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New River Gorge

National River

West Virginia

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park geology subheading
photo of the river in the fall
New River Gorge National River, West Virginia
All major rock units in the three parks are of sedimentary origin and of Pennsylvanian (at least 280 million years old) or Mississippian (up to 345 million years old) age. Major rock units of New River Gorge National River are the Pottsville Group (Pennsylvanian) and the Mauch Chunk Group (Mississippian). The Pottsville Group is the major rock unit of Gauley River National Recreation Area. The Mauch Chunk Group is the major rock unit of Bluestone National Scenic River.

In the New River Gorge area the Pottsville Group consists of the Kanawha, New River, and Pocahontas Formations (Figure 6). The Kanawha Formation is the youngest, and consists of 50 percent sandstone with some shale, siltstone, and coal. It is found primarily on hilltops and hillsides in the downstream end of the gorge. The New River Formation underlies the Kanawha Formation, and consists of predominantly sandstone with some shale, siltstone, and coal. It is found in the bottom of the gorge at the downstream end of the park, and on most hillsides and hilltops in the middle section of the gorge. The Pocahontas Formation underlies the New River Formation, and consists of 50 percent sandstone with some shale, siltstone, and coal. It is found in the bottom of the gorge in the middle section of the park, and on hillsides further upstream.

In New River Gorge National River the Mauch Chunk Group consists of the Bluestone, Princeton, and Hinton Formations (Figure 6). On different geologic maps these formations may be mapped separately, partly lumped together, or all lumped into the Mauch Chunk. These three formations all consist of red, green, and medium gray shale and sandstone, with a few limestone deposits. The Bluestone and Princeton formations that are mapped together are found along hillsides in the middle section of the gorge, and on some hilltops and higher elevations at the upper end of the gorge. The Hinton Formation is found in the bottom of the gorge at the upper end of the park, and also on hillsides and hilltops in the upper end of the basin (Ferrell 1984).

Several major geologic structures are found in the New River Gorge area. The axes of NS trending Mann Mountain Anticline and the NE-SW trending Lawton Syncline touch the northeastern park boundary near the middle section of the gorge. The NE-SW trending Springdale Syncline and a parallel anticline cross the New River in the upper end of the gorge (Ferrell 1984).

In Gauley River National Recreation Area the Pottsville Group consists of the Kanawha and New River formations. The New River Formation is found in the bottom of the Gauley River gorge and at lower elevations in the park. The Kanawha Formation is found on hilltops and at higher elevations in the park. The Mann Mountain Anticline crosses the Gauley River at the western end of the park, and the N-S trending Enon Anticline touches the northern park boundary near the confluence of the Gauley and Meadow Rivers (McAuley 1985).

In Bluestone National Scenic River the Mauch Chunk Group consists of the Bluestone, Princeton, and Hinton formations. The Bluestone and Princeton formations are found in the valley floor and hillsides of the park, and the Hinton Formation is found at the highest elevations. The NE-SW trending Bellepoint Syncline runs parallel to and along the park, and the NE-SW trending Dunn Anticline lies just to the northwest of the Bluestone River and crosses the Little Bluestone River (Shultz 1984).


Soil surveys have been completed for Fayette and Raleigh counties (Gorman and Espy 1975) and Mercer and Summers counties (Sponaugle et al. 1984). Pauley and Pauley (no date) described soils near Gauley River National Recreation Area based on Gorman and Espy (1975). An updated soil survey is currently being performed for Fayette and Raleigh Counties (Tony Jenkins, Natural Resource Conservation Service, personal communication 2001).

Ehlke et al. (1982, 1983) summarized the above soil surveys that include the three parks. Soils place New River Gorge National River (Dekalb-Rock outcrop) and Gauley River National Recreation Area (Dekalb-Gilpin-Enist and the Gilpin-Ernest-Buckhanon) in the Eastern Allegheny Plateau and Mountains Land Resource Area (Austin 1965, U. S. Department of Agriculture 1981). Soils in Bluestone National Scenic River (Gilpin- Dekalb) place it in the Southern Appalachian Ridges and Valleys Land Resource Area.

Based on existing published information, moderately deep silt loams or sandy loams dominate the valley bottoms and lower slopes in the three parks. These soils are well drained and very stony. Most of the soils lie on very steep (40 to 70%) slopes and are of low to moderate fertility. Derived from shale and sandstone, they are well suited for tree growth, but have severe erosion potential when destabilized. The upper slopes, ridge tops, and tributaries contain sandstone outcrops and broken cliffs that are from 1 foot to over 100 feet high. Brown sandy loams are also found on the ridge tops. The updated soil survey of these areas is expected to provide more details about these forested landscapes than was included in the older, more agronomic-oriented publications. This information is expected to be available between 2005 and 2007 (Tony Jenkins, Natural Resources Conservation Service, personal communication 2001).


Precipitation is the major source of ground water in the three parks. The amount of precipitation recharging ground-water reservoirs is affected by vegetation, ground slope, soil cover, geology, and climatic conditions (Fetter 1980). Only a small portion of falling precipitation actually enters the ground-water system. Processes such as overland runoff, interception by vegetation, and evapotranspiration direct most precipitation into the surface water or atmospheric phases of the water cycle. Water that percolates through the soil eventually reaches a zone of saturation, the ground-water reservoir. Annual runoff in southern West Virginia (including New River Gorge National River and Bluestone National Scenic River) is about 16 inches (Appel 1986). Values for Gauley River National Recreation Area may be higher. Annual runoff in mountainous eastern West Virginia is about 40 inches per year (Appel 1986). Ground water recharge is estimated to be 2 to 6 inches per year in noncarbonate, consolidated-rock areas of West Virginia. This includes all three parks. Differences in rock permeability and structural attitude affect ground-water flow (Fetter 1980). Velocity of ground water flow in most rocks is low, ranging from a few inches to several hundred feet per year. Flow velocity is controlled by hydraulic gradient (slope of the water table or potentiometric surface), and permeability (ability of rocks to transmit water).

Two types of rock openings, intergranular openings and fractures, determine the degree of permeability. Intergranular openings were formed when the rock materials were deposited, compacted, and cemented. They tend to be larger and more important in coarse-grained rocks such as sandstone than in fine-grained rocks such as shale, limestone, and clay. The actual permeability of the rock is determined by the degree of interconnection of the intergranular openings. Fractures, including faults, joints, and bedding-plane separations, are the main pathways for groundwater flow in the consolidated clastic sedimentary rocks of the Appalachian Plateaus Province. Hence these types of openings are most important in the three parks (Ferrell 1984).

Stress relief fractures occur in response to the unloading effect caused by the erosion of valleys (Wyrick and Borchers 1981). Stress-relief fractures are local and confined to valley sides and bottoms. They significantly affect the occurrence and flow of ground water in the parks (Ferrell 1984). High topographic areas or ridges function as recharge areas. Water infiltrates the surface and flows downward and laterally through fractures in shallow bedrock. The rate of ground water flow per unit area (hydraulic conductivity) decreases with increasing depth. Thus ground water flows primarily in a lateral direction along fractures or bedding planes, or through nearly horizontal coal seams that can have high permeability even at depth. If the vertical rate of flow or vertical hydraulic conductivity is negligible, then ground water continues to flow laterally, discharging as springs or seeps on hillsides. Where vertical conductivity is appreciable due the stress relief fractures along valley walls or hillsides, ground-water flow follows a stair-step path through the fractures, bedding planes, and coal seams, eventually discharging to streams and (or) recharging coal seams at depth (Harlow and LeCain 1991).

In the area of the parks, ground water is obtained from wells, springs, and abandoned coalmines. Wells drilled into consolidated rock units typically have only the top few feet of the hole cased, with the remainder left as an open borehole. Ground water enters wells from one or more water bearing zones or sets of fractures. Well yields vary, depending on factors including geology and topographic setting. Within a given rock unit, well yields may vary because of localized fractures due to such factors as stress relief, structural deformation, and subsidence caused by underground mining. Well yields are greater near the axes of anticlines where fractures have been formed during the folding of the original flat lying sedimentary deposits. Well yields are less along the axes of synclines where compression has tightly compacted rock units. Well yields are typically less in areas where subsidence has occurred due to collapsed roofs of underlying coalmines. Such collapse and subsidence creates vertical fractures that facilitate downward movement of water from overlying rock units to underlying mine shafts. If these underlying mine shafts become flooded, then wells drilled into them can have high yields (Ferrell 1984). In the vicinity of New River Gorge National River the Pottsville Group has moderate to high potential to supply adequate water for industrial or public use. The Mauch Chunk Group has low to moderate potential, except in localized areas with highly fractured rock. Well yields are generally adequate for farm or domestic use (Ferrell 1984).

In the Gauley River National Recreation Area, the Kanawha and New River formations have low potential to supply yields adequate for industrial or public supply, except at only the most favorable sites where all conditions are optimized. Yields for domestic and farm use from these formations are generally adequate, except in some hillside and hilltop locations. Mining in some areas will decrease the potential for any development (McAuley 1985).

In the Bluestone National Scenic River area, the Mauch Chunk Group has high potential to yield moderate amounts of water from valley wells several hundred feet deep and from wells near anticlinal axes. Yields from these wells are adequate for domestic, farm, and small municipal and industrial use. Wells on hillsides and hilltops may not have adequate yields for any use (Shultz 1984).

Mineral Development

Active and abandoned coal mines and oil and gas wells are present in or near the three parks. These activities pose existing and potential environmental problems for park water resources.

Coal mining alters both surface water and ground water chemistry of small watersheds in southern West Virginia (Borchers et al. 1991). Streams draining mined areas had higher pH, specific conductance, and greater concentrations of calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, bicarbonate, sulfate, manganese, and dissolved solids than streams draining unmined areas. The higher pH was theorized to be a result of acid reduction treatment employed by the active mines. Other studies (Ehlke et al. 1982, Bader et al. 1989) have concurred that streams draining mined areas are typically alkaline in the low-sulfur coalfields of southern West Virginia. Borchers et al. (1991) also found that ground water from wells near underground mines had greater specific conductance and concentrations of sodium, calcium, bicarbonate, and sulfate than did ground water from wells more than 0.5 miles from underground mines.

A study of the hydrology of Area 9, Eastern Coal Province by Ehlke et al. (1982) found that concentrations of total iron and dissolved manganese were highest in streams draining areas that had been mined for several years. This study, which included New River Gorge and Gauley and Meadow Rivers, also found that pH of surface water in New River (median pH 7.3) was generally neutral to alkaline, and that pH of surface water in Gauley River (median pH 6.4) was more acidic. Reasons for this are the greater buffering capacity of New River (mean alkalinity 42 mg/L) versus that of Gauley River (average alkalinity 10 mg/L) and the higher sulfur content of the coals found in the Gauley River basin. The low buffering capacity of Gauley and Meadow Rivers make them more susceptible to acid drainage. A similar study of Area 10, Eastern Coal Province by Ehlke et al. (1983) found that pH in the Bluestone River basin that contained extensive mining of low-sulfur coal varied from 5.4 to 10.0. Median alkalinity for Bluestone River was 52 mg/L.

Although most waters in mined areas of this region are alkaline, there are some where acidity problems do exist. This occurs most often where high-sulfur coal (as opposed to the low-sulfur coal predominant in this area) was mined or processed. In these areas, mine drainages or seepage through piles of processing waste ('gob') may be acidic. These areas are generally small and isolated. The relatively high buffering capacity of streams in these areas generally neutralizes acid problems quickly, and limits impacts to a few feet even in the smallest streams.

One major exception occurs at the head of Wolf Creek, a New River tributary that enters New River Gorge National River a short distrance upstream of the downstream park boundary. A large volume of acid gob, imported to this site from outside the watershed, has caused serious problems. Wolf Creek flows through Oak Hill and Fayetteville, the two largest towns in Fayette County, and is a major portion of the water supply for Fayetteville. Prior to the onset of acidification problems, the State stocked trout in Wolf Creek. Water immediately downstream from the gob pile often exhibits a pH of less than 3, although pH usually reaches 7 or greater by the time the stream enters the park. Occasional acid drainage episodes, including one in 2002, result in acidic water entering the park. An earlier attempt to remedy this problem through reclamation of the gob pile failed. The NPS has been partnering with a consortium of federal, state, and local agencies and a local watershed group to address this problem. The recent settlement of a legal proceeding makes $375,000 available to treat the gob pile in a more effective manner. Monitoring of Wolf Creek above and within the park is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of this additional work. The recommended action: Monitor Effectiveness of Wolf Creek AMD Treatment addresses the within-park portion of this work.

According to a 1995 minerals summary of the parks, there are 115 abandoned coal mine sites within New River Gorge National River, 11 abandoned coal mine sites in Gauley River National Recreation Area, and no abandoned mines in Bluestone National Scenic River (Ken Stephens, New River Gorge National River, personal communication 1998). Abandoned mine lands were inventoried in the park units in 1991 and 1992. Gauley River National Recreation Area has the only active permit for a deep mine operation within park boundaries. Abandoned deep mines in this park are mostly punch mines that tend to be newer, smaller, and have fewer associated structures and refuse areas than the large deep mine complexes in the New River Gorge area. Strip mining has been occurring mainly since 1976 in areas adjacent to Gauley River National Recreation Area. Because the National Park Service owns only a small portion of the mineral rights to the parks, the Office of Surface Mining is responsible for determining if mining can be continued or reopened in the parks.

Coal mines have the potential to affect water quality of tributaries to the parks, especially New River Gorge National River (Table 13). Borchers et al. (1991) showed that mine drainages and discharges augment streamflow during dry periods and comprise a large percentage of the total streamflow. Thus an inventory of active and abandoned mines in all watersheds tributary to the parks, especially New River Gorge National River, would be useful to park management. Databases covering active mine permits, abandoned mine sites, and permitted mines discharges are maintained by the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection.

Mountaintop removal mining activity, which involves the removal of complete seams of coal and all overburden and the disposal of this material into adjacent valleys, has occurred and is projected to occur in an area from Mingo County northeast to Webster County (Figure 5) (Fedorko and Blake 1998). This projected area covers most of the northern half of Nicholas County and would be visible to, and include parts of, the Gauley River National Recreation Area. The Peters Creek drainage would be among areas potentially impacted. Little is known about the impacts of valley fills from mountaintop removal upon tributary watersheds (Ronald Evaldi, U. S. Geological Survey, personal communication 1998). Mountaintop removal impacts from mines in the projected area would probably be minimal on New River Gorge National River and of no consequence to Bluestone National Scenic River due to the distance of these park units from the projected area of mountaintop mining. However, mountaintop removal mines exist outside of the projected area that may affect the parks.

Stream sediments in areas with a history of coal mining may exhibit high concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). Analysis of three coal samples from the New River area showed them to contain between 20 and 85 percent PAH's by weight. In this area PAH's are present in sand- and finer-sized particles, and may present a significant threat to aquatic life. They have been shown to cause many lethal and sublethal adverse effects on a variety of aquatic organisms (Eisler 2000), including liver tumors in bottom feeding fish (Baumann et al. 1991). Unpublished USGS statistical analysis correlated PAH's with external fish anomalies in the New-Kanawha River watershed. Concentrations of many PAH's in streams draining mined areas in or near the park exceeded Environment Canada's Probable Effects Level for the protection of aquatic life. More information is needed on PAH's in park streams to determine how severe a threat they represent to aquatic life. This concern is addressed by the recommended action: Determine Partitioning of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Streams of the New River Watershed.

A report (Sullivan 1992b) on oil and gas development in and near the three park units determined that there are 16 active, two shut-in, and five plugged and abandoned gas wells within Gauley River National Recreation Area. Another 61 gas wells are located within ½ mile of the park boundary. Because pressure in the gas reservoir in this area had dropped from 650 pounds per square inch (psi) to 2 to 5 psi by 1991, future production was forecasted to come from deeper units to the west of the park. However, there was speculation that the mature shallower fields of the park could be used for natural gas storage. There is also an extensive pipeline gathering and compression system connecting the wells to a major intrastate line. In New River Gorge National River there is one active, one shut-in, and four plugged wells. The park has acquired surface ownership for all of these except the active well. Bluestone National Scenic River has no gas wells within its boundaries, although a major oil and gas pipeline crosses the park. No oil wells are present in the any of the parks. Gas development activity has increased markedly since 1992, and a revision of the earlier report is underway.

Facilities associated with oil and gas development include producing, shut-in, plugged, and saltwater injection wells; petroleum, gas, and saltwater pipelines; active reserve and buried reserve pits; and storage tanks, as well as an extensive network of roads. There is a high potential for oil or chemical contamination of park waterways and aquifers from this development.

Potential, general effects of oil and gas activities on water resources are summarized in Table 14. Effects on water quality may be significant. Impacts to surface water quality are more likely to be short term and difficult to track, whereas impacts to ground water should be considered as long-term impacts. The retention time of pollutants in surface water may be months. The retention time for pollutants in ground water is commonly measured in decades or centuries. For this reason, pollution of ground water can be considered a significant, irreversible and irretrievable loss. The contamination of aquifers could also result in eventual contamination of surface waters that are in hydraulic contact with the aquifers. The magnitude of water contamination depends upon the volume of fluids lost, the local geography, and the composition of the fluids.

Specifically, during drilling and pumping activities, the potential exists for spills and leaks of drilling fluids, muds, oil, or produced wastes. Drilling fluids and natural ground water encountered in the drilling process are often high in dissolved salt content (especially sodium, calcium, magnesium, and chloride) and sometimes contain heavy metals such as barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, strontium, and zinc (National Park Service 1987a). Bicarbonates, carbonates, sulfates, sulfides, and oil may also be associated with produced waters and drilling fluids. The potential also exists for spills or leaks of such substances as detergents, fuels, machinery fluids, and toxic chemicals. Trucks transporting oil or produced water pose further spill hazards, and storage tanks or pumping stations sometimes rupture. Herbicides sprayed for brush control along pipelines and other cleared areas can enter streams by way of storm runoff. Finally, fallout of airborne particles (such as dust) can contribute to water pollution problems.

The largest volume of waste associated with oil and gas activities is produced water (brine). Most is saline. Total dissolved solids in produced water ranges from several hundreds parts per million (ppm) to over 150,000 ppm. Seawater, by comparison, is typically about 35,000 ppm. These high dissolved solid concentrations greatly impact freshwater resources. One barrel of brine can contaminate up to 1,000 barrels of freshwater (National Park Service 1987). Brine usually contains a small percentage of oil (0.10 to 0.33 percent by volume), dissolved gases such as hydrogen sulfide, and possibly trace elements which can also impact water quality. The actual composition of brine varies widely and needs to be determined to ascertain the potential impact of a spill. The oil and gas development inventory for the three parks (National Park Service 1991) noticed evidence of brine discharged directly to the ground during well cleaning.

Oil and gas development has the potential to directly effect the aquatic flora and fauna by causing mortality. The most likely direct effect linked with mortalities would be associated with chemical spills and leaks whereby chemical contaminants find their way into watercourses. There is sufficient field and laboratory evidence that demonstrates both acute and lethal toxicity and long-term sublethal toxicity of oils and petroleum distillates to aquatic organisms (U. S. Environmental Protection Agency 1986). Depending upon the type of petroleum compound and the flora and fauna involved, lethal toxicities can be highly variable. Crude oil in concentrations as weak as 0.4 mg/l can be extremely toxic to fish. Also certain petroleum products that appear to have no soluble poisonous substances become deadly when emulsified by agitation, as would be the case in the often turbulent stream flows in three park units. Oily substances can harm aquatic life by: 1) adhering to gills and interfering with respiration; 2) coating and destroying algae and other plankton; 3) coating stream bottoms and destroying benthic organisms; and 4) direct lethal toxic action.

Direct monitoring of mineral development activities is outside the scope of the park water resources staff. Presently this monitoring is accomplished by a terrestrial biologist, but the need to hire a dedicated mineral specialist has been identified by park management. Communication among park staff, producers, and responsible agencies is essential to dealing with the potential threats from mineral activities. Maintaining the existing water quality monitoring program, and remaining flexible enough to deal with emergencies, are the most effective ways to deal with this potential threat. For these reasons, no specific recommended action is presented.

Coal mining has been a major land use in West Virginia for many years (West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey 1999a). By 1840 statewide coal production had reached 300,000 tons. Peak years were 1927 (over 146 million tons) and 1947 (over 173 million tons). By 1880 extensive mining occurred in Fayette County. In 1914 large-scale surface mining commenced. By 1936 mechanization (shuttle cars, conveyor belts, and long trains) spread rapidly through the coalfields. Development of huge shovels and draglines has facilitated surface mining in recent years.

Coal is mined in watersheds draining to all three parks. Surface and underground mining of coal has impacted, and could further impact, each park. Surface mining of coal by the mountaintop removal/valley fill method in Nicholas County could impact water quality and degrade scenic beauty in and near Gauley River National Recreation Area. Mining in areas projected for mountaintop removal (Figure 5) would probably have little or no impact on New River Gorge National River, and no impact on Bluestone National Scenic River, due to the distance of these parks from projected mining areas. Some mountaintop removal mining has occurred outside the projected area. Expansion of this trend might impact New River Gorge National River and Bluestone National Scenic River.

Coal production in Fayette County (NERI, GARI) increased from 1.2 million tons in 1987 to 4.1 million tons in 1996, with a peak of 5.4 million tons in 1994. Most of this production was from surface mines. Production in Mercer County (BLUE) between 1991 and 1994 was about 300,000 tons, all of which came from surface mines. Production in Nicholas County (GARI) between 1986 and 1996 peaked at 9.3 million tons in 1988, dropping to 2.7 million tons in 1996. Surface mining accounted for most of this production except in 1986 and 1996. Production in Raleigh County (NERI) increased from 7.2 million tons in 1986 to 13.6 million tons in 1996. About 90 percent of this production came from underground mines. Production in Summers County (NERI, BLUE) was less than 3,900 tons in 1986 and about 145,000 tons in 1994. All of this came from surface mines.

Oil and gas extraction is another important land use in West Virginia (West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey 1999c). In the early 1800's salt manufacturers encountered oil and gas while drilling for salt. At the time they were considered nuisances because they had no value. Salt manufacturers diverted so much oil to the Kanawha River that it was known as "Old Greasy" to boatmen. In 1859 a salt well near Burning Springs struck oil and produced 200 barrels per day when deepened. A second, nearby well yielded 1,200 barrels per day. Thus began the oil and gas industry in West Virginia.

Burning Springs was one of only two oil fields present in America before the Civil War. Development of deeper drilling techniques, well pump mechanization, and the theory of anticlinal accumulation of oil and gas led to expansion of oil production in West Virginia. Oil production peaked in 1900 at 16 million barrels. While oil production declined after 1900, gas production increased. West Virginia led the nation in gas production from 1906 to 1917. Gas production declined from 1917 to 1934, then increased again until 1970.

Production of oil and natural gas between 1979 and 1999 for the five counties in which the parks are located is negligible (West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey 1999d). In Fayette County (NERI, GARI) annual natural gas production in thousands of cubic feet (Mcf) ranged from a minimum of 2.5 million in 1989 to a maximum of 5.9 million in 1981, with roughly 4.0 million produced each year between 1990 and 1999. The number of producing wells increased from 119 in 1979 to 611 in 1999. Natural gas production in Nicholas County (GARI) varied from 1.8 million in 1985 to 5.3 million in 1981, with 2.1 million produced in 1999. The number of producing wells increased from 102 in 1979 to 383 in 1999. Natural gas production in Raleigh County (NERI) varied from 2.1 million in 1979 to 5.2 million in 1988, with 4.3 million produced in 1999. Natural gas production in Mercer County (BLUE) varied from about 191,000 in 1979 to 1.3 million in 1993, with about 1.2 million produced in 1999. The number of producing wells increased from 15 in 1979 to 135 in 1999. Only two wells in Summers County (NERI, BLUE) produced gas and only in 1999. Total volume produced was 16,326 Mcf.

Source National Park Service, Water Resource Division


Appel, D. H. 1986. West Virginia surface-water resources, pp 479-484 in National Water Summary 1985, Hydrologic events and surface-water resources. Water-Supply Paper 2300, U. S. Geological Survey.

Austin, M. E. 1965. Land resource regions and major resource areas of the United States (exclusive of Alaska and Hawaii ). Agricultural Handbook 296, U. S. Department of Agriculture, Washington , DC . 82 pp.

Borchers, J. W., T. A. Ehlke, M. V. Mathes and S. C. Downs. 1991. The effects of coal mining on the hydrologic environment of selected stream basins in southern West Virginia . Water-Resources Investigations Report 84-4300, U. S. Geological Survey. 119 pp.

Ehlke, T. A., and others. 1983. Hydrology of Area 10, Eastern Coal Province , West Virginia and Virginia . Water-Resources Investigations Open-File Report 82-864, U. S. Geological Survey, 73 pp.

Fedorko, N. and M. Blake. 1998. A geologic overview of mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia: West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey, Executive Summary of a report to the Committee on Post-Mining Land Use and Economic Aspects of Mountaintop Removal Mining, October 26, 1998. West Virginia

Ferrell, G. M. 1984. Ground-water hydrology of the minor tributary basins of the Kanawha River, West Virginia. West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, map report, scale 1:250,000, 1 sheet.

Fetter, C. W., Jr. 1980. Applied hydrogeology. Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company, Columbus , OH . 488 pp.

Gorman, J. L. and L. E. Espy. 1975. Soil survey of Fayette and Raleigh Counties , West Virginia . U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service (in cooperation with West Virginia University Agriculture Experiment Station). 76 pp + 104 maps.

Harlow, G. E., Jr. and G. D. LeCain. 1991. Hydraulic characteristics of, and ground­water flow in, coal-bearing rocks of southwestern Virginia . Open-File Report 91­250, U. S. Geological Survey. 48 pp.

McAuley, S. D. 1985. Ground-water hydrology of the Gauley River Basin, West Virginia. West Virginia Department of Natural Resources. 1 sheet.

Shultz, R. A. 1984. Ground-water hydrology of the Upper New River Basin, West Virginia. Map Report, West Virginia Department of Natural Resources. 1 sheet.

Sponaugle, K. N., D. E. McKinney, L. Wright, Jr., C. E. Nelson, R. E. Pyle and C. L. Marra. 1984. Soil survey of Mercer and Summers Counties West Virginia. National Cooperative Soil Survey. 173 pp. + 49 maps.

Sullivan, R. J. 1992b. Gauley River National Recreation Area and Bluestone National Scenic River mine and gas well inventory. National Park Servcie, Glen Jean, WV.

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency. 1986. Ambient water quality criteria for bacteria. EPA-440584002, U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.

West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection. 1999a. Watershed Atlas Project. Accessed June 28, 1999 , at < http://www.dep.state.wv.us/watershed >.

West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection. 1999c. WVDEP-USGS Landfill Database for West Virginia . Accessed June 28, 1999 , at < http://www.dep.state.wv.us/permit/wm/wm 2.htm1 >.

West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey. 1999d. Summary data and statistics: oil and gas production data, by county. Accessed March 18, 1999 , at < http://www.wvges.wvnet.edu/www/datastat/datao cg o.htm >.

Wyrick, G. G. and J. W. Borchers. 1981. Hydrologic effects of stress-relief fracturing in an Appalachian valley. Water-Supply Paper 2177, U. S. Geological Survey. 51 pp.

Welcome to the New River
The immediately perceived attractions are the river and its gorge. Together they present an impressive display of natural forces.

The gorge remained virtually inaccessible along its entire length until the railroad opened this isolated part of West Virginia in 1873. The railroad followed the riverbank and made possible the shipment of coal to the outside world. In time company men clashed with miners in bitter labor disputes that have made their way into labor movement legends and songs passed on to their descendants. Towns grew up, flourished, and were abandoned once the mines played out.

In the southern stretches, where the river is deceptively quiet with a broad floodplain, farming developed as a way of life devoid of the strife of the coalfields, providing its own contribution to Southern Appalachian culture. The river, too, has served as a migration route for plants and animals as well as people. Here some of West Virginia's rarest plants are found. And the New is one of the most renowned fishing streams in the state, and a premier whitewater boating river.

Today 53 miles of this river and its gorge and 40 miles of its tributaries are preserved as:

  • New River Gorge National River,

  • Gauley River National Recreation Area, and

  • Bluestone National Scenic River
all units of the National Park System, for the use of this and future generations.

block diagram
New River's deep gorge exposes geologic history as it slices through the layers of rock that tilted as the Appalachians rose. Rocks as old as 330 million years are exposed. Because of the nature of the tilt, the younger rock layers are in the northern area of the park. Some layers contain coal deposits (black streaks).
What's in a Name
In this case the name is not all descriptive, for the New River may be one of the oldest in North America; the most accepted estimates date it at least 65 million years, in its present course. But the New once was a much longer stream that geologists called the Teays, flowing through central Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois and emptying into the Mississippi. The last advance of glacial ice during the Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, buried most of this river and diverted the water of the New into rivers created by the glaciers: the Ohio and the Kanawha. Another noteworthy feature of the New is that it flows across the Appalachian Plateau, not around or from it as most other streams do. This is just one more indication of its age, for the river had to be there before the mountains formed, and the Appalachians themselves are very old.

Whitewater Activities
To many, the park is whitewater. Here the free-flowing New River falls 750 feet in 50 miles from recreation Bluestone Dam to Gauley Bridge creating one of the finest whitewater rivers in the eastern United States. By comparison the Mississippi falls 1,428 feet from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, a distance of 2,300 miles. In the southern end of the park the river is more placid. Except for a few Class III rapids that challenge the intermediate canoeist, this section is ideal for beginning boaters who look for a leisurely float with occasional smaller rapids and excellent fishing from the banks or shallows. North of Thurmond, the whitewater begins in earnest with rapids in varying heights and combinations ranging from Class I to V. Only experienced and properly equipped boaters should attempt to navigate these waters. It is advisable to go with an outfitter who knows the route and vagaries of the river.

park maps subheading

The General park map handed out at the visitor center is available on the park's map webpage.

For information about topographic maps, geologic maps, and geologic data sets, please see the geologic maps page.

photo album subheading

A geology photo album for this park can be found here.

For information on other photo collections featuring National Park geology, please see the Image Sources page.

books, videos, cds subheading

Currently, we do not have a listing for a park-specific geoscience book. The park's geology may be described in regional or state geology texts.

Please visit the Geology Books and Media webpage for additional sources such as text books, theme books, CD ROMs, and technical reports.

Parks and Plates: The Geology of Our National Parks, Monuments & Seashores.
Lillie, Robert J., 2005.
W.W. Norton and Company.
ISBN 0-393-92407-6
9" x 10.75", paperback, 550 pages, full color throughout

The spectacular geology in our national parks provides the answers to many questions about the Earth. The answers can be appreciated through plate tectonics, an exciting way to understand the ongoing natural processes that sculpt our landscape. Parks and Plates is a visual and scientific voyage of discovery!

Ordering from your National Park Cooperative Associations' bookstores helps to support programs in the parks. Please visit the bookstore locator for park books and much more.

geologic research subheading

For information about permits that are required for conducting geologic research activities in National Parks, see the Permits Information page.

The NPS maintains a searchable data base of research needs that have been identified by parks.

A bibliography of geologic references is being prepared for each park through the Geologic Resources Evaluation Program (GRE). Please see the GRE website for more information and contacts.

selected links subheading

NPS Geology and Soils Partners

NRCS logoAssociation of American State Geologists
NRCS logoGeological Society of America
NRCS logoNatural Resource Conservation Service - Soils
USGS logo U.S. Geological Survey

teacher feature subheading

Currently, we do not have a listing for any park-specific geology education programs or activities.

General information about the park's education and intrepretive programs is available on the park's education webpage.

For resources and information on teaching geology using National Park examples, see the Students & Teachers pages.
updated on 01/04/2005  I   http://www.nature.nps.gov/Geology/parks/neri/index.cfm   I  Email: Webmaster
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