New River Gorge, just minutes from the Summit, becomes our 63rd national park

The New River Gorge Bridge (BSA photo by Randy Piland)

The New River Gorge in West Virginia, a wild and wonderful adventure playground conveniently located in the Summit Bechtel Reserve’s backyard, has officially become our country’s 63rd national park.

That’s great news for the Summit, which already takes full advantage of its proximity to this prime destination for whitewater rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking and hiking.

“The designation of the New River Gorge as the 63rd national park highlights West Virginia’s unmatched natural beauty and the rich history of the New River Gorge,” says Summit Director Todd McGregor. “This designation will bring growth and recognition to our Summit as we continue our fantastic partnership with the National Park Service in providing adventure to a growing number of outdoor enthusiasts.”

The national park designation is good news for the state of West Virginia, too. The state has become a must-visit vacation spot both for thrill-seeking adventurers and relaxation-minded tourists. With the addition of West Virginia’s first national park, state leaders expect to see a 20% increase in tourism, bringing much-needed dollars into the state.

And the symbiotic cycle continues, because more West Virginia tourism means more potential visitors to the Summit — the BSA’s fourth high-adventure base and a 10,600-acre home to jamborees, training conferences and weeklong summer programs.

Scouts enjoy whitewater rafting on the New River during the 2017 National Jamboree. (BSA photo by Jeff Hattrick)

Close to home

So just how close is the newest national park to the BSA’s newest high-adventure base?

Let’s just say you’ll get there before you finish the fourth song on your John Denver playlist.

The main visitor center for New River Gorge National Park, located near the towering New River Gorge Bridge, is just a 20-minute drive from its Summit counterpart: the J.W. and Hazel Ruby West Virginia Welcome Center.

And the Summit makes the most of its prime location — a trend that will only continue with the elevated status of an area dubbed an “underrated West Virginia adventure hub” by Outside magazine.

Participants in the Summit’s popular New River Trek, for example, spend five days on the New River — which, contrary to its name, is the oldest river in North America.

They navigate whitewater rapids in rafts and inflatable kayaks called “duckies.” They camp along the river in a rugged-yet-scenic valley. And, in a sign of the tight relationship between Scouting and public lands, they participate in a service project to protect and preserve the river.

An aerial view of Scouts whitewater rafting during the 2019 World Scout Jamboree. (BSA photo by Randy Piland)

National parks and national high-adventure bases

The new designation for the New River Gorge means that all four BSA national high-adventure bases are now within a two-hour drive of at least one national park.

In other words, it’s easy (and wise) to add a national park stop to your next visit to the Summit, Florida Sea Base, Philmont Scout Ranch or Northern Tier.

  • Summit Bechtel Reserve (Glen Jean, W.Va)
    • 10 miles to New River Gorge National Park
  • Florida National High Adventure Sea Base (Islamorada, Fla.)
    • 60 miles to Biscayne National Park
    • 60 miles to Everglades National Park
    • 80 miles to Dry Tortugas National Park
  • Northern Tier (Ely, Minn.)
    • 95 miles to Voyageurs National Park
  • Philmont Scout Ranch (Cimarron, N.M.)
    • 135 miles to Great Sand Dunes National Park
About Bryan Wendell 3217 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.