By RICK STEELHAMMER
Construction projects involving boardwalks, visitor center roofs, a new campground and an enclosure to accommodate the return of a kudzu-eating goat herd to Thurmond are scheduled to take place this summer in the New River Gorge National River.
The largest boardwalk project underway this year involves replacing all the boards and handrails on the 25-year-old Sandstone Falls boardwalk, which traverses two New River islands and makes possible a half-mile loop hike from which to view a river-wide, 1,500 foot expanse of waterfalls dropping 10 to 25 feet.
"The work is expected to last all summer, but we'll try to have the boardwalk open at least on weekends," said Lizzie Watts, superintendent of New River Gorge National River.
Once work is complete at the Sandstone Falls Boardwalk, new boards will replace those now in use at a smaller boardwalk a few miles upstream at Brooks Falls, according to Watts.
Watts said the Canyon Rim Visitor Center, which receives more than 400,000 guest visits annually, will get an overdue roof replacement this summer, with the work to be completed in a manner that allows the building to stay open as the work proceeds. The Thurmond Depot Visitor Center will likewise have its slate roof replaced.
The Army Camp Campground in the Prince area will have an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant restroom and boat launch completed this summer, Watts said.
Other developments planned for this summer include a new parking area off Lansing-Edmond Road for the Short Creek bouldering area, and a new parking area at the townsite of Lilly at the end of the only road accessing the Bluestone National Scenic River.
State Highway officials have told Watts that Keeneys Creek Road leading to the old Nuttallburg Mine and townsite will be closed through the end of the year due to landslides, blocking access to the townsite and Nuttallburg Loop Trail.
Finally, two dozen members of an out-of-state work crew will return to the New River Gorge this summer to remove kudzu and other forms of brush and weeds from the Thurmond area.
Green Goats of Rhinebeck, New York, will bring 24 goats back to Thurmond for the second year of a five-year study to see how the goats perform as hillside brush-clearers.
"They are so much fun to watch and so effective," said Watts. "It would be dangerous for our staff to run weed-eaters on that slope, but the goats seem happy to do it. Last year, they left here fatter than they were when they came."