Officials say a moonrise walk that attracted a record number of hikers to the New River Gorge in southern West Virginia last week could indicate that attitudes toward recreation locally are changing.
Eighty-nine participants turned out for a two-mile walk on the Endless Wall Trail, surprising officials who are accustomed to leading groups of several dozen participants at most.
“I’m sure you’ve all heard by now that we had a GIANT full-moon rise hike last weekend,” ranger Angela Allison of the National Park Service afterward reported to event organizers.
“Gauging from the number of local participants and their increased knowledge and comfort after attending, I’d say we can call this one a SUCCESS!”
The hike was one of the most recent of many being guided by park rangers and members of Active Southern West Virginia, an active-living initiative instituted to help improve the health and viability of the region’s workforce.
Allison said the majority of participants haled from southern West Virginia and were from 25 to 39 years old. Most heard about the event through social media.
The second largest group were from 40 to 59 years old, and only four of the 89 were from out-of-state, she said.
Melanie Seiler Hames, executive director of Active Southern W.Va., said she thinks the leap in attendance indicates that her organization’s partnerships are having the intended effect.
“I certainly think this is an indication that excitement and energy are building. Local families are exploring the outdoors together,” she said, adding that the organization’s reliance on local leadership has been key to its success so far.
“This is a true demonstration that the leadership provided through the our ‘Community Captain’ volunteers is providing the social support needed to build a culture of active living in southern West Virginia.”
Hames said her organization continues to search for potential leaders throughout rural southern West Virginia to help organize regular community events such as hikes, walks, and group exercise meetings.
Future walks and events being organized with the assistance of the Active organization are being posted on its Facebook page and website, and volunteers who would like to organize walks and other activities in their communities are being encouraged to reach out.
Through its partnership with Active Southern W.Va., the National Park Service’s “Get Active in the Park” programs in southern West Virginia are providing free instructional programs as sample activities at a beginner level, Hames said, encouraging more people to grow comfortable exploring the parks while adopting lifestyles of increased physical activity.