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Spiritual hiking in Cathedral Park

The Inter-Mountain photos by Shannon Bennett Campbell Cathedral State Park sits near Aurora. In 1983, the Society of American Foresters recognized the Park in its National Natural Areas Program as an ‘outstanding example of a vegetative community in a near natural condition.’

Most would agree that the life we are living today is certainly like a rough road. Not only are our daily routines altered, but it seems the difficulties others are having appear to collide with our challenges, too. We wonder if there are remedies to ease our current encounters. Fortunately, there are.

A place recommended to me several years ago by local historian Don Rice was my recent destination as my car climbed toward higher elevations from Elkins to Canaan Valley to Thomas and beyond to Route 50’s Red House, Maryland. Turning left and going only five more miles near Preston County’s Aurora, I found Cathedral State Park where Don and his wife, Carolyn, used to picnic.

From the highway, this area looked fairly plain. But after starting down one of the many walking trails there, I began to realize why a recommendation was made to visit. It is a place where one can have peace.

One will pass an occasional picnic table and some swings and outdoor furniture children will want to climb, but nothing else exists except a forest full of virgin Eastern Hemlock trees that almost touch the sky. The 133 acres offer a quiet reserve that calms any fear, and one can be sure God is listening there.

It might not be expected that much color will prevail, because the forest depth ensures plenty of shade. I was surprised to see bright, emerald hues emerging from moss-covered tree trunks that had fallen beside my path. And, of course, with autumn knocking at our doors, the beautiful changes that will result on tree-lined hills while getting to this place should be radiant with color as rain has been abundant this year.

The virgin Eastern Hemlock forest was obtained in 1942 from Brookeside Hotel owners with the understanding that it ‘would not be touched by saw or ax.’

With a trail guide available at the entrance office, one will want to wear walking shoes and have some snacks and drinking water for refreshment. Of course, I was delighted to be able to take some photos. But, beyond every step being a walk that will be remembered, the quiet breezes lend a gentle touch to one’s face, crickets have their voices heard, and you realize the forest is alive with a calm and calculated comfort.

Being a public place, other hikers will be coming on the trails, but they respect the silence and are, also, considerate of walking carefully. Over trickling streams, one must take bridges that only remind us of building strength to master any current difficulties. When one returns to the parking area to leave, there is a pause in one’s step and ability to move on. How can one depart from such a perfect place?

In preparing this month’s story, I came upon several important events that have taken place in the world of conservation and stewardship. I am pleased to see that these topics are front and center in the minds of those who can really make a difference for their future. According to a July 25 Inter-Mountain news report released by two West Virginia Nature Conservancy executives, Thomas Minney and Beth Wheatley, the U.S. Congress approved the Great American Outdoors Act recently that will support conservation projects and rehabilitation of our national parks for years to come.

It is no wonder why the outdoors would get so much attention when the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis in the Summer 2020 Nature Conservancy magazine ranks “Outdoor Recreation at $887 billion per year and is second only to Financial Services and Insurance in annual consumer spending.”

My August-September 2020 National Wildlife Federation magazine speaks of a new youth group it has formed similar to the ’30s and ’40s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that will begin projects on 80 million acres of national forests that need restoration and 12,000 species that are in need of conservation action. They hope to employ many youth in need of jobs and it appears activities will align with monies available from 2020 Congressional finance actions.

Families hike on one of seven graded trails. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are also possible in winter.

Perhaps the perfect closing for this month’s article is one I recall from my youth that appeared in a 1968 book, “I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes,” published by Hallmark Cards Inc. A young Jewish girl, Anne Frank, explained in her famous writings, “The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be.”

Do visit Cathedral State Park in Wild, Wonderful West Virginia and renew a valuable resource — hope.

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