The northwestern corner of North Carolina is New River country. Here, the north and south forks of the New River flow north from headwaters in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Winding more than 100 miles through forested mountains and pastoral valleys, the forks join just a few miles south of the North Carolina-Virginia line. The New River continues its unusual northward flow through southwestern Virginia and West Virginia into the Kanawha and Ohio rivers, its waters eventually reaching the Gulf of Mexico by way of the Mississippi River.
The New River is believed to be one of the oldest rivers in North America. It existed before the mountains through which it now passes and, for millions of years, its waters have followed essentially the same course. Many stretches of the New flow through remote countryside not easily accessible by road or trail. The designated scenic segment of the river, 26.5 miles in length, includes 22 miles of the South Fork downstream to its confluence with the North Fork and 4.5 miles of the main stem of the river north to the Virginia line.
A view of the New River is a look back in time to primeval eras before man existed, to the days of Native Americans who used the waterway as an avenue for migration and trade, and to the times of early European settlers who came to farm and mine the land, and to cut the forests.
Archaeological investigations in the New River valley suggest the presence of humans in the region for at least 10,000 years. Artifacts such as arrowheads, pottery shards and stone axes indicate that the Canawhay Indian tribe occupied the valley during the pre-colonial period. The valley also was a hunting ground for bands of Creek, Shawnee and Cherokee Indians. Their hunting trails led north along the New River to the Ohio River. Rock shelters near the confluence of the river's forks were used by hunters who camped in the bottomlands. The river was a major route of travel for transient hunters, but there were no known permanent settlements in the area, perhaps due to more aggressive northern tribes nearby.
The earliest Europeans to enter the area encountered a land of wild beauty with dense forests, open meadows and an abundance of wildlife including bison, elk, black bear and beaver. The first European to see the river was probably Colonel Abraham Wood, who sought trade with the Native Americans in 1654. Hence, the river became known as Wood's River.
Other than the Native Americans, the only regular visitors to the region before the 1770s were hunters and trappers, men such as Daniel Boone who settled along the Yadkin River near present-day Wilkesboro. The New River was given its current name by Peter Jefferson, the father of Thomas Jefferson, who visited the area in 1749 when he surveyed the North Carolina-Virginia boundary through New River country.
Efforts to preserve the scenic qualities of the New River and to keep it free from human alteration began in 1965 when the Appalachian Power Company applied for a license to dam the river and build reservoirs for water storage. Over time, opposition to the proposal arose from citizen groups, and state and federal agencies. Hearings, litigation and legislative action followed.
In order to protect this historic river and the scenic area surrounding it, the North Carolina General Assembly, on May 26, 1975, declared the 26.5-mile stretch of the river from its confluence with Dog Creek to the Virginia state line a State Scenic River. In April, 1976, the Secretary of the Interior designated the same portion of the river as a part of the National Wild and Scenic River System. This action was reaffirmed by an act of Congress, and construction of the dam and reservoirs was prohibited. Thus, the New River was preserved and a state park established along its scenic corridor.