Access to one of the most important mining heritage sites in the U.S. will reopen again soon, though officials have no timeline for restoration of the route there, which was practically destroyed after flooding in 2016.
The road has been officially closed while the engineers repair priority routes damaged by the flood, to the dismay of history buffs, recreation enthusiasts, and local business owners dependent on visitor traffic.
Funding has been allocated for the repair, and the planning process has begun, though no timeline for construction has yet been set, according to Justin Taylor, assistant maintenance engineer for the department's district nine.
"What I can tell you is that the repair is in the works," Taylor said. "The funds have been allocated, and we're in the planning stage."
Taylor indicated that piling would be used to stabilize the road, which had been cut into a steep slope through which Keeneys Creek descends into the gorge of the New River.
The department has been working to repair damaged roads throughout the district caused by flooding in 2016 that lead to 23 deaths.
The flooding was the result of 8 to 10 inches of rain that fell over a period of 12 hours across southern West Virginia, resulting in a cataclysm that was among the deadliest in state history.
The scenic road famously provides access to the Nuttallburg Coal Mining Complex and Town Historic District, which is managed by the National Park Service as part of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
Park officials had not maintained a count of hikers and sight-seers who traditionally visit the site but say they're thankful that access will soon return.
Ranger Dave Beiri said the site has been one of the most popular historical attractions in the gorge, though its importance is national.
"Nuttalburg is certainly one of the most important coal-mining heritage sites in the region, if not in the U.S.," Bieri said.
Nuttallburg was one of almost 50 mining towns that sprang up along the New River in response to a growing nation's need for coal.
When the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway was completed through the gorge in 1873, the mines at Nuttalburg were ready for its arrival and it became the second mining town in the gorge to ship "smokeless" coal to industrial cities hundreds of miles away.
The town became the focus of national attention in the 1920s when automobile industrialist Henry Ford leased the mines to provide coal for Ford Motor Company steel mills.
Production ceased in 1958, and Nuttallburg was slowly consumed by the forest. In 1998, however, the Nuttall heirs transferred ownership to the National Park Service, which in 2011 completed a multi-year effort to clear vegetation and stabilize remaining structures.
Today it is considered one of the most intact examples of a coal mining complex in West Virginia and one of the most complete coal-related industrial sites in the United States.
Local business owners are encouraged about seeing the site reopened, according to Susana McArthur, who owns the Garvey House, guest house on the road leading to the site.
"I'm excited to see it reopen," she said. "Not only was it an important place for tourists, it provided local families, including my own, access to the river and all that beauty."
In addition to providing access to the ghost town and mine complex, the route is a favorite scenic drive and follows the swift stream through a series of waterfalls and rocky forests as it drops into the gorge.
Historic New River Gorge home to re-open to lodgers
Among the New River Gorge region's iconic residences, the Garvey House, a former bed-and-breakfast in Winona, will reopen for guests this spring, according to its owner. Renowned for its gardens and proximity to local rock-climbing areas, the inn will begin welcoming guests in May as its owner, Susana McArthur, embarks on a restoration effort that will focus on its gardens and stonework. Read the full story here.