New national park boosts popularity of motorsports route

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New national park boosts popularity of motorsports route
A popular section of The Talon winds along flanks of the New River Gorge. (Photo courtesy Backroads of West Virginia)

Global attention that America's newest national park has garnered is boosting interest in The Talon, an exceptional new motorsports route in southern West Virginia.

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The 18-mile stretch of two-lane highway skirts the new New River Gorge National Park and Preserve and is growing fast as a favorite route for motorcyclists and other adventure motorists.

The New River Gorge Bridge arches across the New River Gorge near Fayetteville, West Virginia.
New River Gorge Bridge (Photo: Jesse Thornton)

According to cyclist Jeff Lanham, founder of Backroads of West Virginia, the Talon explores some of the most scenic mountain lands in the U.S. in addition to providing a variety of highway conditions, both relatively straight and exceptionally curving.

"There's much more to the Talon than the blacktop," Lanham says of the route, which follows a rural section of US-60 that has enjoyed less traffic since the completion of I-64 to the south.

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“After many trips to the Smoky Mountains, exploring their named routes, it occurred to me that West Virginia has roads that are just as beautiful, twisty, and technically challenging as any of those out-of-state routes."

Momentum had been building before the establishment in December 2020 of the national park, which is expected to attract more than two million visitors to the region annually, and the route's page at Facebook now boasts more than 24,000 members.

Favorite stops along and near the route include Kanawha Falls, Cathedral Falls, Hawks Nest State Park, and the New River Gorge Bridge. The New River Gorge Harley-Davidson dealership is famously located at the eastern end of the route where US-60 and the US-19 expressway converge.

Meanwhile, other routes established by Backroads of West Virginia are also growing in popularity, and Lanham is continually sourcing travel information, gathering news stories, and coordinating with local shops, museums, restaurants, and other attractions.

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Cathedral Falls drops over sandstone ledges on its descent to the New River near Gauley Bridge, West Virginia.
Cathedral Falls (Photo: Jesse Thornton)

The four other routes the organization is promoting include The Ridge—21 miles, following an upland range of hills north of Charleston; The Seneca Trail—213 miles, following the old Seneca warpath (US-219) through the Allegheny Mountains; The Trail of Dragons—244 miles, following WV-16 from Saint Marys to Tazewell, Va.; and The Shenandoah Sidewinder—65 miles, following US-33 from Seneca Rocks to Harrisonburg, Va.

Lanham says the coronavirus pandemic led to a renewed interest in living in rural West Virginia and certainly to a good part of the Talon's surge in popularity.

“It's as if the whole nation has stopped, reassessed their lives, and now understands the value of getting away from it all,” he said. "We have so much to offer the rest of the country right here in West Virginia."

About three-fourths of the audience members who follow the organization's website and social media channels are from the populous northeast, including the Washington metro area, though an increasing number are from the Midwest, notably Indiana.

“It seems that people who live in the flat farmlands have an urge to see the beauty and challenge of the mountains,” he said.

Lanham also stressed that the Talon was growing in popularity among many motorists, though it was first established as a motorbike route.

“We’ve worked with Corvette groups, Subaru groups, ATV groups, Jeep groups. We’ve even had events with a group of women Jeep enthusiasts who call themselves the Jeep Vixens.”

For more information, visit Backroads of West Virginia.

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