Jan. 8—Fresh off yet another significant hike in visitation from the previous year, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve officials are overseeing improvements that will open the portal to a new round of visitors to the region later this year.
The park’s Lansing-based Canyon Rim Visitor Center was closed last week and will remain so throughout January and well into February for a healthy batch of upgrades.
Dave Bieri, district supervisor with the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, said demolition work occurred last week as the interior portion of the project got under way in earnest at the 8,700-square-foot facility, marking the first extensive upgrades since the center opened to the public on May 23, 1991.
New flooring will be installed near the end of January, Bieri said. Mid-February will see the arrival of numerous new exhibits.
Canyon Rim will be idled for about two months. “The projected plan is to have all that done and be able to reopen March 1,” Bieri said.
The new exhibits will provide an updated look at what is available in the national park and its two companion agencies under the local umbrella. The offerings to the visiting public will have the “same footprint, but we’ve got all new exhibits,” said Bieri. “Everything that was in here before was original to the building when it opened, so they’ve been around a while. This is all new stuff.”
The overall project has taken about 4 1/2 years, Bieri noted. That included about two years dedicated to design of the exhibits, and two more in fabrication work building the exhibits.
Exterior work last October at Canyon Rim included placing metal cut-outs and new signage on the building and on the visitor center grounds. “Inside, everything is stripped out and we’re going to have all-new exhibits,” Bieri said Friday.
Exhibits will focus on “all the significant things about the park,” such as recreation and natural, cultural resources. Orientation in the exhibits will give visitors background information, as well as directing them to locales such as Thurmond, Nuttallburg or Kaymoor to experience the region’s history up close, Bieri said.
The exhibits will not only be geared toward the environment of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, but also feature information relating to the Gauley River National Recreation Area and the Bluestone National Scenic River. They will include interactive displays on geology, history, plants and animals, recreation and information about other national park sites.
The finished product also will boast a new sales area, carpeting, lighting, wall coverings and other improvements such as an upgrade to the bookstore, which is a separate endeavor.
“We are pleased and excited about being able to provide our visitors with the opportunity to learn more about all of our national park sites here in southern West Virginia,” Park Superintendent Charles Sellars said in a November press release. “The new displays will also give our returning visitors and local community a fresh look at a familiar story.”
A separate project has resulted in new seating and a new ceiling in the auditorium at Canyon Rim, and will eventually feature new flooring, said Bieri.
According to Eve West, chief of interpretation and visitor services for the New River Gorge NPP, Gauley River NRA and Bluestone NSR, the project cost is pegged at $1.4 million, with funding through the Washington Support Office. That specifically is money collected from park recreation fee funds that go towards the parks that don’t charge an entrance fee and consequently don’t realize revenue from that source. “It’s a competitive process where we submit projects and some get selected for funding,” West explained.
“That’s why we picked these two months (January and February) to do it so hopefully we’ll be ready for the spring when it gets busy,” Bieri noted. And, the steady stream of foot traffic will come. “We saw another 25 percent jump in visitation here last year,” he said. “Last year, we had just under 500,000 people come through this visitor center.” That figure used to be more in the 300,000 range.
Canyon Rim hosted 498,000 visitors inside the visitor center last year and close to 750,000 who walked the boardwalk to the bridge overlook, according to a recent press release.
“The timing for this (construction work) was good, because we put in (for) this funding long before the change from national river to national park and preserve,” said Bieri. “We were actually already in the design phase when that (transition) came about.” The timing allowed the language for the exhibits to reflect the 2020 change to national park status.
According to park officials, Sandstone Visitor Center on the southern end of the park will remain open throughout the winter from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days per week. Visitors to the northern end of the park may stop by park headquarters in Glen Jean from Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for information. The Thurmond Depot will also be open on weekends in January and February, and park-related sales items may be purchased there. The self-guided walking tour of Thurmond remains open seven days per week.
To stay current on activities, trail closures and other alerts in the park, visit the nps.gov/neri and follow on Facebook, X and Instagram.
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