Many national parks around the United States enjoy the support of community partnerships ranging from small volunteer groups to multimillion dollar nonprofit organizations, all with the goal of improving the status of public lands that many hold dear. The people involved with them work passionately to preserve all types of geography and cultures for future generations to experience. In southern West Virginia, Friends of New River Gorge National River (FNRGNR) is one such group looking to do the same for its three national parks.
Formed in 2016, FNRGNR works daily to assist the National Park Service with enhancing, supporting, and promoting the New River Gorge National River, Gauley River National Recreation Area, and Bluestone National Scenic River. In that time, the organization has worked to help revitalize and establish Camp Brookside Environmental Education Center, and fundraised to restore park destinations like the Turkey Spur Overlook after it was damaged by fire. With community support, it was able to raise thousands of dollars to assist in bringing these special places back to life.
This year is no different as FNRGNR works to improve experiences for visitors to the three recreation hubs. Two major projects on the radar are to improve hospitality for visitors’ pets. Instead of risking leaving your beloved furry friend in a hot car, the group aims to install dedicated areas at park visitor centers where pets can be safe, cool, and relax while their owners explore the areas where pets aren’t otherwise allowed. The group is also working closely with the Park Service to pinpoint areas where river safety can be improved, so that the thousands of people that hit the water can do so with as much safety and as little risk as possible. 2018 is also an important year for the three parks as all three celebrate milestone birthdays. FNRGNR is stepping in to assist the National Park Service with marking the occasion of each park’s establishment. For the next generation of environmental stewards, the organization is assisting in hosting three weeks of free camping for children at Camp Brookside, which will provide new opportunities for area kids to learn about the importance of their public lands.
“It’s really quite something to be involved with,” says Park Liaison Aaron New. He works with the group as a volunteer through the AmeriCorps program, coordinating operations between FNRGNR and the parks. “Things have taken off for us in a short time, and being able to work right in the middle of it all while watching the growth is an amazing experience.”
While FNRGNR may be a small organization, the support of people in the community is the true heartbeat of the group. Between donors and volunteers of all kinds, FNRGNR has accomplished many goals and continues to grow as the main support organization for southern West Virginia’s three beautiful national parks.