South of the Border
West Virginia's diverse destinations provide ideal vacations.
They're Ohioans through and through, but when it's time for a little R and R, these three families head across the border to partake of the wonders of West Virginia.
Just one weekend with the Sierra Club, Miami Group. That's all it took for Cincinnatian Susan Namei to get hooked on white-water canoeing. At least once a month throughout the summer and frequently in the fall, Susan and husband Firooz head for West Virginia's New River Gorge National River to feel the rush of swift currents and surging waves.
Susan, a professor of nursing at Xavier University, finds the intellectually stimulating and physically challenging aspects of the sport especially appealing. The couple solo paddle for five-hour, seven-mile stretches. They spend time surfing the water, Susan explains, by turning the boat upstream on a wave and, once they land on it just right, go with the flow and ferry from one wave to another.
"It's truly a total-body sport," Namei says. "There are airbags on each end of the canoe and a saddle in the center with kneestraps, which are a lot like a seat belt. You actually 'wear the boat.' and make it respond to you.
"Most people think white-water canoeing means just getting in a canoe and paddling. But it's so much more than that. It takes thinking and planning and execution. You have to know how to use the water's current to your advantage. That's why women can succeed in the sport as well as men. It takes finesse rather than muscle.
"When it comes to strength, the river always wins."
A rugged river, flowing northward from North Carolina through West Virginia, the New is among the oldest on the continent. The gorge itself encompasses more than 70,000 acres of land along the New River between Hinton and Fayetteville. The New Gorge area is known as a prime fishing spot, with sunfish, large-mouth bass, channel catfish and crappie. Nighttime angling is also popular.
Said to rival the Colorado River as a destination for whitewater enthusiasts, the 30 miles of the lower portion of the river from McCreery, West Virginia, to the New River Gorge Bridge are popular places to canoe from early April through mid-October. (But keep in mind that certain parts of the river require more skill than others. Contact the National Park Service to determine where you fit in.)
"There are beautiful mountains and neat rock formations and, of course, the river itself is gorgeous," Namei says. "Every time we make the winding drive down to the gorge, my heart starts to pump a little faster.
"On our favorite section of the New River, the water is warm and secluded. We often camp near Fayetteville along the ridge where the scenery is spectacular."
Bird-watchers will also appreciate the herons and kingfishers that frequently wing their way above the water. "One time," Namei recalls, "we saw a squirrel swim across the river. I never knew they could do that."
In April, Susan accepted a new aquatic challenge. She traveled to the Webster Wildwater Weekend in Webster Springs, West Virginia, to participate in her first race. This annual event includes downriver and slalom races along five miles of the Elk River. Susan tied for first place in the solo canoe category. Her time: 98 minutes, 42 seconds.
The race aside, she says that for her, "Canoeing is a journey, not a destination."
For more information about recreational activities in West Virginia, contact the National Park Service in Glen Jean, West Virginia, 304/574-2115 or www.nps.gov/neri/home.htm. For more information on the Webster Wildwater Weekend, call 304/847-2145 or log on to www.websterwv.com/data/whitewater.html .
Reunited at Oglebay
Springboro residents Scott and Judy Swope can't recall who recommended Oglebay Resort and Conference Center as the perfect spot for a family reunion. But in the spring of 1962, the Swopes, with their two infant sons in tow, packed up the car and headed south for a family reunion on Easter Sunday. Forty-three years later, the couple and their family, which has grown to four adult children and 11 grandchildren, still make the trip to Wheeling to reunite with 17 Swope aunts, uncles and cousins for a not-to-be-missed holiday tradition.
"Oglebay is perfect for us," Scott Swope says. "No matter what the weather, there's something for everyone of any age to do here, indoors and out."
Whether you like to hit the hiking trail, indulge in a massage, sit poolside or explore the historic, this 1,650-acre resort in Wheeling has what you're looking for.
The Swope family small-fry enjoy making friends with the bears, river otters and red wolves that call the Oglebay Good Zoo home. The adjoining Discovery Lab hosts a variety of hands-on activities guaranteed to help kids get in touch with the natural habitats around them, including learning about what a day in the life of a veterinarian is really like.
"We never miss the chance to visit Oglebay's museums, which explain the area's diverse history," Judy Swope adds.
Exquisite antiques, sparkling glassware and picturesque grounds all make Oglebay's Mansion Museum and Glass Museum gems to discover. The original portion of the Greek Revival mansion was built in 1846, with additions made a decade later. Sold to Cleveland industrialist Earl Oglebay at the turn of the last century, it was transformed into its present Neoclassical Revival style of architecture. The mansion contains 12 period rooms, spotlighting eras from Wheeling's earliest settlement through the Edwardian Age. The building's permanent collection features an impressive display of decorative arts, glass, china and pottery. The Oglebay Institute's fall schedule of classes, held in the mansion, includes workshops in American antique furniture and making glass paperweights and a course in old-fashioned advertising campaigns.
Next door, the Glass Museum houses more than 3,000 examples of Wheeling Glass made between 1829 and 1939. Included are cut lead crystal, Victorian art glass, Peachblow, Depression glass and carnival glass - not to mention what's billed as the largest piece of lead crystal ever made: a 5-foot-high Victorian glass punch bowl weighing 225 pounds.
As the Swope family has grown, so too have overnight accommodation options.
"When we first discovered this place, Wilson Lodge or a few cabins were the only places to stay," Scott recalls. "So much has changed. There are new cabins, a bigger dining room and an enclosed swimming pool. We love the cottages. The one we rent has six bedrooms and sleeps 24 people. It works out great because we can all stay there together. It has a big kitchen with two refrigerators, a big fireplace and a huge living-room area. Best of all, the children can run around and you don't have to worry about them bothering neighbors in the next room."
A favorite family side trip is an excursion to Harpers Ferry, located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, separating Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. Today, the 2,300-acre park contains more than two dozen 19th-century buildings chronicling the historic events that shaped the region, among them John Brown's famous raid against slavery in 1859, the largest surrender of Federal troops during the Civil War, and the education of former slaves at Storer College, one of the earliest integrated schools in the country.
"Although we love Ohio, West Virginia is our kind of place," Scott says. "It's laid-back, relaxed and down-to-earth."
For more information about Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, call 800/624-6988 or visit www.oglebay-resort.com. Information about Harpers Ferry can be obtained by calling 304/535-6029 or visiting www.nps.gov/hafe/events.htm .
Tamarack's royal treatment
Hallie Schiavoni and her husband Orlando wondered what was up when they pulled up to Tamarack in Beckley, West Virginia, last October. The Willoughby Hills couple make it a point to stop at the showcase for local artisans four times a year, whenever they are en route to their second home in South Carolina. However, they've never before been greeted by the multitude of cameras, microphones and balloons that were on the scene at the entrance that day last fall.
"As we approached, the front door opened, and a group of people and media gathered about," Hallie recalls. "Since it was an election year, I thought maybe the governor of West Virginia was making an appearance at some political function. I started backing away from the door, but the people inside kept saying, 'No, no, come in, come in.' "
The fanfare, it turned out, was for the Schiavonis. Hallie was the four-millionth visitor to Tamarack since it opened in 1996. The couple was treated to a formal lunch in a secluded spot in the dining room, presented with a key to the city of Beckley, and awarded a $250 gift certificate to use in Tamarack's retail store.
"The craftsmanship exhibited by Tamarack's artists is superb, whether it's wood-carving or quilts," Hallie says. "It's the finest I've ever seen."
The premier stop to experience West Virginia's cultural heritage, arts and crafts and fine cuisine, Tamarack is nestled picturesquely in the Appalachian foothills. Six resident artists demonstrate their crafts daily in observation studios that focus on their expertise in textiles, glass, metal, wood, pottery and jewelry. Work from these artisans is available for purchase in Tamarack's retail store. Popular merchandise also includes an assortment of West Virginia wines, including merlots, Catawbas and the state's renowned ramp wine, an onion-flavored vintage used for cooking; musical instruments, ranging from dulcimers to thumb pianos and drums made of pottery; and quilts.
A juried Fine Arts Gallery showcases paintings, sculpture, printmaking and photography from around the state. The state's renowned Greenbrier Hotel manages Tamarack's food court, guaranteed to satisfy every appetite. Specials, such as Henry's tuna melt or Jake's chili, change daily. A favorite repast is fried green tomatoes, served as a sandwich, but also as a key ingredient in Tamarack's popular Appalachian breakfast omelet. Locally grown trout and catfish are also culinary staples. All entrees are served with West Virginia-made condiments.
Getting there is half the fun. The drive along the West Virginia turnpike, Hallie adds, is well worth the trip.
"The scenery is spectacular," she says. "I know it sounds a little corny, but when I look at these mountains and the depth of the woods as we drive through, I think about the pioneers, and how isolated it must have been for them. It's incredible when you think that these paths might be the ones the Indians and Daniel Boone may have trod upon."
Call 1-88/TAMARACK or visit www.tamarackwv.com for details.