National park designation brings nation's top travel writers to New River Gorge
The New River Gorge National Park and Preserve's new designation is also bringing in all kinds of new national attention. (WCHS){ }{p}{/p}

It is the nation's newest national park, but for those nearby it is an old, familiar face. 

"We've always known this was a very special place," Eve West, the chief of interpretation for the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, said. 

However, with the new designation comes national attention. In fact, just this past week dozens of national travel writers from across the country immersed themselves into all the park has to offer during an annual conference.

The Society of American Travel Writers started their journey in Greenbrier County where they stayed one night before traveling to Fayette County, spending three nights at Adventures on the Gorge. 

SATW Chairwoman and board member Christine Loomis said from here, the writers will continue to add to the buzz surrounding the park. 

“The idea is that we take what we get here and then we tell the world about what an incredible place this is," Loomis said. 

The group at this year's conference was comprised of 41 of the nation’s top travel journalists, and they picked the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve as their location for this year's conference. 

SATW President Larry Bleiberg said as journalists who need to see the world in order to do their jobs, this past year has been a tough one. In many ways, this conference was their first big travel outing in a year-and-a-half. 

"It feels undiscovered and that is what everybody is craving right now, and this is the place to find it," Bleiberg said. 

After spending a week rafting, kayaking and hiking throughout southern West Virginia, now comes the writing. These writers will put their stories about the park in prestigious publications across the country like the Los Angeles Times and Parade Magazine.

Melanie Haiken, from San Francisco, will be writing a piece for Parade Magazine after traveling to West Virginia for the very first time. 

“It’s like a list of the best places to go this summer and I was putting New River Gorge into that story," Haiken said. 

The national attention for the new park just keeps growing which means so will visitor numbers. The National Park Service is already seeing a 15%  increase.

Mary Krinkie has ties to the area as she grew up in Huntington, but she has since moved away to Minnesota. However, she and her husband Phil go to all national parks, so the new designation brought her back home for a visit. 

“As a hobby we like to go to all the national parks and this is the newest one in the country," she said. "No. 63, and we were very excited to put this on our trip schedule for the week."

The National Park Service predicts this to be the case for many as people seek out national parks to cross off their list. 

With this influx of visitors and media attention could also come some growing pains that the National Park Service is trying to get ahead of by putting in requests for increased parking and infrastructure.

“We’re always looking at those needs and trying to respond to those needs so this is a new thing," West said. "So we’re just going to be responding to those needs as well."

Alongside the growth is also a battle to keep the New old by preserving the history and the vast space, two things some of the first-timers were surprised by.

“You’re on this river and you don’t see a town. You don’t see houses," Haiken said. "I think I didn’t realize it was going to be so much wilderness.”

Writers like Haiken came with one story in mind and are now leaving with several, so it is likely the tales surrounding the park will keep getting told. 

"I think my takeaway is that there is something for everybody here," Haiken said. 

Most of the writers returned home on Thursday morning. 

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