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Mountaintop experiences abound in the forests, towns of Tucker County

June 4, 2011
By Shannon Bennett Campbell , The Inter-Mountain

Even though we have seen some slight departures from gasoline pump prices going up, up, up, our direction is taking us higher to match the times and heading us for a Mountain State Mini (a Wild, Wonderful three-day West Virginia vacation) in terrific Tucker County. We will wind north and east and head for a mountaintop experience that will bring us to two of our state's finest state parks.

Both Blackwater Falls and Canaan Valley are known for their splendor, and if one considers themselves a "back-to-nature buff," ecstasy will be revealed. Not only is there wilderness everywhere, but pristine beauty unlike most places one will ever visit. Let's call it our "Big Sky Country."

Every time I leave Harman and head toward Davis, I think of one of my mother's tunes she sang so often when I was young. "I want to wake up in the morning where the rhododendron grow." Selected by West Virginia school children in a l901 contest, the rhododendron became the state flower, and it blooms primarily this month.

Article Photos

Photo by Shannon Bennett Campbell
An eager photographer points his camera toward Blackwater Canyon’s panoramic view as a mix of pines and rocks provide a wilderness escape from daily toils. The beauty and peace of the landscape reflect why a mountain visit can balance life’s stresses and have such a healing effect.

When my Dad wanted to show us his fishing places, the family would take a mountain picnic. Favorite items were packed including canned meats, fruit, cheese, pickles, potato chips, ice box cookies, and iced tea or pop. Sometimes, a family friend would take a thermos of hot sloppy joe mix to pour on buns or some of her original beef salad mix using ground roast beef, onions and salad dressing. Only more delicious than the food were the views.

Dad would always cast a line to see if the fish were biting and we might catch a "mess of fish" for supper the next evening. Sometimes, we just would not have the right kind of bait, as fish seem to want variety in their menus, too.

Tucker County was always a favorite destination, and a photographer's dream. The cool mornings bid an early rise with campfire warming the hands. A rain shower the night before was actually welcome. Clearing the air of pollen and dirt particles only ensured a photogenic following day. One must be armed with plenty of film, because the landscape bears capturing from all sides to adequately portray the vistas. Widescreen capabilities are desirable. A discussion of this Allegheny Highlands region ensues. Certainly, one will notice that there are trees, more trees, and even more trees.

Authors Charles H. Ambler and Festus P. Summers in their l958 "West Virginia - The Mountain State" explains that by 1953, about 2,884,000 seedlings had been planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), 4-H groups and scouts throughout West Virginia and particularly this area. They noted that the "economic depression which settled upon the country in l929 proved to be a blessing in disguise for the West Virginia conservation movement because Gov. Herman Guy Kump got legislation passed to create a conservation commission in l933 to govern over renewable natural resources, such as forests, soils, water and wildlife. Kump planned for the hundreds of young men employed in the CCC to fight forest fires and man conservation projects to 'make our mountains, streams and forests the beautiful and inviting resorts to which they are wonderfully adapted.'" Latching hold of federal dollars to raise us out of depression poverty and utilizing monies to develop conservation projects was one of the very bright spots of Kump's administration. Had he not acted in this manner, we might not have had the Tucker County treasures we enjoy.

Blackwater Falls State Park typifies the Conservation Corps' work as its entrance greets one with many tall pines saluting as one moves into this recreation area with meandering roads, far-off peaks and yoked stream-trails throughout. Most go there to see the famous falls that accent the Blackwater River Canyon, but many know of large rocks that invite sitters/lookers who just like to gaze at the sunrise or sunset, meditate thoughtfully or dream.

Go there when you want to spend a "lazy-day," so the hiking, fishing, photo-op or pavilion chimney's fire can take their time and relaxation can set in. Top off the day with a wonderful ice cream sundae, made-to-order from the Blackwater Falls Lodge Restaurant. Small or large sizes are available. A small one filled me up for less than $2. And, be sure to take the children to the gift shop near the falls. There are several historical pieces there and literature, too. Some Christmas shopping could be done, also. For all the current activities going on at Blackwater, call 1-800-CALL-WVA or go to

Should one leave the ark and go north, count on seeing Thomas nearby and What a "find" this is with hand-crafted items all under one refurbished company store originally built in l900 and known then as Davis Coal and Coke Co. Focused on a thriving Internet business, a few prices are a bit high, but the quality is superb and if a special gift is desired, this would be a perfect place to find it.

Close by is the Picket Patch. Open Fridays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and full of hand-made seasonal clothing, primitive household decorator furnishings, kitchen foods, tea, chocolates and framed inspirational verses, this place gets a "WOW" rating.

If it happens that you are drifting through Thomas on a weekend evening, The Purple Fiddle may have some musical entertainment that can be enjoyed. They specialize in finding talent from far away places and providing a laid-back evening of melodies. Ice cream cones are also a specialty.

A few miles north beyond Thomas will get you to the Fairfax Stone State Park where the Maryland border is marked with a stone that was the center of a dispute that began in l733 and was not resolved in the courts until 1812, according to Ambler and Summers' text noted earlier. Recognized as the beginning of the North Branch of the Potomac River and planted in l746, West Virginia and Maryland argued about the stone's position and finally our 35th state lawyers prevailed.

Almost now being at the Preston County line, let us turn around and stop back by Davis' Sirianni's Cafe for some Olde World atmosphere and spicy Italian aromas. My favorite dish is their spinach salad with a homemade garlic dressing, rather than their heavier, robust, cheese-laden pasta dishes. A real mouthful, it is filling and very tasty.

Add a pizza-to-order and the trip will be complete. Only if you are famished will you be able to eat dessert, but plenty of scrumptious choices will be yours including both pies and cakes. Plan to spend a couple hours here as it invites leisure, laughter and lots of chatter.

If steak is on your mind, Mutley's (down-the-street) can help you, and do not forget moving on down the road to Big John's at Canaan Valley for a variety of burgers, barbecue and good fries. A large pond with ducks will be effective children's entertainment. Putt-putt golf is next door.

Canaan Valley State Park also has a full-menu restaurant and an especially nice breakfast buffet on weekends. While making a summer visit, either at their camping area, in a rental cabin, or staying at the lodge, enjoy the walks, the tennis courts, the fabulous swimming pool with large lounge chairs for suntanning or their well-known golfing.

If you are so lucky to be there for the "Celebration of the Arts" Independence Weekend gala, see the Wheeling Symphony perform in Canaan's wonderful outdoor theater scheduled for July 3 at 3 p.m. Sounds similar to those from Julie Andrews or Mother Superior in "The Sound of Music" fill the valley. This has to be a high-point in one's summer cultural connection.

Other Canaan Valley Resort events can be readily found by using the computer at or calling 1-800-6220-4121.

While there are many eateries in the Canaan Valley/Davis/Thomas area, another one that is always very busy is the Golden Anchor near the approach to Canaan Valley from Dryfork. Seafood, steaks and desserts are specialties. For a fancy dinner for two, you cannot go wrong here. Tables on their porch have served very large groups. A call ahead will cue you in on the evening's activities and they do not mind answering questions. Their very hospitable demeanor welcomes a return trip.

Near this restaurant is the turn-off for Dolly Sods, a wilderness area where blueberries are abundant in mid-to-late July. Take a back-pack, hiking stick, map and some survival foods and water, and hike until your heart is content. Be careful of overnight stays because a snake or two have been seen here. If roughing it is your passion, you are in the right place. Keep a compass handy as they try not to mimic Broadway here - signs are sparse. Nature rules.

The other side of Tucker County is active, also. Blackwater Outdoor Adventures offers rafting at their St. George location. Call l-304-478-3775 for directions and information. Return to Parsons in the evening and see the All Veteran's Memorial as you head for C.J.'s Pizzeria, a well-loved restaurant, that has great pizza and pasta treats. Their Bunuelo is a sweet wonder for meal-ending. On the other side of town sits the Parsons Country Inn. Specializing in steak and seafood, an all-you-can-eat seafood smorgasbord with 13 sea catches is featured every month on the first Saturday.

The century-old Parsons Railroad Depot on Main Street has some interesting native crafts and food specialties. Any child will enjoy seeing the moving train there on l32 feet of track. Check out George Smith's Scroll Saw Art at www.woodartbygeorge for a special souvenir.

As it sometimes happens, area residents will call to my attention certain events that they believe affected their lives as young Appalachians, too. This occurred as one businessman recounted the l985 flood where the Parsons business district was partly washed away and parts of family farms vanished at St. George. Flooding had an impact on my dad's life, too. As a sensational Central West Virginia southpaw pitcher, he missed his opportunity to try out with the Brooklyn Dodgers at Parkersburg because of the l950 flood blocking the roadways. He had gone out of his Weston home's second story window into a rowboat to save his life.

Sometimes, as people make fun of a lack of initiative or confidence in our people, they do not understand how many times set-backs have occurred because of natural disasters. Timing is often everything, and we have experienced plenty of tragedies, just as those who today live on the Mississippi River. Fortunately, West Virginia people care of one another and always seem to be at each other's rescue. Adding flood dams have also helped.

With rain levels picking up, we have to be conscious of how much foliage is disappearing from the hills that we depend on to absorb waters. Lumber cutting methods that demonstrate good stewardship are always appreciated. And many companies are concerned to plant seedlings to replace the trees that are removed. The Nature Conservancy has been active in this arena.

Henry David Thoreau once said, "In wildness is the preservation of the world." West Virginians are especially privileged to have more wild, wonderful areas than many places. During this summer season, we all hope to do our parts to keep the roadsides free of litter. We also need to make sure other Americans have an enjoyable time here, so they will want to return and be our economy stimulants.

Just as the Civilian Conservation Corps banded together to improve our outdoor environment, we should not have to experience poverty and depression to understand the value of these mountains and what they mean to all of us and tourists who make them their homes - even for a week. Their stateliness and magnificence speak for themselves and might say what writer and l949 Nobel Prize-winner in literature William Faulkner said once to the United Nations: (Like people), "they will not only endure, but prevail."

And, much of this is in our hands, our hearts and our legacies.



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