Sometimes storylines just write themselves.

The inaugural SCA Parks Pandemonium tournament, a decidedly non-scientific survey to determine “America’s favorite outdoor playground,” came down to the first national park vs. the most recent one. The trailblazer vs. the trending. Old guard vs. next gen.

And, in the end, New River Gorge National Park bested Yellowstone by a landslide online vote of 556 to 59. Now, to be fair, most people couldn’t find New River Gorge on a map (it’s in southern West Virginia). The Gorge became a national park only late last year, piggy-backing on the omnibus Covid-19 relief bill.

However, the zealousness of New River Gorge fans was on vivid display throughout Parks Pandemonium. Advanced by a fervent friends group and many other besties, the Gorge knocked off, in succession, Olympic National Park (an original SCA site in 1957), Indiana Dunes (another recent – 2019 – graduate to national park status), the iconic Joshua Tree National Park, and Shenandoah National Park in neighboring Virginia. An extremely impressive run.

Yet in no way does this competition diminish Yellowstone, the second-most popular park in the country (behind Great Smoky Mountains) and home to spectacular geysers, landscapes, and wildlife. Nor does it throw shade at the other parks in SCA’s bracket. No, this is all about a passionate group of people out to make a difference for the natural place they love.

Sound familiar?

We did not foresee this outcome but we are not surprised by it either. Over the past 64 years, SCA has regularly borne witness to the power of like-minded people determined to achieve a common goal for public lands. Stuffing the ballot box for New River Gorge isn’t the same as restoring an endangered habitat or building a trail to an overlook guaranteed to result in a mental tattoo but, at its essence, it is clearly in the same realm.

Conservation requires a personal connection to place. These connections are real and they endure.

SCA salutes New River Gorge National Park and all those who stand so proudly with it. Hang your banner high…and be ready to defend it in the 2022 SCA Parks Pandemonium. Because we know there are countless others out there who are just as motivated as you.

Photos: New River Gorge National Park