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Rhododendron Trail

Floral pathways across state lead to beauty

The Inter-Mountain photo by Shannon Bennett  Campbel This Harrison County family is engaged in happy and excited conversation as they explore and take in park views.

As we may begin to grow weary of a common mantra these days, “Love thy neighbor; wear a mask,” I might suggest joining in a climb to take a walk upon a Rhododendron Trail.

One thing nice about a trail is that as it has a beginning, one will certainly get to the end. And, while there are wishes that “corona” would cease to be part of each day, we must look down the road a ways before we can lessen our vigilant efforts to stay well. We need to see our current condition not as an event, but a progression. And in many ways, we are making progress, but is it enough?

So, where do we find these Rhododendron pathways? Actually, they are almost everywhere in our high forested region and certainly make a splash as part of our State Park experiences. A recent journey to Blackwater Falls State Park on its re-opening day revealed budding Rhododendron almost everywhere.

With the announcement that West Virginia State Park stays will be discounted by 30% for West Virginia residents through Aug. 31, there has never been a better time to migrate to the woods and enjoy fresh air and a chance to see our beautiful State Flower, usually bursting forth in mid-to-late June.

Our state has one of the premier park systems in the country. Many have large lodges and cabins, spacious swimming pools, creeks and rivers, picnic areas and places for outdoor recreation, like horseshoes, softball, volleyball, biking and, of course, hiking.

Most West Virginia highway maps list not only available parks, but how places can be contacted to make reservations. One can also try wvstateparks.com and see that these beautiful recreation areas exist from Grandview near Beckley, to Fayetteville’s Hawk’s Nest, to Canaan Valley and Blackwater Falls near Davis, to Watoga between Lewisburg and Marlinton or Pipestem near Hinton, and these are only a few of the many choices one can review. Each has special features and fine restaurants — some with 18-hole golfing and fishing possibilities like Stonewall Jackson near Weston.

Prices are very reasonable and, quite frankly, I have not seen any television beach pictures lately that would lure me to Myrtle or Miami. The mountain passes look much more inviting and their pristine qualities of spacing and fresh air are sought-after commodities in these times.

For thousands of West Virginians, a Rhododendron Trail began in fourth-grade classrooms when they heard rumblings about West Virginia History. By fifth and sixth grade, they were given workbooks to complete detailing many of their state’s historical facts.

They learned that the Rhododendron Maximum became the State Flower by Gov. Atkinson’s ordered vote of West Virginia school children in 1901. With legislative adoption shortly after, it was designated as our official State Flower in 1903, according to the 2012 West Virginia Blue Book.

This Trail has been quite a climb for most. The native population who now know themselves as the “Baby Boomers” were born shortly after World War II concluded between l947 and 1965, and are a formidable lot. They are currently young enough to live active lives, but they are old enough to remember post-World War II events and presidents who engaged in the actual fighting and turmoil of this conflict.

Having survived the war, praying for continued peace was foremost on people’s minds. This may explain why there were no questions about whether one would be in Sunday school on Sunday morning. It only mattered as to which church the family would attend.

Many who grew up in this time period saw their high school days focusing on evening news broadcasts filled with Vietnam bombings and some young people got their dreams shattered as their post-high school trips took them to Hanoi, rather than a desired college.

Families had to work very hard to have money for their children’s college education, because it was an age when scholarship help was scarce. Those “Baby Boomers” who did not receive higher education learned trades necessary for living such as electrical, plumbing, welding, machinist or glass-blowing, among others to be able to support their families.

They contributed time to their churches and communities. Many had hobbies such as sporting events or hunting and fishing. They looked to God for help with troubles, complained little, because they knew they had been more fortunate than many before them, and while they may have not stood-out like bright shining stars, they, indeed, gave much of their time, brains and backbone to this country for a great while. They now find themselves retired and thought there would be some ease and additional relaxation.

If they had any fault at all, it has been in trying to always forgive others who have not been kind to them and not asserting themselves enough to see that “right” prevailed. Most believed that God wanted them to spread goodness, rather than be argumentative. They were never good at assertive behavior and refused to be aggressive. They became generally well-liked.

So, what kinds of thoughts do these Rhododendron Trail travelers have as they look into the West on a dying day?

They must have ideas all of a sudden about closure. What if contact is made with these “corona” virus germs and what will be their fate? Sometimes, they may consider getting their bucket-lists ready, but if they are like me, I have not even looked for a bucket, yet.

Should property be sold? Should disagreements be settled? Should lawyers be seen to prepare wills? The younger generations need to understand the seriousness of what their older friends and relatives are facing. None of these “Boomers” may get a second chance if they get this dreaded disease that is currently sweeping through the country.

This reason alone is why everyone (young and old) needs to take this problem seriously and keep precautions going until we have a good vaccine for it. This is not a game that ends. This is the longest game in which we may ever have to play to win.

There is not a “Baby Boomer” in West Virginia who would not appreciate everyone getting on-board to assist with the health problems they are facing. Many who are young have realized this and have given tirelessly to help medical workers, senior citizens and the hungry. But we need everyone to care and follow recommended safety guidelines.

As Michael Stutman reminds us, John Dickinson explained in his 1768 “Liberty Song,” “Then join hand in hand brave Americans all! By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!”

As my eyes look out before me and see the blooming Rhododendron bushes add their beauty to the landscape, I have to wonder what they think of us while looking back. What beauty do they see in our people and their purposes?

I can only pray that they see some Mountaineers determined to move mountains to stop this affliction. This is no common cold. This is a very serious problem. If you come in contact with someone who thinks it is not, please take some time to enlighten them. At least an entire generation of West Virginians will be grateful. The Rhododendron Trail is one we need to all walk together.

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