Fayette County was formed by the General Assembly of Virginia on February 28, 1831. The name pays tribute to the Marquis de Lafayette as does the town of Fayetteville. English hunters and trappers from Virginia are responsible for the the first settlements here. Coal mining and lumbering evolved after the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad was constructed in 1873 through the New River Gorge. These two industries were very instrumental in the economic development of Fayette County. Tourism is another industry that became important in the 1890's and today is it a major economic industry for the entire state. The New and Gauley Rivers offer tourists a world-class experience in white water rafting. The New River is the oldest river in the western hemisphere, one of the few rivers in the world to run north from North Carolina to West Virginia . The total length of the New River is 341.4 miles of which 87 are in West Virginia. Once in WV the river becomes the New River Gorge National River which is a part of the National Park Service. The average width of the river is one mile and the depth ranges from 700-1300 feet. There is a 14 mile stretch where the river drops 240 feet which creates between Class I and Class VI rapids. The river is divided into three sections which provides for an assortment of rafting experiences. The upper "New" is ideal for floating and fishing trips while the Middle "New" offers rapids between the class II and class III range. This is the trip for the those "NEW" to the rafting experience. For those wanting a wild and memorable rafting experience, the Lower New River is the place to raft. On the lower "New", one will experience between class II and class V rapids. Jump Rock and Swimmer's Rapid are favorites for all rafters.
For the daring and adventurous, the Gauley River is for you. For 20 days starting in September, the Summersville Dam releases water into the Gauley River to provide rafters with an unforgettable experience. The Gauley drops 668 feet through 28 miles of rugged terrain and features more than 100 rapids. This trip is the "wildest" of the wild and not for the faint of heart. The Upper Gauley offers class III to V+ drops though chutes named Pillow Rock, Iron Ring, and the ever popular Sweets Falls. The Lower Gauley consists of class III-V whitewater. If you like roller coasters, you'll love the lower Gauley.Rafting companies are celebrating 33 years on the New River. With over 25 professional companies, you will be provided the experience of a lifetime.
Links to Rafting Companies:
Bridge Day is celebrated in Fayette County on the third Saturday of October, commemorating the completion of the New River Gorge Bridge. The bridge was completed Oct. 22, 1977. The gigantic undertaking took three years to complete with a total cost of $37 million dollars. The New River Gorge Bridge has the world's longest single steel arch span. More than 88 million lbs of steel was incorporated into the bridge. The bridge is 876 feet above the New River and is the second highest bridge in the country. The Fayette County Chamber of Commerce sponsors the annual Bridge Day. One lane of the bridge is closed and B.A.S.E. are allowed to parachute to the bottom of the Gorge. Rapellers can be seen beneath the bridge. Visitors are allowed to walk across the bridge and view the spectacular New River Gorge. Hundreds of vendors are lined up along the bridge to sell everything from Appalachian arts and crafts to free music demonstrations. This annual event draws up to a quarter of a million people.
The New River Gorge Bridge is located on U.S. Route 19, just north of Fayetteville, WV, It is easily reached from Interstates 64, 79 and from U.S. Route 60 across the Midland Trail. It is approximately 39 minutes north of Beckley, 70 minutes east of Charleston and 70 minutes south of Interstate 79.While visiting in Fayette County, there are a variety of other attractions to visit. If you are recreationally inclined, choose between hiking, biking, kayaking, camping, rock climbing, golf, fishing, swimming, hunting or just plain ole looking around.
Babcock State Park is adjacent to the New River Gorge. It features the Glade Creek Grist Mill which is probably one of the most photographed mills in the United States. The park offers cabin rentals, swimming, hiking and paddle boat rentals.
Graced with spectacular views of the New River Gorge, Hawks Nest State Park remains one of the most popular parks in the system. A modern, 31-room lodge and restaurant complex built on the edge of the gorge offers stunning views to its guests, as does a breathtaking aerial tramway that links the lodge with the marina and boat dock on the lake below. A unique jet boat ride originates at this dock. Upstream of the lake, the narrow canyon and rushing waters of the New River create one of the most challenging whitewater rafting experiences in the nation. A rustic museum overlooking the park and canyon features displays of early pioneer and Native American artifacts. In addition, small conference facilities, special events and winter dinner theaters are offered. For a summer vacation or a quick getaway to the mountains to view the color symphony of autumn, Hawks Nest is a pleasant stop on any traveler's itinerary.
The Thurmond Depot today serves as a visitor center. The depot is a reminder of the days when the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway brought people from far and wide to the now historic former Dun Glen Hotel. The depot contains exhibits and historic furnishings. To reach Thurmond, take U.S. Route 19 to the Glen Jean exit, north of Beckley. Follow the signs to Thurmond, seven miles down WV Route 25. This is a very small and winding road and there are no automotive or convenience stores there. This is your typical "WV Ghost Town".