Should You Spend Time Outdoors During The Coronavirus Outbreak?

We realize that our last article was primarily about the benefits of getting outside — and what our legislators were doing to make the natural environment more appealing for younger generations. But that’s on hold. A dangerous pandemic has quickly raced across our world. A new coronavirus has infected over 100,000 Americans already, and the disease it causes, COVID-19, has killed thousands.

These numbers don’t look so dire in comparison to the seasonal flu — which unfortunately is what the new virus is normally compared to — until you look at the data a few weeks out. We’re experiencing exponential growth, which is something the human mind has difficulty comprehending. 

It works something like this.

Take this example: You’re in a car going from zero to 60 in ten seconds. It takes you five seconds to get to 20 mph. It takes you another 3 seconds to get to 40 mph. In the final two seconds, you reach 60 mph. Although you were accelerating the entire time, the rate of acceleration itself became faster. You were able to add more speed in less time as a result.

That is what this virus is doing. Although it might look like it’s moving slow to the laymen, we’re on pace to see thousands of deaths in America every day only a few weeks from now. We will eclipse annual deaths from the flu in no time at all.

Considering the danger to us all is escalating faster and faster, the question remains: Should you spend time outdoors during the coronavirus outbreak?

The answer depends on who you are and where you live. Those living in big cities might find it difficult to avoid hordes of people, whereas those living in rural areas won’t have any problem taking a walk around the block without seeing a soul. Some local and state governments are beginning to close down trailheads, but you’re free to go for a hike until they do.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) recently acknowledged that thru-hikers should consider abandoning the trail because of the sudden flood of new hikers who have become stir-crazy sitting around at home. Trail infrastructure like privies and shelters cannot be sanitized and could become tools to help spread the virus. They should be avoided.

Still, natural environments are a key part of good health. Get outdoors if possible. Remember: if you cross paths with other people, stay at least six feet apart. It might feel silly, but it could save your life — and the lives of the ones you love the most.

West Virginia Legislators Want To Make Sure You Get Outdoors!

Many legislators and public officials in West Virginia are taking note of how many people are participating in outdoor activities when compared to other historical periods. Although more people can be seen outside walking or running these days, the overall trend has been down regarding physical exercise. West Virginia isn’t called the Mountain State for nothing, and with all the crazy outdoors locations it has to offer, it’s about time to promote them!

Part of the reason is how jobs have changed over the past few decades. There are fewer farmers, and that number is going down even more in today’s economy (which contrary to popular belief isn’t actually doing all that well when you take into consideration overall gross domestic product — which is the best indicator we have of a healthy economy).

West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Wildlife Section Chief Paul Johansen said, “This is the single most important issue facing our group today.”

There are also many fewer people who take the time to hunt or fish for their own food. While some people might be depressed by the numbers (only 12 percent of West Virginians hunt, and only 4 percent fish), there’s a bigger problem: permits for those activities are how the state pays for conservation efforts, which have been struggling for a long while.

Director of Programs at the Wildlife Management Institute Matt Dunfee said, “The wildlife in America belongs to everybody, but only about 10 to 20 percent are paying for it. That’s extremely inefficient.”

That’s why the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources decided to concoct a plan to overcome these obstacles. They want to implement a movement called “R-3,” which stands for “Recruiting, Retention, and Reactivation.”

What does that mean, exactly? Well, recruiting means getting more people to obtain those licenses by promoting the benefits of hunting and fishing, or just generally being outdoors. Retention means keep those people who have already been recruited so the aforementioned percentages of people enjoying these activities doesn’t flatline in the future. Reactivation means using the financial resources procured to make the outdoors better for everyone.

Dunfee said, “We had been doing a really good job of taking care of our base. We were taking our kids hunting and fishing, and our neighbors’ kids hunting and fishing, but the rest of the nation was moving on without us. It turns out the Baby Boomers were our solid core. We weren’t recruiting new hunters and anglers, we were really just making more of our own culture and America needed us to reach out to them as well.”

How Dangerous Is The West Virginia Wilderness?

Sometimes it can be difficult to imagine balancing the obvious dangers of bad health with the less-defined dangers of what we might actually encounter when we go outside for some exercise. For example, we all know exactly how dangerous heart disease and diabetes are. We know how much they diminish overall life expectancy. But those of us who like to venture out into the forests, hills, and mountains should have a decent idea of the dangers we face, too.

The good news is this: most of the dangers are overblown.

For example, we grow up with the belief that bears are dangerous. And why shouldn’t we? They’re scary! But they’re not actually as bad as we often make them out to be. Did you know that black bears are more scavenger than hunter? They have an omnivorous diet. Depending on the season, they find a lot of sustenance in berries, nuts, and fish. But they’ll also take a meal when they find it.

That means they might steal the remainder of a predator’s meal if the predator is dumb enough to leave it alone. They might do the exact same thing of a hiker’s meal if he’s dumb enough to leave it alone! And that’s how bears become dangerous. When they learn to associate humans with food, they become more aggressive. Still, there are only about three deaths per year in all of North America. Doesn’t mean you don’t have to be careful how you act around them, but it does mean your fears are overblown.

Pretty much everything else you can think of has killed more humans per year: ants, bees, deer, moose, snakes, spiders, and humans. In fact, humans are the apex predator as far as dangerous animals are concerned. Stay away from them when you go outside and you should have less to worry about.

Pedestrians are also ripe targets for the foul car gone astray, so try to stay off roads. You’ll be much safer in the woods!

That said, accidents do happen. Although data is difficult to ascertain regarding injuries and deaths in the woods or on mountains, we can look to national parks for insight since so many people visit each year. The most deaths in American national parks result from drowning, falling, and motor vehicle accidents (i.e. you’re still safest in the woods).

In the entire National Park System, about 160 people die annually. 

Public affairs officer Jeremy Barnum spells it out: “For example, when looking at fatality rates during the 2007-2013 time frame, the average rate is .57 deaths/1 million visits.”

“Overall,” he says, “the risk of being injured or killed while visiting a national park is very low when we look at rates across the NPS.”

So keep on exploring!

What Are The Most Scenic Areas Of West Virginia?

West Virginia is home to some of the most diverse landscapes in all of the United States — but few people realize it unless they live there. Did you know that the largest lake in West Virginia is spread out across more than 26,000 acres of land? Not only that, but Summersville Lake is also insanely beautiful! West Virginia is also popular for those looking to explore both above and below ground, with a number of stunning hikes with great views from high mountaintops — or deep within the earth’s crust.

National Parks always get the most credit, but there are hundreds of other locations recognized as “national” landmarks around the country. One such jewel is called the Dolly Sods Wilderness in Monongahela National Forest, which is itself located in the Allegheny Mountains. Those peaks might not gain as much attention as the nearby Appalachian Mountains, but some wildlife enthusiasts beg to differ. The region is home to many unique plant and animal species.

Those who are more interested in climbing than hiking can visit the Seneca Rocks. Not only are they beautiful, but they offer a strenuous challenge even for experienced rock climbers.

The New River Gorge is one of the state’s premier destinations. The view from up high is breathtaking, whether on a mountainside or along the bridge hovering over the river below. Sightseers love the great photo op, but you can find plenty of areas to hike as well. More into kayaking or rafting? This is a great place to go.

Beartown State Park was named because of its many caves, which early visitors believed would provide ample real estate for West Virginia’s healthy black bear population. A wooden walkway allows hikers to take in the scenery from an elevated position over the rocks.

You cannot leave West Virginia until you’ve photographed the immensely popular Blackwater Falls in the state park of the same name. You won’t need to go far to find the most popular sights, but there are plenty of opportunities to venture even farther.

Looking for spelunking opportunities? Find them inside the Lost World Caverns in Lewisburg. They’re none too shabby for those who enjoy exploring underground paths, but they’re also home to thousands of bats — which sometimes puts visitors off. 

We always recommend visiting a state’s high point to check an item off the bucket list, and Spruce Knob in Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area is where you’ll find West Virginia’s. Not in the mood to hike a time-consuming (and excruciating) 14 miles to the summit? Don’t worry — you can just drive straight to the top and walk another quarter of a mile to find Spruce Knob’s observation point.

Bike Paths Are Becoming More Popular: Where To Find Them In West Virginia

People are exercising much more often than they were just a decade ago. They’re out running and biking in increasing numbers, and we’re glad to see it. But those increasing numbers of pedestrians are also increasing the numbers of car accident-related fatalities. We want this number to go down as much as possible, and that means keeping outdoor activity to dedicated footpaths and bike paths. Here’s where to find the newest bike paths in West Virginia!

Much of the relevant work is being done in Harrison County, where labor continues to close the gaps in existing rail trails. For example, the West Fork River Rail Trail extends just over 17 miles from Shinnston to Fairmont. Trails like these aren’t just great for personal health — they’re great for the economy, too. That’s why Harrison County Commissioner Patsy Trecost is advocating for more development.

Harrison County Commission President Ron Watson said, “From my perspective, the goal was to have a rail trail with Clarksburg as a hub.”

That includes an ongoing project to complete the North Bend Rail Trail. Another would link Pittsburgh to Parkersburg, and would run all the way through Harrison County. Although the trails are becoming more popular — which means they’re bringing more money into the towns where they’re built — it’s still difficult to find enough grant money to complete them in a timely fashion. There are also technical difficulties and communication issues that lead to stalling.

For now, there are plenty of other rail trails where we can bike or walk without worrying about vehicular traffic.

The Gauley Mountain Trail at SlatyFork is one of the more difficult trails. Most rail trails have a maximum single percent grade (because they were originally built for trains, of course), but this one is different. If you’re looking for more adventure, this is your first stop.

The Clovis Loop bike trails are only slightly less difficult. This network is mostly made for mountain bikers, so keep that in mind.

The Greenbrier River Trail in Eastern West Virginia is more on par with other rail trails. The full 78 miles is mostly hard-packed gravel and runs at only a 1 percent grade. Those who aren’t accustomed to biking long distances will still have a rough time going the full distance between Lewisburg and Marlington, though.

If you’re looking for shorter trails to walk or bike along, there are two more good options: The Meadow River Trail in Nallen and the Cranberry Tri-Rivers Trail in Richwood. The former includes a few really cool paths along a bridge and through an old tunnel, while the latter is much more scenic — and also includes a very long tunnel. Bring a headlamp for that one!

West Virginia Tourism On The Rise After Fallout 76 Peaks Interest

The fictional video game “Fallout 76” takes place during an alternate timeline in an apocalyptic world following an apparently world-wide nuclear holocaust. The “Fallout” series is much beloved, although this new installment was met with almost universal criticism because of how game creators chose to implement new multiplayer features. For all that criticism, though, it seems gamers still like it enough to want to see the place where “Fallout 76” is set — West Virginia. 

In “Fallout 76” you take on the role of a character who has lived in an underground “vault” since the bombs fell. The first quest in the game is called “Reclamation Day.” This holiday was meant to celebrate the day that humans once again stepped out into the real world to build a life for themselves.

But West Virginia Governor Jim Justice decided to suck people into his state by making Reclamation Day a real holiday.

No, seriously.

Justice’s proclamation lists the various locations a player can visit in-game, although with the innumerable historical and cultural references. What better way to learn about West Virginia? But the “holiday” isn’t as official as it gets, which means although it’s recognized by the state, it isn’t technically a state holiday. You can’t legally take the day off from work. Oh well.

Before the game was released, David Sibray’s website WVExplorer.com experienced much increased traffic. “Typically we had been getting around 2,000 people a day. Now we’ve been up to around 30,000 people a day.”

West Virginia might just be one of the most undervalued and underrated states in the country — but it also encompasses one of the most interesting histories and some of the most diverse landscapes the country has to offer. 

Camden Park, a location in “Fallout 76,” found its phone lines busy before the game was released last year. “We’ve gotten calls in the office about people wanting to buy T-shirts from here just because of the game,” said one employee, Autumn Smithers, who says she will buy the game because the park is featured.

Camden Park Ride Supervisor Shawn Wellman said the park is preparing for increased traffic over the next year or two. “This is kind of a first,” he said. “That we have been in a video game, and that will impact us like this. We’ve never had this kind of national publicity, so we are waiting to see what happens.”

Which Long Distance Hikes Run Through Beautiful West Virginia?

Those who know about long-distance hiking will always look forward to the next opportunity for a grand adventure. West Virginia is a small state, but it’s best known for its great stretches of wilderness — and that means great hiking, biking, birding, fishing, etc. Do you have what it takes to go on a long-distance backpacking trip? Here are some of the trails that run through West Virginia.

  1. The Allegheny Trail runs for 330 miles along the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia. Hikers can start in the south at an intersection with the legendary Appalachian Trail on the border with Virginia, or they can start in the north at the Mason-Dixon line on the Pennsylvania border. Those who wish to hike farther can easily hop onto the AT.

  2. The Appalachian Trail is a nearly 2200-mile footpath from Springer Mountain in northern Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. It is famed worldwide and most thru-hikers start on the AT. This trail is known for its unique culture: shelters can be found at regular intervals along the trail, and most have “privies” where hikers can stop for a bathroom break. Hikers communicate with each other and caretakers through journals found at the various shelters. Only a few miles are located inside West Virginia.

  3. The American Discovery Trail extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and runs for a whopping 6,800 miles end-to-end including a north/south loop. 288 miles of the trail are located in West Virginia, but it goes through 14 other states as well. The trail is a work in progress and has yet to be completed, but the caretakers would like to keep the trail completely off-road by the time it’s finished.

  4. The Tuscarora Trail falls parallel to the Appalachian Trail for about 252 miles in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. The southern sections begin near Skyline Drive on the AT, while the northern terminus can be found on Blue Mountain at a junction with the Appalachian Trail.

  5. For those looking for a much shorter adventure, the Warrior Trail is a 67-mile path found in Moundsville, West Virginia. It was named for the Native Americans who walked it for at least 5,000 years before European settlers upset the natural order. 22 miles of the trail run through West Virginia, while the rest will take wanderers into Pennsylvania, where the trail terminates in Greensboro.

Coal Miners In West Virginia To Become…Bee Keepers?

While many politicians are arguing in favor of “clean coal” — because they’ve been sleeping through economics classes — the real world is learning to adapt to the rapid decline of a once bustling industry. Coal is bleeding jobs in West Virginia. According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, tens of thousands of jobs have opened up. But thanks to the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective (or ABC), those out-of-work coal miners might finally have someplace to go.

The best part of the deal? Those miners won’t just be helping the economy, they will be helping to promote a clean, strong, and sustainable environment here in West Virginia. And that’s exactly what we need right now.

The Appalachian Beekeeping Collective has tasked itself with preparing the miners for a new way of life, training them to maintain hives and keep bees healthy. Not everyone is heading off for the bee colonies, though. Some are training to enter the technology sector. Some miners have acknowledged that where they go really depends on where they came from — and when.

Former miner James Scyphers said, “The older folks want to get back to work, but mining is never going to be like it was in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and there is nothing to fall back on, no other big industries here, so all of these folks need retraining. Beekeeping is hands-on work, like mining, and requires on-the-job training. You need a good work ethic for both.”

Many former miners are happy they get to work outdoors.

A nonprofit organization called Appalachian Headwaters runs the ABC, and has sunk about $7.5 million into environmental restoration projects to help both the community and the environment. 

But guess where that $7.5 million came from? The ABC sued Alpha Natural Resources — a coal mining company — for its violation of the Clean Water Act, and won the $7.5 million settlement. 

Master beekeeper Cindy Bee said, “It wasn’t just the miners that lost their livelihoods when mining jobs disappeared; other industries started to wilt, too, and entire communities were affected. We’re doing something that can boost the town up.”

Usually beekeeping requires a hefty investment for supplies and training, but new entrants are finding it cheaper and easier than ever thanks to ABC’s investments. Those who do well can expect to take in over $10,000 of extra spending cash each season — and better than that, they can also expect to promote a better environment for all of us!

Have You Heard The 2019 Cicada Brood In West Virginia?

The cicadas that make up Brood VIII have emerged from hiding, and you’ve probably heard the insect orchestra so hard at work. They want to mate! The sound made by male cicadas — peaceful to some, grating to others — is a product of a complex mating ritual, and it can attract females from as far as a mile away. Thankfully, cicadas are not dangerous: they do not bite or carry disease, and although they can damage trees and tree roots, the damage is minimal and temporary.

Although cicadas appear at regular intervals, there are a few rare outliers that will emerge from their burrows a little bit earlier or later than scheduled. This is probably the result of genetic mutations, but there’s an evolutionary purpose behind them: in the event of a natural disaster that destroys or prevents a brood from emerging from the ground, the brood will still have a good chance to live on through those outliers who emerge early or late.

What kind of natural disaster can spell doom for an otherwise strong cicada brood?

  • The Ohio River flooded in 1937 after three weeks of heavy rain and snowmelt left the river waters anywhere from ten to twenty feet above the typical flood stage. 400 people died and there was about $500 million in property damage. If the flood had occurred only a few months later, it may have wiped out any cicada broods scheduled to come out of the ground.

  • There was a massive F-4 tornado on June 23 and 24, killing 66 people in Shinnston and Harrison Counties. Two other tornadoes left the eventual death toll at 104. This kind of natural disaster can disturb the soil where cicadas live by unearthing trees.

  • A rare — and powerful — earthquake struck Charleston in 1886, but its effects could be felt hundreds of miles away. It was about a 7.0 quake, and caused millions in damages. This is another natural event that can disturb the soil and damage cicada cycles.

  • Hurricane Hugo made landfall in the Southeast United States in 1989, doing tremendous amounts of damage in the process. Wind and flood damage in Virginia left schools closed for weeks, even though it had weakened significantly during its transition from the southern states to those in the north. This type of event can offset cicada cycles if it occurs early enough in the year — and some do. 

What Was The Impact Of This Year’s Early Government Shutdown On Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park?

Those hiking the Appalachian Trail this year are surely thankful that the United States government shutdown didn’t last longer, as it would have prevented them from legally traversing 101 miles of the legendary footpath in the Shenandoah National Park. While we’re happy that some of the potential impacts of the shutdown were averted when Trump finally caved under political pressure, the fiasco had a number of other consequences (and sadly, more may be looming in the near future).

Researcher and ecologist Jeff Atkins has been diligently collecting water samples from streams within Shenandoah National Park for an awe-inspiring eight years. All of his commitment was for science. The Trump shutdown prevented him from continuing his work. That was the case beginning on December 22 of last year.

The shutdown was one big middle finger in the direction of the 40-year-old scientific undertaking, which was a large scale and long-term study meant to monitor wetland recovery after acid rain poisoned the environment decades ago.

Atkins was notably angry about the shutdown. “It’s very frustrating to have this needless disruption,” he said. “This is the biggest gap we’ve had.”

He wasn’t the only one whose work was interrupted because of Trump’s imaginary immigration concerns. Literally tens of thousands of other scientists and researchers felt the effects of the shutdown. At least a half-dozen government agencies and organizations that pave the way for research funding or scientific advancement found themselves without the resources or legal backing to continue their work.

Agencies that were affected include the NSF, USDA, NASA, and the NOAA.

Not only were these agencies unable to continue their work, but many whose paychecks come from the government went without pay until the shutdown ended. They weren’t even legally allowed to check their email! This restriction meant that organizations couldn’t coordinate upcoming events, many of which had to be cancelled.

Shenandoah wasn’t the only park that was damaged by the shutdown. Joshua Tree National Park may take centuries to fully recover from the damage done by people who were allowed in after officials decided to keep the park open (government employees weren’t allowed to do their jobs, which meant there was no cleanup during the shutdown). When it ended, rangers reported that the remains of at least 100 campfires in prohibited zones were found. $1 million in revenue was lost, but that wouldn’t even come close to paying for the damage that was done.

Without a new deal in place, another shutdown could come as soon as October 1, 2019 (and probably will).