already do $9 billion in tourism dollars right now, in our state. We have 91,000 people employed in tourism,” Miller said. “For us to be able to share this beautiful area of our state, it will just open the doors to bringing in more economic development.
Fayetteville resident Robert Sea, who described himself as an avid hunter and fisherman, told MetroNews he is concerned about a provision of the bill that would make approximately 4,300 acres of the park off-limits to hunting.
“What benefit do we get from that? We get 20% more traffic to the local businesses. That doesn’t benefit us, other than tax dollars. We need to look at the big picture before we just take land from local people,” he said.
“I respect the park. They do great things. They’re clean. They’re my friends. I have no problem with the way the park is, but you’re taking 4,000 acres of hunting rights from local individuals that used it — their families — long before the park came along.”
Other members of the audience expressed frustration about having been notified about Wednesday’s event less than one full day before it took place.
Manchin, Capito and Miller agreed with the notion of having several more public hearings on the matter before the bill comes up for a vote.