Our featured Mountain State Mini (a short, three-day Wild, Wonderful West Virginia vacation) today seems like a stone's throw from Elkins, and some would wonder if it offers enough excitement.
Well, the stone landed in one of the best swimming holes in West Virginia and continued skipping through the lines to find plenty of adventure for yourself and kin in Barbour County.
Four nice rivers flow north from their mountain origins and it is one of the year's prettiest times with hillside colors bursting forth like exploding fireworks. Springtime boasts as many different hues as autumn, according to forest management people who have instructed me. Very soon, the Mountain State streams will be warm enough for full-scale pursuit by "cannonball-minded" swimmers.
Sunlight melts into the river’s edge, and geese decide they will take a swim in one of Barbour County’s premier swimming holes. Audra State Park is a favorite destination, as well as many other roadside spots, that welcome those who love water recreation including swimming, boating, fishing and rafting.
As a child swimming in the Buckhannon River, I learned how to do a "cannonball" from Philippi Poolsharks. It is not a simple jump, as one must tuck legs under torso, wrap arms around legs, hold tight and jump into the water. The entire body hits the water like a projectile and everyone else in the swimming hole will have their mouths full of water and need their eyes wiped.
Only do this when you want someone to yell at you. It may not be their idea of peace and calm, but it sure is fun. I suggest the polite way of performing this feat by yelling "Cannonball!" before the jump. Everyone will appreciate the warning.
This is the way many Appalachian children spent much of their summers while growing up, especially during weekends when families could go camping.
However, during the week when parents were working, siblings were often called upon to help one another in significant ways. This may explain why family ties are so close among our mountain people. Being the oldest, I watched out for my brother each day.
My brother and I often bicycled to the tennis courts at our athletic field or rode on to our library where books could be had. My mother suggested to me that I read the "Twins' Books," a series about sets of twins from many world countries who took care of each other in their different environments.
My favorite book in that fifth-grade summer was "The Life of John Wesley." Being raised Methodist, I knew of him and wanted to understand more. Throughout my life, the Louis Bennett Public Library was a special place. Killed in World War I, Mr. Bennett was a member of Britain's Royal Air Force, and his parents donated their home for a public library in his honor. I am sure many my age spent lots of time reading as young people, because there was just not a lot to do in those days when school was not in session.
However, if it is the outdoors you enjoy, don't miss the sandy spots on the Buckhannon River, Buckhannon River's Middle Fork, Tygart River or waters past Tygart Junction near Campbelltown for a cool afternoon swim. Memorial Day weekend is a good target date for beginning. But, beware - the waters will always be a little on the chilly side until there are some warm nights.
Also keep in mind that an occasional crawdad might bite your toe. It will feel like a little pinch, but it will not hurt much. Wear shoes, if desired. Turtles, fish, muskrats or a rare snake may make an appearance as the wildlife move on to some different location where they will not be bothered by humans. Just give the animals a little time to decide which direction they want to escape and they will do their disappearing act without incident.
The soothing sunlight and warmth to be had here may begin at a country church, and there are many. As a child growing up, Barbour County family camping weekends were continuous for many years, and my parents always made sure my brother and I had a ride to Sunday school so our perfect attendance at our Weston's St. Matthew's United Methodist Church would go unblemished. Our country church teacher was very old and always hobbled slowly across a long bridge to get to the church. She made sure we understood the lesson from our study guide about "Heroes in the Bible." We colored pictures and sang songs. Popular Sunday school music at that time was "For the Beauty of the Earth," "In Christ There Is No East or West" and "Stand-Up, Stand-Up For Jesus." While watching TV's Art Linkletter, I heard the Swiss Miss Universe explain that her most fond memory of her American visit was the little white churches that dotted the West Virginia landscape. They reminded her of her homeland.
These would be similar to the Mount Vernon United Methodist Church that sits adjacent to its cemetery, a sight to behold on Memorial Day weekend. If you have never seen this American flag display, plant yourself on Route 119 halfway between Century and Philippi and experience something that makes you believe you are on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It may not be Arlington, but if you want to avoid a long trip, this will work. The display makes one feel patriotic, respect the brave and know God is watching from lofty skies. As you gaze upon those long-passed, you will gain some sense of responsibility for the future. Skip the parades this year and spend a quiet moment at this place. It may have a "forever" effect.
While traveling Route 119, you are sure to pass by the famous Philippi Covered Bridge. Built by Beverly's Lemuel Chenoweth, it was used by both the North and South during the Civil War's first land battle. The Blue and Gray Reunion, scheduled this year June 2-5, accents the turbulent times the bridge has seen. Rendered to flames itself a few years ago, the bridge was restored to its full beauty by dedicated West Virginians. This event attracts many re-enactor soldiers, artillery groups, Civil War bands and loyal ladies with positioned parasols. Visitors will imagine they are living in the 1860s for sure, especially if they are standing beside a cannon that goes off. Try not to let this happen, the heart will skip more than one beat.
While in Philippi, the Railroad Station Museum is a good stop with mummies that are a Mountaineer medical science marvel. Another big summer event is the Smokin' on the Tygart Chili Cook-Off on June l8. Be at the courthouse by 9 a.m. if you plan to enter the contest. A glance toward the hill above Philippi will reveal Alderson-Broaddus College, a Baptist institution that has very good preparation in medical sciences and communication skills. Its visible chapel's cross may say it all.
"I've Got Peace Like a River" might be the theme song of Barbour County. Let's look at Audra State Park - open now daily for visitors until 10 p.m. What a great feeling to sit on a rock with feet hanging in the water getting cooled as the sun beats down on your back. Sunglasses a must - lots of protective sunscreen lotion, a bathing suit, an intertube and one is set for a swim, boatride, fishing or just being a "kid" again. Everyone deserves this treat at least a couple times every summer.
If the drive to Audra is not possible as you travel Corridor H between Ellamore and the intersection lights a few miles west of Elkins, you might want to wander under the Ellamore Bridge, leap into the Buckhannon River at Hall or go beyond to the Carrolltown Bridge toward Tygart Junction and see the flow go toward Philippi. River swimming is cheap, but requires skill, and familiarity is recommended. Some local folks could be consulted about river currents, depths and pointed rocks before a swimming trip begins. Life-jackets, intertubes and floats are helpful.
When you get tired from swimming, take a rest and prepare for an evening of fishing. Cooler waters make muskies take ferocious bites and warmer evenings invite bass and sunfish to find your pole. Muddy, rising waters will attract catfish. Occasionally, a turtle will chew on the bait. If one is serious about turtle capture, let them chew a long time before pulling in the line. For me, a big platter of frog legs would be tastiest. A worthy Division of Natural Resources goal might be to get back the frogs on these rivers. Something is either killing them or eating them, and humans do not hear them hollering much anymore. I spent many a night holding a light for frog-giggers in my dad's boat.
Speaking of frogs and peepers, Pleasant Creek Wildlife Refuge sits a few miles out of Philippi going toward Grafton on Routes 119 and 250. You will think you are bordering Eden when you find yourself in the middle of it. All types of waterfowl, deer, beavers, woodchucks and fish are supported by this ecosystem. If you just want to picnic and soak up nature, listen to outdoor sounds, paint a picture, snap a photograph or take a quick nap in a sunny spot, a stop here will fill the bill - no charge for looking.
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Donald Smith tells me some other upcoming events include a July 2 Demolition Derby, and the Barbour County Fair Aug. 27 to Sept. 2, both at the Barbour County Fairgrounds between Belington and Philippi. He also noted that this area is very proud of the showmanship of the Philip-Barbour Colt Band. More than 200-strong, the group recently performed in Chicago's St. Patrick's Day Parade. I agreed that it was a sight to behold to see the powder blue uniforms and white feather plumes moving down a parade route with brigade precision and tumultuous sound. "Strong Board of Education support of the middle school music feeder programs is essential for this success," Smith noted.
So, after reading about camping, swimming and watching parades, is anyone getting hungry besides me? Food will not be a problem around Philippi, but I would take a loaded picnic basket and cooler to Audra or any roadside excursion. One of the oldest and best known establishments is the Philippi Inn on Route 250, two miles from downtown. Baked steak, burgers, great coleslaw, homemade pies and wonderful rolls are among their specialties.
Another longtime favorite is up the road to Belington where we find more home-baked pastries. As one peers at the Laurel Mountain Restaurant pie case, the 2 1/2-inch meringue almost waves back. A 20-minute ride from Elkins, it is worth missing an evening television show to be able to enjoy these desserts.
If "barbecue" is on your mind, do not pack the car for North Carolina. Just get to downtown Philippi and Main Street's Smokey Ray's will keep your juices flowing. It's open each day from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., except Sundays, and hours are extended to l0 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
No time to stop or cook. Downtown Philippi has it all - pizza, hot dogs, Chinese, KFC, Hardee's, and some other nice take-out food places, along with McDonald's and a soft-swirl ice cream stand on the edge of town are open most day-time hours to get any meal packed.
For a fun weekend, visit the folk in and around Philippi. A drive through their countryside offers pastoral scenes of new lambs and calves standing by weathered barns in bright green pastures with pewter-like rustic fences stretching in all directions. You will smell crabapple blossoms and magnolia fragrances, and see flowering pear trees, dogwood, redbud and lilacs, and wonder what you have done to deserve such a beautiful rural experience.
How can we be so lucky to know the beauty of West Virginia? Everywhere we splash our feet, rhododendron greet us. As I spoke to the judges during the State Finals of the l969 West Virginia Inter-Scholastic Public Speaking Tournament at WVU's Creative Arts Center, philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. said he believed, "Every right implies a responsibility, every opportunity an obligation, every possession a duty." We, who have remained in West Virginia and have seen so many of our relatives leave for work elsewhere or for opportunities for higher paying positions, have struggled trying to fulfill Rockefeller's sentiments with the difficult problems we sometimes find here.
As this Memorial Day will soon be upon us, let us at least give ourselves some well-deserved rest and recognition. All of us work hard every day, many like performing soldier duties, to ensure a good life for ourselves and our families. Maybe we live in the beauty of the mountains because our efforts are noticed. Maybe there is an appreciation for a people who still worship on Sunday and gain strength to meet life's challenges not with pessimism, but with hope. I am sure all will continue working toward this worthy expectation.
As my Philippi-born husband says, "We are not the problems, we are the solutions."
We must simply immerse ourselves, as Rockefeller suggested, in life's challenges. In the meantime, someone is calling for me up where we usually swim.
(Shannon Bennett Campbell is a freelance writer and photographer doing post-doctoral studies at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.)