West Virginia Just Became Home to America's Newest National Park

Congress quietly designated the country's 63rd national park last month.

Last month, a bill passed by both houses of Congress designated America's 63rd national park. The move upgraded West Virginia's New River Gorge from a national river to a federally protected tourist destination.

The existing New River Gorge area spans more than 70,000 acres, but according to Congress' designation act, it'll be divided into two sections: the park and the preserve. The park, which includes some of the most scenic slivers of waterfront, will only be 7,021 acres. The remaining 65,165 acres will make up the preserve, providing ample space for people to continue hunting and fishing legally.

You may be surprised to learn that the creation of the new park was tied to the COVID-19 relief bill, but there's actually a very good reason: National parks drive tourism dollars. Of course, the purpose of national parks is to appreciate and preserve our nation's natural gems, but a side effect of creating a federally protected park is that it becomes a place of nationwide significance—one that people will travel from all over to see, supporting local communities in the process.

Even before the rise of COVID-19, there was a congressional effort to deem New River Gorge a national park. Now, there are even more benefits of the motion, especially since road tripping to scenic destinations is one of the only appropriate forms of vacation right now.

"I am thrilled legislation redesignating the National River as a National Park and Preserve is included in this legislative package," said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican from West Virginia, in a statement. "Redesignation of the National River to a National Park and Preserve will shine a brighter light on West Virginia and all that it has to offer, and provide another catalyst for our tourism industry and local businesses."

New River Gorge regularly attracts outdoor enthusiasts looking to whitewater raft, rock climb, hike, and bungee jump. It has been managed by the National Park Service since 1978.

MORE: America's 20 Most Popular National Parks, Ranked

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Kyler Alvord is a news writer at Thrillist. Find him on Twitter and Instagram. Or don't. It's really up to you.