While the 75th Mountain State Forest Festival envelopes Elkins to the delight of many locals and visitors, others may be planning ahead for one more Mountain State Mini, three-day West Virginia vacation.
Point the vehicle toward the county of Pendleton, where quiet country roads provide what has been described as "the scenic jewel of the Potomac Highlands." It's there that the mountain peaks do not get any higher, nor do the frost-smitten roadsides get any more radiant. It is a perfect example of why Elkins and Randolph County have given recognition to our forest resources for so many years.
After being schooled near New York City's Columbia University and seeing only concrete upon which children had to play their outside games, I gained an appreciation for my native soil. My neighborhood friends had a big field to visit every evening after school, and I threw many-a-touchdown passes to my brother who played for the high school team.
Photo by Shannon Bennett Campbell
West Virginia’s highest point, Spruce Knob, at 4,863 feet provides a panoramic view of the Allegheny Mountains as a backdrop for an approaching autumn with rust-colored leaves adorning the pine-forested pinnacle.
The children in my community were not unlike those around these mountain areas where sports are an important part of their lives and the hometown team means everything to them. I served as a cheerleader, some were involved in the band, and Friday night football was the highlight of the week. Many of these traditions carry on, and while soccer, cross-country running and golf have made a splash, I think most would agree that football still rules.
President Theodore Roosevelt also believed in outdoor recreation. According to National Geographic, he gave public protection to 230 million acres in establishing l50 national forests and additional national parks. His conservationist ideas were manifested in West Virginia with our state park and forest system, which continues to actively serve state residents and visitors.
One of our premier spots is Pendleton County's Spruce Knob within the Monongahela National Forest. With a location of 4,863 feet above sea level, it is the highest point in West Virginia's Allegheny Highlands. To get there, stay on Route 33 east from Elkins to Riverton and find the turn-off to this mountain a couple miles beyond. Head your car straight up the hill and accelerate past frisky chipmunks that will share the road with you as you gaze at wildflowers such as goldenrod, white snakeroot, pale blue touch-me-nots and burnt-orange blooming sumac trees. Grab a jacket, because the lower temperatures will be evident. Arrive at the top, take a short, windy walk to the observation tower extending 900 feet above the ground, and check out West Virginia sprawling for miles beneath your feet. It is an incredible feeling to know that somewhere out there your family dines, your neighbors pray, your employer plans, your children sleep. And, we all share in what takes place.
Maybe, you will be lucky to see a glider, as I did on my trip. He headed for a Circleville landing spot near Nelson Rocks, which has become a center for training mountain rescue teams. Known as The Via Ferrata, or path of iron, an installed anchor system and steel cables are used to assist participants on four-hour repelling tours.
If one is fascinated by the rocks, another must-visit is the Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area and Seneca Shadows Campground where camping sites, hot showers and electrical hook-ups are available.
This stop is across the highway and at the foot of Allegheny Mountain at Route 33/55 and Route 28 where Yokum's Vacationland and Harper's Old Country Store have been tourist stops for years. And, not far away is the famous Seneca Caverns.
Local legend has it that these caverns were first discovered and used by the Seneca Indians around l400 A.D. The tribe used them for ceremonial ritual, as well as for refuge from inclement weather and opposing tribes. Commercial tours did not begin until l928. The creamy-white "flowstone" seen there, gleaming like a waterfall, started developing 460 million years ago.
My parents brought me to see these caverns one Sunday after church when I was 12. While I was fascinated by the caves, I did not like being underground. This probably explains why I did not like the New York City subway, either. But, the ride to Seneca Rocks was memorable and the beauty of autumn almost indescribable. Has anyone ever seen a more beautiful sight than our mountains lit up in colors? Not to worry if you cannot get to New England this year.
The 43rd annual Treasure Mountain Festival, hosted recently in Franklin, portrayed the best of this area and was recognized as the 2010 Spirit of West Virginia Award Winner by the Governor's Conference on Tourism. In the opinion of the review committee, "this event best represented volunteer efforts to develop and enhance community pride while preserving the state's cultural, historical or natural heritage and beauty."
Traveling through Pendleton County can be varied and interesting because several modes are used. A terrific Walking Tour of Franklin is available with many Victorian homes and older churches and businesses included. An excellent brochure has been produced and can be obtained from the local Chamber of Commerce Office by calling 304-358-3884 or www.visitpendleton.com. Hiking trails are also plentiful. Additionally, bicycling is becoming popular, and while those grades are steep, the views are breathtaking and offer pristine farmscapes that will remain vibrant memories upon departure. Pendleton County must be one of the cleanest and well-maintained areas I have seen in West Virginia. Do they call it Pendleton Pride?
If one is among the hunting and fishing crowd who invade this county in this year's quarter, the forests have lower mass than last year's record crop, according to a MetroNews anchor Chris Lawrence. Both Shenandoah National Forest and the Monongahela National Forest consume nearly l30,000 acres of this county, and its seclusion and thick tree-laden hillsides boast outstanding wildlife habitat. To obtain a hunting or fishing license online, go to www.wvdnr.gov. Other nearby outlets would be Walmart or Kmart stores. When dropping your fishing line in the streams, look for those native types. While generally smaller, the taste from the frying pan's finish is one that is a winner. My dad caught many of these brook variety trout during his "trips to the mountains," and family meals were special as we divided his catch. Better yet, were the stories he told about his experience in very rural West Virginia. What would a West Virginian be without a story to tell?
Perhaps, the 254-member Pendleton County Historical Society should be the ones telling stories. Its recent newsletter outlined the next meeting at 1 p.m. on Oct. l5 at the Kenny Simmons Cave. Members are very active not only by relating county history, but helping with genealogy studies that map many ancestors and settlers who arrived in West Virginia from Maryland.
With so many mountains and agricultural areas, one would wonder whether they could find accommodations here. Just pull up the webpage www.pendletoncounty.net and check for the desired lodging. Guest cabins, bed and breakfast arrangements, hotels, motels and several good restaurants will surface. The Gateway Restaurant at Spruce Knob's base has perfect old-fashioned butterscotch pie and the Korner Shop Cafe in Franklin makes its original owner Charles "Peanut" Thompson's favorite sandwich with shaved sirloin, fried onions, mayo, tomato and lettuce with melted Swiss cheese that is luscious. I cannot wait to return to check out some other Pendleton deli treats.
Life is old there. Greeted with squirrel gravy on hot cakes and sassafras tea, home fires were beginning to burn with falling temperatures and wood chopping commencing for winter's wrath. It is quickly apparent from driving through the mountain canyons that life is different and more deliberate; survival is often dependent on how well these mountaineers are prepared for winter winds and snowfalls.
While Roosevelt may have not spent a great deal of time in the Mountain State, he certainly left his thumbprint on our future. "The object of government is the welfare of the people," he once said. "Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but, I do not recognize the right to waste them, or rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us." These were his words in Osawatomie, Kan., on Aug. 31, l910.
Here we sit 100 years later, living in one of the most beautiful spots on this earth. And, what are we going to offer the future generations? This will be answered in the hearts and minds of many who are landowners. And, it will be a question of personal gain or public welfare. Can it be both?
Roosevelt said in a 1911 California speech, "It is true of the nation, as of the individual, that the greatest doer must also be a great dreamer." So, the dreamers would imagine as they passed through this marvelous mountain area simply that ways we change the mountain contours and slopes will be ways we choose to change our lives. The doer would suggest that the consequences or outcomes should always be considered before we fix something. What is the old Appalachian saying? It may not be broken in the first place.
(Shannon Bennett Campbell is an educator, writer and photographer who resides in Elkins.)