Hidden Past- New River Gorge

New River Gorge

Spring in the New River Gorge

New River Gorge, WV

The sun shines brightly overhead, floating alone in a cloudless, bluebird sky. The coolness of spring fights to hold on in today’s dry mountain air, but the warmth from above seems to be slowly winning the battle. The forest has just begun to awaken from it’s winters rest. Buds and leaves have emerged on the tips of branches, while the vines and undergrowth begin to make themselves known, rising from the leaf littered ground. Today, the trainees will learn not only about the New River Gorge and it’s rapids and whitewater, but also about its past. A big part of our training program is teaching these aspiring river guides about what used to be, and about what is left for us to view as a window into the rich history of this gorge.

The first European settlers came to make a life along the banks of the New River almost 150 years ago. In it’s “hey-day,” there were over 20 coal mining towns throughout the New River Gorge. Once thriving communities, places like Nuttallburg, Kaymoor, Caperton, and Buery are all ghost towns today. The forest has recovered so well, that many of these ghost towns, even with their still existing stone buildings, can go completely unnoticed while floating down the river. Where there once was a footbridge spanning the river from one side to the other, you now have to know where to look amongst the boulder strewn bank to find any signs of it’s existence. During training, we make it a point to stop at various spots and hike up in the forested hillsides to show the trainees what remains. Often times, to gain a better understanding of a place, you first have to better understand its past. This gorge is a special place to us. Knowing it has been special to many throughout time, from the earliest of native peoples to the hardworking coal miners, helps to foster a deeper connection and appreciation for this place where we work and play.

To learn more about the author: Go to www.johnbryantbaker.com

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