Natural Features & Ecosystems
From its beginnings in North Carolina, the New River winds its way northward through southern West Virginia. For nearly 320 miles, the river traverses a land of diverse topography and spectacular scenery.
The New River's origins can be traced back to the birth of the Appalachian mountains and an ancient river called the Teays. Late in the Paleozoic Era, 500 million years ago, the North American and African plates collided, buckling and shattering the earth's crust and forcing the Appalachians up towards the sky. The Teays River, with headwaters near present-day Blowing Rock, NC, drained the slopes of the new mountain range. As the Teays River picked up speed and power it began cutting through the roots of the old mountains, all the while maintaining it northerly flow. This action continues today in the spectacular New River Gorge, where in some place the river has cut 1500 feet down through the old Appalachians to create a deep canyon.
Because the New River is so old, its habitats and wildlife have been able to achieve a form of stability. Millions of years of available passage have allowed many species of plants and animals to move in and persist in the area. Since the New River cuts from east to west across the Appalachians, we find species that are typically Atlantic coastal plain and piedmont, such as melic grass, living with northern mountain species. Because time has favored the new River Gorge, certain unique species have been able to carve their own niches here. Several species of fish have evolved that are endemic (found nowhere else) to this river.
Did You Know?
The New River Gorge was logged extensively thoughout the past century. The landscape is now recovering, with the park ecosystem returning to its more natural state, but there are still plenty of signs of the past activities.