April 2009 Issue
Head for West Virginia’s state parks for hiking, fishing and high-quality entertainment.
Hike a trail zigzagging deep into a vale, hop on a tram slicing high into the air —West Virginia’s state parks have you covered from hill to holler.
The Mountain State contrasts don’t stop there. For as calming as it can be to picnic by a stream, listen for a bird call or sniff a wildflower, the state’s 36 parks keep up a frenzied calendar of programming, too.
Head out to fly fish, golf and hike, or sit down to the final dinner on the Titanic — just bring your life jacket.
Birds and Blooms
You’ll be in expert hands when staffers from the Division of Natural Resources lead the Annual Spring Bird Walk April 18 at Prickett’s Fort State Park in Fairmont. Birders will meet in the lower parking lot at 8 a.m., armed with binoculars and sturdy shoes. Wildflowers, too, will receive their homage with the 48th Annual West Virginia Wildflower Pilgrimage May 7–9 at Blackwater Falls State Park in Davis. Reservations are required for a weekend of bird walks, wildflower tours, nature programs and beginner wildflower and bird identification workshops. Bring a camera, because the falls are one of the most photographed scenes in West Virginia.
For more birding expertise, you might want to swing by Pipestem State Park in Pipestem for a chat with naturalist Jim Phillips.
“He’s one of the best birders in the state,” says Patrice “Sissie” Summers, who organizes programming for West Virginia State Parks. “He wants people to go away having learned something — without knowing it.” Hike as little or as long as you like, then check out the birds through a large window inside the nature center.
West Virginia is a good day outdoors any time you lace up your boots, but some walkers head to the parks especially for National Trails Day, the signature trail awareness program of The American Hiking Society. This year, the big hike is June 6.
Cacapon Resort State Park invites you to “Hike across West Virginia” that day, following a 10-mile stretch across the ridge of Cacapon Mountain. Start at the park in Berkeley Springs and you’ll slice across the state on a short cross-section in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle.
Or try another 10-mile trek along the Greenbrier River Trail, which closely follows its namesake river. The National Trails Day adventure is a guided walk along the river, from Milepost 46 near Seebert to Milepost 56 on the river trail. The parks will provide free water and shuttles. At the end of the hike, reward yourself with a splash in the Greenbrier.
High-tech Treasure Hunt
Geocaching is hiking with a purpose: to find “treasure” by using a GPS. The coordinates of a geocache are listed on the Internet, and hunters follow their GPS systems to the find the cache — usually a small box containing an object or objects, along with a log book. Etiquette is to stay on the trails, protect wildlife and replace any item you remove from the box. If there’s a camera, be sure to snap your photo.
West Virginia state parks require an annual permit to place a cache, and each is marked with an “official geocache” sticker. At present, there are more than 85 posted around the state, including Goldilock’s Worst Nightmare at Beartown State Park, Evil Sorcerer’s Castle at Coopers Rock and Mom’s on the Run at Chief Logan State Park.
“It’s a high-tech, personal game outside,” Summers says. “It’s one of the few bridges we’ve discovered to get people outside in a techno world.”
Enticed by the thought of rainbow trout finning serenely through the cool waters of the Bluestone River? Then mount your steed and ride in for a trout-wrangling adventure at Pipestem Resort State Park.
The package, through April 25 with other dates available by request, includes lodging at the Mountain Creek Lodge, a horseback ride to the river, two days’ fishing and more. Groups are small, with a maximum of 10 people.
Then, of course, there’s the food.
“You get four squares a day,” says Summers. “Your guide is your cook, and he grills steaks, chicken and sausages.”
At the lodge, Eric Stalnaker is a Greenbrier-trained chef who knows his way around everything from filet to fish.
“We had one guest who goes out West to fly fish, and he said he’d pay the same for three days in West Virginia as one day in Montana, and have the same experience.
“For each generation, parks have always been affordable for any family,” Summers says. “Some people think, ‘Well, it’s so inexpensive it can’t be good,’ but we work to keep the packages reasonable.”
Golfers believe that their drives go farther at higher altitudes. Test this theory and earn a 20 percent discount when you play the courses at Twin Falls and Pipestem State Parks. Just save your greens fee receipt from playing one of the parks during specified times, then take your clubs that day or the next to its partner course. You’ll save 20 percent on greens fees and a lodge room at your second park.
Golfers who like a challenge with their mountain air tee off at two state park courses: Cacapon Resort in Berkeley Springs and the Stonewall Resort in Roanoke. Located at 2,300 feet, Cacapon was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and features signature water hazards, including three ponds and several small mountain streams. Arnold Palmer designed the beautiful Stonewall course, ranked among the nation’s top 100 resort courses by Golfweek magazine.
Johnny Parker was a lumberjack in the heyday of logging. Like his fellow “wood hicks,” he’d stay up on Cheat Mountain for six months at a time, wielding his ax to fell the forest.
One day in December 1918, Parker came down the mountain to collect his pay from the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company in Cass. Somewhere between booking a hotel room, joining a game of cards and enjoying some female company, he turned up dead.
Ninety-one years later, it’s your job to hop on the Cass Scenic Railroad and try to help Pocahontas County Sheriff Link Cochran solve Parker’s murder. You’ll interview a rogues’ gallery of suspects: a game-of-chance specialist, moonshine distributor and the entertainment director for the lonely logger.
The murder mystery train will chug up the mountain four times: May 22, July 3, July 31, Aug. 14, Sept. 4 and Sept. 25.
Like a mirage suddenly appearing out of river fog, Blennerhassett Island arises from the Ohio River near Parkersburg.
Native Americans, of course, visited the island for centuries, but it gained true fame — some say infamy — in 1798, when Irish aristocrats Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett built a gracious Palladian home here. Harman became involved with Aaron Burr’s plans for an empire in the American Southwest, and President Thomas Jefferson accused both men of treason. The Blennerhassetts fled their beloved home, the architectural rival of Mount Vernon.
Although Harman was released from prison, his reputation was ruined and the family moved south. Their beautiful home, with a winding staircase and extensive library, went up in flames in 1811.
West Virginia state archaeologists later discovered the foundations and rebuilt the 7,000-square-foot home.
The island still appears as an idyll out of time as you arrive by sternwheeler, then step into a horse-drawn carriage or explore by bike. Boats leave from Point Park in downtown Parkersburg May through October. This year, the state park system will buy its own genuine sternwheeler “so we’ll have greater flexibility in getting to the island,” Summers says.
Hop the boat in the morning and you can even have brunch with Margaret Blennerhassett on July 16, Aug. 20, Sept. 10 and Sept. 24. Mrs. Blennerhassett, as portrayed by Deborah Conner, will invite passengers in for tea and scones, then lead them on a tour of her grand home. Before reboarding, be sure to tour the museum and trundle along on the narrated wagon ride tour, all part of your reserved time-travel ticket.