West Virginia Senator Receives 2020 Visionary Voice Award

The West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services recently graced Senator Mike Woelfel (D-Cabell) the 2020 Vistionary Voice Award for his work on behalf of child sexual abuse victims. He received the award in Charleston this past March, 2020. Foundation State Coordinator Nancy Hoffman, Sexual Assault Help Center Executive Director Ashley Carpenter, and Executive Director for HOPE Michele McCord were there to present.

Senator Woelfel said, “West Virginia is leading the country in our respect for, and treatment of our victims of sexual abuse and exploitation.”

Hoffman added, “This is not a topic that people want to talk about, but one that unfortunately will impact 1 in 6 women in our state and a significant number of men as well. We are so fortunate in West Virginia to have a legislature in recent years that has recognized sexual assault as the public health crisis that it is, and to have the foresight of leaders like Senator Woelfel in drafting legislation and policies to both address sexual violence and help prevent it.”

The timing was important as well, because new cases are taking the spotlight. Clendenin resident Billie Gene Seabolt, 65, was recently arrested on 312 counts of incest, one count of sexual abuse by a custodian or guardian, and one count of first-degree sexual assault. The abuse of the juvenile took place over a six-year period.

Stories like these aren’t common, but more and more victims are coming forward to share their stories. This has given rise to a national conversation on statutes of rights limitations for child sexual abuse victims, who often only come forward once they reach adulthood. Many states have laws that close the door on civil suits soon after these individuals reach their 18th or 21st birthday, which lawmakers are starting to acknowledge isn’t enough time to tell a story or make a case.

New measures to respond to and prevent clergy abuse are in the process of being legislated in North Carolina, Texas, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin. The problem is, clergy figures often have special privileges that allow them to squash private allegations of abuse — which keeps the subject far away from the public’s prying eyes. Church groups say these privileges are fair, and necessary to protect congregant privacy.

But victims of childhood sexual abuse say enough is enough.

Wisconsin Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said he supported new DOJ investigative efforts aimed at uncovering old abuses. He explained, “This is entirely too late for us to start this process, but it is not too late to help finish it. This is hopefully the beginning that will allow survivors and victims to help heal their trauma.”

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) leader Peter Isely said, “This is a great day for survivors. We as survivors have a public duty and responsibility to let law enforcement know in a safe and confidential way what happened to you…we need witnesses.”

Why Are Alabama Bass A Threat To West Virginia?

West Virginia biologists and fishers are growing alarmed by the Alabama bass — an invasive fish that is perceived as a threat to native species like the largemouth and smallmouth bass. Assistant Chief of Fish Management for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Mark Scott only recently learned of the incursion from other biologists, but he wants to do something about it.

Scott said, “They were talking about how they pretty much wiped out the largemouth in Lake Norman. It took them a few years, but anglers now tell me maybe one out of ten fish you catch there will be a largemouth.”

Alabama bass are from the Mobile Bay drainage area of Alabama, and are easily mistaken for Kentucky spotted bass — which are already common in West Virginia. The invader grows to be bigger and stronger, and they’re an aggressive species to boot. That means finding food before other fish populations that eat the same thing is an easy chore for them. They thrive, while other fish fight to survive.

Scott said, “Look at Lake Norman. If you want to catch largemouth bass and you put a fish in there to out-compete them, that’s not a real smart thing to do.”

If Alabama fish weren’t so dominant, they might be impressive. They even overran a fishery to destroy the competitors. But once they succeed, they harm their own populations as well. The reproduce too quickly, which results in a regional fish population dominated by small, malnourished Alabama bass.

Scott explained, “Soon all you have is a lake full of small fish. They breed out the smallmouth. They hybridize and eventually take over that way. Their genetics eventually take over and you lose your smallmouth. Lord forbid we ever lose our smallmouth in the New River, that’s one of the top smallmouth bass fisheries around, so that’s scary.”

WV Hunting And Fishing Show To Make Triumphant Return This January

January 2022 will mark the start of a new year, but it’s also a momentous occasion for West Virginia residents: the state Hunting and Fishing Show will be making a comeback after it was cancelled in 2021 due to ongoing COVID-19 and public safety concerns. Many simply call it “the Hunt Show” and it attracts tens of thousands of visitors annually. They gather for the spectacle at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center.

President of West Virginia Trophy Hunters Association Sam Kindrick said, “We were really disappointed that we were not able to hold our show this year. But we think that after a year off, this could be our largest-attended show to date.”

The Hunt Show dates back to 1987, but has since become increasingly popular. Each year typically sees a bigger crowd than the last.

An anonymous Illinois junior associate who works for Hale & Monaco (https://www.halemonico.com) said, “I always take a few days off to visit my home away from home in West Virginia for the holidays, and cap it off with the Hunt Show. Working from a big city doesn’t do anything to dull the memories I have of home, and I can’t wait to get back outside again in 2022. I have goosebumps, I’m so excited.”

Trophy Hunters Association spokesperson Glen Jarrell said, “The outfitters who exhibit in the show, and the families that attend, routinely book more than 175 motel rooms a year. Those people don’t just eat at the Convention Center. They eat at local restaurants, too.”

Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin acknowledged the economic boon for the county when the event takes place each year — and the unfortunate downturn the absence of visitors caused in 2021 — but that for her the event is a return to childhood memories. She said, “I have a 17-year-old and a 19-year-old, and they’re big outdoor guys. So for me, the show is a time when I end up spending money.”

The show isn’t only about the spectacles. It’s also about supporting various outdoor movements that residents of the state really believe in. The focus is usually on conservation. Raising money is always the first priority.

Jarrell explained, “To date, those contributions have exceeded $775,000. About $500,000 of that has gone to a 600-acre Wildlife Study Project in Wirt County. The rest has gone to organizations like the state’s Archery in the Schools Program, Trout Unlimited’s Trout in the Classroom Project, and Hunters Helping the Hungry.”

There are still a number of concerns headed into the next year, especially because vaccination efforts country-wide have seemingly stalled out due to anti-vaxxer efforts and a general skepticism about the efficacy of the shots. Will there be safety measures in place by the time the January event rolls out? 

Jarrell said, “All that will be under the discretion of [Governor Jim Justice.] Right now, we anticipate that the social-distancing requirement will be 3 feet, and that masks will be required for everyone except when they’re alone with family.”

But of course only time will tell.

How Do Biologists Conduct Fish Studies?

One of the most important parts of the biosphere — i.e. planet Earth — is what we can’t see. What goes on deep in the ocean and underneath the surface of our streams and rivers is far more important than what goes on above. And it’s also what most of us ignore. But biologists in West Virginia are trying to understand. One question on their list? “Why are musky fish dying out?” 

How they proceed with researching fish populations might surprise you. They don’t just throw a line in the water where fish make their home and hope for the best. Instead, they submerge a number of electrodes, send an electric current through the water…and then hope for the best. Fish are forced to surface to escape the electricity, and biologists can cherry pick the fish they need to conduct the research. 

Biologist Jim Walker recently posed for a photo with a 35-pound, 52-inch musky near Stonewall Jackson Lake after using this strategy. He said, “Wow, what a fish! Yeah, it’s a great lake with a great forage base and since we implemented the reg I keep anticipating the next state record will come out of there. So far, it hasn’t shown up, but I’m sure there are a few swimming around in there.”

After grabbing a few fish from the lake, they outfit the muskies with radio transmitters and tags. They photograph the catch, then let them go free. Thus far, at least 90 fish have been tagged as part of the study, which was started by a West Virginia University student to research mortality rates of fish that are caught and released. 

Walker said, “There’s a lot of controversy over whether they should even be fishing. July and August is when everybody has time off, but nobody wants to fish if it’s actually hurting the population.”

Then again, a lot of WV residents believe that fish and animals were put here by God for our consumption, and that fishing and hunting can do no real harm.

West Virginia Will Give You $12,000 To Move There

Remember when Vermont officials started to worry that the population would shrink too much too fast, and then conceived a program to give remote workers a small fortune to move there? Well, other states have started to offer the same incentives — and West Virginia is one of them. A new program will provide small incentives to outdoor enthusiasts who love state and national parks.

Republican Governor Jim Justice had tried a different approach. He wanted to cut the state income tax to next to nothing, but the state legislature wasn’t having it. The remote worker program would achieve the same goal though. Remote workers who move to West Virginia under the program will receive the aforementioned $12,000. 

But that’s not all.

They will also receive passes for the first year of residence so they can enjoy everything West Virginia has to offer, including rafting, rock climbing, and ziplining. Taken together with the $12,000, someone who makes use of everything would make off with a valued gift of approximately $20,000. Not bad if you love the great outdoors, eh?

Dallas bankruptcy attorney Brian Wells is starting to wonder if such an offer might be more worthwhile to residents of his own city than it would have been a year ago: “People are still migrating to Texas for a variety of reasons, but many big cities saw a decline in residents when the coronavirus pandemic first started. Anyone down on their luck might jump at the opportunity to move to a cheaper state that also offers a financial incentive.”

State tourism cabinet secretary Chelsea Ruby said, “We want to give folks the opportunity to escape big cities. In West Virginia, there are no crowded places, long commutes or traffic jams. There’s just plenty of places to put down roots and explore the great outdoors.”

Justice added, “What an opportunity this great state has. As far as potential, it’s unbelievable.”

The program might limit where you can live, though. Dozens of openings are available in Morgantown, where you’ll find West Virginia University — and be granted the opportunity to study there through addiction education incentives through the school.

Other options will later include Shepherdstown and Lewisburg.

Ruby said the message is transforming from one in which officials ask for temporary visitors — i.e. tourists — into one that asks people to make West Virginia their home instead.

The state song is John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and it’s no surprise that the announcement was timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the release of that song.

Executive chairman of Intuit’s board of directors, Brad Smith, helped conceive the program. He said, “I think if [new residents] had the chance to do the things that I had the chance to do growing up, they’re not going to want to go anywhere else.”

Hiking The Nuttallburg Coal Mining Complex

We recently discussed the newly created New River Gorge National Park and Preserve — well, sort of. The park has always been a popular destination for travelers, but it simply changed its designation as a national park instead of a state park. The Nuttallburg Coal Mining Complex is situated near the town of Winona, which itself is inside the park. And it’s one heck of a destination. You’ll find an abandoned mine, a ghost town, and a great hike all in one place.

One of the most scenic parts of the hike is where an old conveyor belt climbs the hillside toward the mine.

According to the national park website, “Nuttallburg was a bustling mining community [by 1900] continuing to thrive after Nuttall’s death in 1897 under the direction of his heirs. The town became the focus of national attention in the 1920’s when, in an effort known as ‘vertical integration’ to gain control of all aspects of production, automobile industrialist Henry Ford leased the town’s mines to provide coal for his company’s steel mills.”

The town thrived during this time, but Ford’s plan was a disaster. He couldn’t afford to purchase the track of the railroad that led to the mine, which was problematic for transportation. He sold his stake in the mine only a few years later in 1928.

Headhouse trail is less than a mile and rated as a moderate hike along a mostly gravel pathway. The path terminates at the top of the conveyor. You’ll find a junction leading towards a nearly 1-mile Conveyor Trail that goes toward Keeneys Creek Rail Trail, a 3.3-mile trail. 

One thing to know before you try to visit this site is that it’s closed to road traffic. You’ll need to walk the 3.5 miles to the mine or find another way in. Please heed all warning signs. Abandoned mines can be extremely dangerous. 

Visit The West Virginia State Penitentiary! …No, Really.

Why wouldn’t you want to visit a state penitentiary? This one was established way back in 1866 — but it’s no longer operational. Who’s to say why, but it might have something to do with the 1979 prison break, the 1986 riot, perpetual overcrowding, dozens of executions, harsh conditions, or its status as one of the United States Department of Justice’s Top Ten Most Violent Correctional Facilities. Also, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the cell size constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Whoops!

Whatever the reason, the site was decommissioned by the late 90s. The prisoners who remained there were all sent to other prisons — and because this is the United States and criminal justice reform hadn’t yet taken off, the number of prisons was skyrocketing!

Today, there are a number of featured tours inside the prison. They include: Guided Day Tours (boring!), Escape the Pen (exciting!), Public Ghost Hunt (spooky!), Private Paranormal Investigations (even spookier!), Twilight Tour (spookiest!), Thriller Thursday (thrilling), and the Photography Tour. The latter allows you to venture on your own without the encumberment of a physical guide. Woo hoo! The penitentiary is also home to Para-Con, where you’ll find all the paranormal events your strange little heart could ever desire.

Why all the paranormal events? Well, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. An awe-inspiring 94 men were sentenced to die and executed within those walls. Until 1949, most men were hanged until they were dead. Note: these were public executions. Nobody should be all that shocked that the ghosts of these men are routinely thought to be somewhat peeved. From 1951 until the prison was decommissioned, the electric chair was in full use. Who built it? A doomed prisoner, of course! …‘Merica!

The West Virginia State Penitentiary became national news on January 1, 1986, when about 20 prisoners poked enough holes in security — which was shockingly lax at the time due to reforms at this time — to enact a very much planned and well-orchestrated revolt. To make the story even better, these twenty dudes called themselves the “Avengers.” Seriously. Within minutes of the beginning of the uprising the prisoners had taken six officers and a food service worker captive. 

The revolt was less violent than you might imagine. Only three inmates were killed over a few days, after which then-Governor Arch A. Moore Jr. visited the prison to discuss matters with the prisoners. The inmates won fairer treatment as a result of the uprising, and things (mostly) went back to normal. Apparently organized revolt is the best social security insurance a man can buy (https://www.itswhatwedo.com/). But don’t take our word for it. They’re the ones whose lives were made more comfortable.

Although this was the most famous instance of rioting, there were many other attempted insurrections. There were also a number of escapes, so eventually it was decided that the prison would close its doors for good — until they were reopened to stoke your paranormal pleasures, of course! No trip to West Virginia is quite complete without a prison visit. How you achieve that goal is your choice.

The Strangest Tourist Traps In West Virginia

West Virginia has a storied past that most United States citizens know nothing about — something that might change, considering we finally have our first national park! But it’s that state history that provides us with so many fun stories, urban legends, and even mythological creatures that might be lurking about our forests! Here are a few of the strangest tourist traps you will find in our state.

The village of Helvetia can be found in the hills of Randolph County. This community was settled by the Swiss in the 19th century. What’s strange about it now? It’s the closest thing to Swiss culture you’ll find on this continent!

Head to Lewisburg to discover the history of a half-human, half-bay that was named Batboy — according to a tabloid. In any case, the Batboy was said to inhabit the Lost World Caverns. It’s a fun place to explore in any right.

Looking for something a little darker? Hop on over to the Lake Shawnee Amusement Park for an afternoon of fun, family, and splendor — or not, because the park shut down following the deaths of two children. It’s abandoned. But all the equipment is still there, daring any number of thrill-seeking teens to a day of debauchery.

A West Virginian adventure isn’t complete without a stop at Our Lady of the Pines, the smallest church in the United States. You can head to the equally small post office next door to send a postcard to friends or family.

Who wouldn’t want to provide a place named Hillbilly Hotdog their patronage? You’ll feel like you’re in a trailer park when you walk through those classy (not really) doors.

Drive to Ansted to view the Mystery Hole. Nope. We’re not telling you what it is.

There is a great deal of beautiful fall foliage in the state of West Virginia — and if you just happen to be passing through during that time of year, then don’t miss the Pocahontas County roadkill cookoff. Yum!

The Best Wheelchair Accessible Trails In West Virginia

ADA accessibility is still an issue on most trails in the United States — which is less a matter of indifference and more a matter of pragmatism. Not every trail over rugged terrain can be made wheelchair accessible. That said, there are still plenty of relatively level and easy paths that a disabled person might choose to take. These are a few of the best wheelchair accessible paths in West Virginia.

The Massanutten Storybook Trail is both accessible and beautiful. According to the Virginia Trail Guide, it “leads to a spectacular view overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley. Learn from the interpretive signs of how the Massanutten Mountains were formed.” This is a Virginian trail, but we included it for its beauty — and because everyone likes to travel once in a while.

Those who love waterworks will find joy in the beauty of Falls of Hills Creek, a popular accessible trail with about 1700 feet of paved pathway leading to a viewing platform atop the upper falls. 

Looking for something longer and more impressive? The 78-mile Greenbrier River Trail cuts through the state park of the same name, and is used for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. This trail is the longest rails-to-trail path in West Virginia. Don’t want to go the whole distance? No problem. There are a number of trailheads and towns along the way. 

North Bend State Park is home to the the second-largest rail trail, a 72-mile-long pathway that will be part of the 5500-mile coast-to-coast American Discovery Trail (which is decades away from completion, more than likely). 

According to the park website, “The North Bend Rail Trail…[stretches] 72 miles from I-77 near Parkersburg in Wood County to Wolf Summit in Harrison County, [and] … passes through 13 tunnels and crosses 36 bridges.” There is another more than half-mile loop in the park as well.

Little Beaver State Park “maintains a paved Lake Front Trail suitable for handicapped use. Visitors with physical challenges will also appreciate the pier that offers handicap accessibility.” The Lake Front Trail is a 1.1-mile loop.

Inside Kanawha State Forest, explorers will find the Spotted Salamander Trail, a quarter-mile trail that even has signs in Braille. 

Admittedly, most accessible trails are very short. We recommend contacting state representatives if you know of a beautiful trail — best rated easy difficulty — that could be made wheelchair accessible. You might also contact legal representatives, preserve administrators, or volunteer groups that maintain these trails (https://ssdisabilityaccess.com/). We believe everyone should be granted the opportunity to enjoy as much of the great outdoors as possible.

West Virginia Biologists Struggle To Capture And Study Reclusive Fish

Have you ever heard of paddlefish? They’re old — really old — and swam about the Earth’s rivers even when dinosaurs were still alive! Today, they’re much more difficult to find. Mostly, you can find them hiding out in the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers. But even if you try, you might have a hard time. Biologist Katie Zipfel is trying to capture some of the fish for ongoing studies.

Zipfel works with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, which wants to study on how the fish move about freshwater rivers and whether those fish were stocked or reproduced naturally.

Paddlefish almost went extinct by the 1980s because of river pollution, but as the rivers slowly became less polluted as a result of the Clean Water Act of 1970, the fish population rebounded as well. But they’re still not easy to track down.

Zipfel said, “We began raising them in our own hatcheries in the early 2000s. We stocked them until 2014, when problems at the Palestine hatchery caused us to suspend stockings.”

Right now, they’re trying to find out if those restocking efforts were largely successful or not. Zipfel explained, “We had always just assumed that since we were able to capture adults to use as brood stock for our hatchery program, the stockings were somewhat successful. Now, by doing a major population study, we think we’ll get a better handle on how successful they were.”

This is the first such effort since 2014, but it was much delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Zipfel was pleased with the results. She said, “There are more paddlefish in the [Ohio] than I anticipated. I’m very encouraged by that. It appears we’ve had good survival of the fish we’ve stocked. We haven’t been able to sample any smaller fish so far, but we’re researching some techniques that might help us catch them.” 

Catching them is also difficult because they can travel hundreds of miles.