While planning our excursion to Ohio, I had come across all the interesting stories about the impending August Eclipse. My favorite thing to do late at night when everyone is asleep is to google. Soon I was down a rabbit hole of google maps, NPS site maps and hotel reservations. After consulting numerous maps I figured Tennessee was our best bet, which fit fine because Great Smoky was RIGHT THERE- 7.5 hours away from our home. As I traced the NPS site map back to Pittsburgh I came across the Bluestone National River. A few google searches later and I found all the visitor centers for New River Gorge and confirmed the Junior Ranger program.
We managed to leave on time and get going, but between bathroom breaks and road construction we arrived later than I intended. It was fairly crowded on a Saturday, I assume eclipse travelers and the normal traffic of outdoor enthusiasts and river sport people. We did find a spot in the parking lot and headed in to see what we found. I had chosen the Canyon Rim visitor center, but there are 4 other year round centers in this 53 mile park. The Ranger desk did double duty as the gift shop counter and we acquired the Junior Ranger booklets easily. The visitor center is located right on the edge of the Gorge and offers a spectacular view of the river. There are a number of these rustic rocking chairs which were comfortable and handy for both Junior Ranger books and nursing cranky babes!
A few minutes after I took this picture a large hawk did a fly-by on that window, with his belly practically against the window. Wild Thing screamed “BIRDIE” excitedly and a teen girl who was near him saw the hawk and screeched!
There is a fantastic historic short film that plays every half hour. It covers the Historic Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, disappointingly no relation or connection to the C&O canal. The history of the area is a familiar mining boom and bust cycle and there is a great photographic museum exhibit to walk through. It is peppered with historic tools and implements from the industrial past of the area. The layout is well done and visually interesting. There are so many interesting stories and diversity of people who are tied to this place, including Carter G. Woodson and Mary Draper Ingalls.
A really nice aspect of this site is that it is currently used as fantastic aquatic recreation area, but also has such a rich history to share. We did not have a chance to partake of the New River in anyway, but the kids did enjoy the walkways surrounding the visitor center. The wildlife of the area is well represented in fabulous “Please Touch Me” exhibits. The children always find these so fascinating and engaging. Wild Thing is excited to hold that deer skull, it was sturdier than the other skulls so I was hoping for the best! You can also see some coal and a railroad tie, as well as some other man made implements. The coal was great because my kids, being from Pittsburgh, have always been incredibly interested in coal. They used to build lego coal mines which, in case you are wondering, are stunningly boring to Ohh and ahh over.
We found this to be a great little stop on our trip, enough to see and do, but still get back on the road. I think a longer trip to experience the river more and do some long hikes when the kids are older would be excellent. Be sure to see the fantastic bridge spanning the gorge!