North Carolina, Virginia,
and West Virginia
Despite its name, the New River is the oldest river in North America. Geologists estimate that it is about 320 million years old, meaning it was already in place when the Appalachian Mountains were formed. The New originates in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and flows north for 250 miles through mountains, rolling hills and farmland, to the steep gorges of West Virginia's coal country. Much of the country it passes through is relatively isolated and rural, with population density averaging 50 people per square mile.
Traditional Southern Appalachian culture is predominant along the entire river, with a strong emphasis on kinship, community and religion. Much of the land remains in agriculture -- row crops, tobacco, dairy, cattle and sheep -- with forestry, manufacturing and tourism also contributing to the regional economy. Small farms are common and local craftsmen turn out handmade paper, fabric, quilts and toys.
Natural areas are still relatively intact along much of the river. The region is home to a wide variety of wildlife and has developed a variety of recreational opportunities. Aside from hunting and fishing, these include kayaking, canoeing, bird-watching, camping and other outdoor activities.
Community Action Plan
Communities along the New River are committed to maintaining traditional land uses, including agriculture, fishing, forestry, and recreation, while generating new economic activity to compensate for the long-term decline of employment in coal mining. Their plan, developed with a strong emphasis on local control, is aimed at enabling families to continue to work and live on the land, providing incentives for private conservation efforts, minimizing the impact of new development, promoting tourism and preserving the quality of the New River.
Development of the action plan helped strengthen community ties an improve local cooperation. For example, the communities of Bakersville and West Jefferson worked together on the plan and when Bakersville was flooded last January, residents of West Jefferson pitched in to help their neighbors dig out.
Mikki Sager, The Conservation Fund (919) 967-2223