The Gauley River only rages once a year, and thankfully, that time lines up with Bridge Day. So you can catch all the aerial thrills of the BASE jumping, rappelling and high lining, then go full-force with world-class whitewater rapids.
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The heat of late summer can be brutal, especially for folks who are enjoying some vacation time.
But for the lucky folks who are vacationing in the New River Gorge, there are plenty of ways to cool down when the late summer heat starts to set in. Here are some of the ways to chill out in Gorge country.
The ultimate way to cool off in this area (at least for the last 40 years or so) is with whitewater rafting. The waters of the New and Gauley rivers will refresh and invigorate any sweltering soul. The lower summer levels of the New River offer plenty of chances to float around in your PFD, but there’s still enough splash in the rapids to keep you damp between swims.
The water in the Gauley River is a bit cooler than that of the New River due to the depth of Summersville Lake. Even in late summer, the water flowing out of Summersville Dam is about 56 degrees and may warm up to the high 60s by the time it makes its way to the lower reaches of the river. This makes for a great way to cool off on a hot summer day.
Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine
Another great way to cool off in the Gorge area is a visit to the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine. You’ll take a trip through the underground mine, where the temperature averages 58 degrees. Besides that, you can do some exploring of the many renovated coal camp structures on the property. A museum, visitor center, gift shop, and company store also offer some “cool” options that will also keep you entertained.
Zip lining is another “cool” way to enjoy your Gorge vacation. A few area zip lines are “canopy tours.” In other words, you will be moving from tree to tree through thickly-forested areas. The zip lines between the trees will send you flying through the woods at speeds close to 40 miles per hour. This speed, accompanied by the shade of the dense canopy of this Eastern Deciduous Forest, will keep you cool. Of course, the excitement of flying along, hanging from a wire, may keep you from noticing what the temperature is.
A Few Other Ways To Stay Cool
There are a few other ways to take an edge off the summer heat while you are visiting the New River Gorge:
- Visit Swirl, a local ice cream and candy shop in downtown Fayetteville.
- Bridge Brew Works‘ ice cold beer can help ease summer heat. Offerings from this local brewery can be found at many restaurants and bars in the area.
- Orb the Gorge lets you roll down a hill in a large plastic ball. We know it sounds fun, and to combat the summer heat, add water into the mix to cool things off.
- At the Canyon Rim Visitor Center, step into a darkened, cool theater for a movie about the New River Gorge and its people.
How do you stay cool in the Gorge?
When you’re standing high above the New River on Bridge Day, looking down from the Bridge, have you ever noticed those lucky folks who are rafting below? Whitewater rafting has become a favorite adventure for West Virginia visitors, on Bridge Day and other days alike.
And with rafting season just around the corner for the most avid and hardy of paddlers, this seems like an opportune time to look back at the history of running the rapids of the New River.
This year marks 45 seasons that outfitters have been taking folks down the New River in rubber rafts. The first company to raft the New was Wildwater Unlimited. When the Dragan brothers started taking friends down the New River in 1968, one has to wonder if they ever dreamed it would become the industry it is today.
With two pick-up trucks and two rubber rafts that were custom made by an Army surplus boat company, Jon, Tom, Chris and Melanie Dragan started rafting the New during summer breaks from college. In Wildwater’s first year, less than 80 people went down the river. But it was from this simple beginning that an industry was born.
For these pioneers from Pennsylvania, the New River was uncharted territory. There were no laws governing rafting at the time and the New River Gorge was not a National Park. Little was known about the rapids on the New. In fact, the names that these rapids possess now are due to these first trips. Most of the knowledge that paddlers of today have about the New River came from the early trips.
In order to build a “seasoned” crew for the rapids of the Lower section, the protocol for all guests was a two day trip. Day one consisted of guests paddling the much flatter and safer upper stretch to acclimate themselves to the water and the rafts.
On day two, guests tackled the rougher water of the Lower New. The rafts were all double guided for safety, a practice that Wildwater Unlimited continued until the early 1990′s.
As there were no rules or regulations about whitewater rafting, the WV Division of Natural Resources was tasked to be the governing body of this new sport. The Dragans were influential in helping create many of the policies that are still in place today. Emphasis on safety was a huge concern. A few years later policies for company licensing and quotas, designed to prevent overcrowding, soon followed.
By 1971 a few more companies had entered the scene and eventually the state capped the number of licenses at 25. Today there is rafting on the Gauley, Cheat and Shenandoah, Big Sandy, Tygart, Potomac and Bluestone rivers as well.
It’s hard to believe that an industry that had over 200,000 customers a year in the mid 1990′s was spawned from some college kids running the river with friends, but that’s exactly what happened.
Are you ready for a West Virginia whitewater adventure?
Other than rafting – what is the Gauley River known for? Where does that water come from? And how did those dam releases get started?
These are all questions that come up on your general rafting trip or at any National Park Service Visitors Center.
Where does the water come from?
The Gauley is made up of waters from four other rivers – the Williams, Cranberry, Cherry and Meadow Rivers. Three streams converge on Gauley Mountain in Pocahontas County to give it its start. Gauley waters come from five different West Virginia counties.
How did the dam release get started?
Congress actually designated that the Summersville Dam releases begin. This was the first law passed in the United States to mandate recreational whitewater dam releases.
Was there a lot of Native American activity around here?
- According to the National Park Service, the oldest artifacts from the Gauley and New River Gorge area are Clovis points. Made more than 11,000 years ago over much of North America, these intricately-shaped stone spear points were used by ancient nomadic hunter-gatherers, Paleoindians, to kill mammoth, mastodon, and other Ice Age creatures. But agricultural based pieces from a later inhabited period remain as well. It is documented that these were ancestors of the Cherokee and Shawnee nations.
- The Mary Draper Ingles story indicates that Mary made her courageous pilgrimage home right along where the New meets the Gauley — after capture by the Shawnees.
- The Sandstone Visitors Center has a Native American exhibit and a sample Clovis point.
What else is the Gauley known for?
While whitewater rafting is her claim to fame – insiders know that the Gauley offers some amazing natural scenery and is also perfect for hiking, camping, and climbing. Fishing enthusiasts also love her musky, trout, walleye, and smallmouth bass.
Got a Gauley question? Ask away.
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What’s Bridge Day? The short answer is it’s the largest festival in West Virginia.
But it’s more than that, really. Just saying “the largest festival…” leaves out the whole community feel of it. The tradition. The adrenaline.
Maybe if there were some more names for it, it would help describe everything that goes down…
- “Y’all Are Crazy” Day- The big draw, of course, is BASE jumping off the New River Gorge Bridge. If you don’t k
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now, BASE is parachuting from a fixed object- in this case, a bridge. A spectacle.
- “I Can’t Eat Any More… Well, Okay” Day If there’s one thing you’ll find everywhere at Bridge Day, it’s food. From the Pancake Breakfast in the morning to the Chili Cookoff that night, (and all day long, too) there’s plenty of grub.
- “This Place Is Awesome” Day When you see the big crowd, and the jumpers, and the rafters and kayakers below, and the fall colors, all from this engineering marvel of a bridge, this is exactly what you’ll think. Promise.
- “I Do Need Some Art” Day We’re lucky to have some of the most talented artisans in the state come and set up shop. Almost anywhere you go on Bridge day, there’s great art for browsing and for sale.
- “We Need To Stay Another Day” Day There is no way to do everything you’d like to do in the New River Gorge in a day. Rock climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, ATVs, paintball, rafting, kayaking, and on and on. Sorry about that.
- “I Should Get A Motorcycle” Day It probably helps that Weest Virginia has more CRPC (Curvy Roads Per Capita) than any other state. Whatever it is, Bridge Day draws tons of bikes.
- “I’ve Got To Show My Friends This” Day This year -the 30th anniversary- Bridge Day is full connected, online, and mobile. Text bd30 to 77007 to find out everything, and tag the stuff you share with #bridgeday or #bd30.
- “I Could Get Used To This” Day The New River Gorge is the world’s greatest backyard, basically. People move to this part of the Mountain State to turn life into serious play.
- “Fat Guy With A Funnel Cake” Day Self-explanitory.
- “We’re Definitely Doing This Again Next Year” Day If we renamed the festival after the phrase most often overhead at Bridge Day, this would be it.
It’s a lot of things. More than anything, it’s fun. And who are we to try to define fun, anyway? We’ll just stick with Bridge Day.