A proposal to change the designation of the New River Gorge National River Area drew an array of speakers and an array of opinions.

A field hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was conducted before a standing room only crowd at Tamarack, called by senators Capito and Manchin.

The measure would change the designation of the New River Gorge National River Area to the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.

Although advocates strongly believe it would immediately boost visitors to the region and cause a spike in tourism spending, there was a large number of opponents that contend that the national park creation would affect hunting in the gorge.

“Sportsmen and women and our youth would give up a lot of good hunting ground if this proposal passes. This is a major problem. Additionally the future regulations for privately owned ground within park boundaries are now in question and this is unacceptable,” said Jerod Harman of the WV Wildlife Federation.

Just under 5,000 acres of public land where hunting is presently allowed in the New River Gorge would be closed to hunting with the park designation.

The National Park would encompass 7,691 acres where hunting would be forbidden. Some of the acreage is already off limits to hunting in the current makeup of the area, but the change in designation would result in the loss of hunting access on just under 5,000 acres of public land.

Another panelist, Rick Johnson, owner of River Expeditions in Fayette County, described the area as “steep as a cow’s face.” He also suggested the area that will be closed to hunting was minimal in comparison to the Preserve.

“It occurred to me about how selfish we are as hunters at protecting every acre of hunting land without any consideration for those who don’t hunt, but are also entitled to enjoy the beauty and resources we take for granted. For this I was almost embarrassed and a little ashamed,” said Johnson.

“Just think what a National Park designation could do for southern West Virginia, one of the most economically depressed areas in America, but within driving distance of 42 million people,” he added.

Nearly 50 members of the public made their way to the microphone to be allowed their two minutes to address their concerns into the record, a number opposing the national park, losing about 4,300 acres of hunting.

“We believe intentions are good, but we are opposed to the loss of over 4,000 acres of public hunting land,” said Ed McMinn, past president of the West Virginia Bowhunters Association.