Elk River Trail Building Continues Into 2021

It seems that new trails are being conceived, coordinated, built, and funded everywhere we look. The first ten miles of the first phase of the Elk River Trail here in West Virginia were opened at the beginning of July last year, just barely a year after the network was announced by Governor Jim Justice. The plan involved purchasing land required to build a 72-mile-long section of trail — which would also make it the second-longest rail trail on this side of the Mississippi River. 

Governor Justice said at the time: “I’ve said for a long time that the natural beauty we have here in West Virginia is one of, if not our single greatest treasure and I’m tickled to death that we are on the move toward making this a reality. Adding a rail trail of this size, in this absolutely gorgeous part of our state, is going to give us a tourist attraction that’s one of the very best of its kind in the country and it’s going to bring in people from all over the world to discover just how wonderful it is in West Virginia.”

Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby believes “This exciting new project will give us one more tool in our toolbox as we work day in and day out to promote West Virginia to visitors. With four beautiful seasons and unmatched natural beauty, this extensive rail trail network will provide for additional recreational opportunities to explore Almost Heaven now and for years to come.”

The Elk River Trail will continue to be built this year, and for now we have not received an exact timeline on when it will be finished — in part because the coronavirus pandemic has made those plans uncertain.

Other states like New York have recently completed their own planned trails. The Empire State Trail goes from New York to Canada and Albany to buffalo, offering hundreds of miles of outdoors to explore even further north!

Outdoor Jobs For Nature Lovers In West Virginia

Most of us are probably hunkering down right now — whether because of COVID-19 cases rising or the fact that winter is in sight — but those of us who love the outdoors will be adventuring no matter what. And even if the cold weather keeps us indoors for a few months, we’ll still be looking forward to the future. What better way to do that than search for a new job? Here are the best outdoor jobs for nature lovers in West Virginia.

Landscapers often choose to start their own businesses (but beware, because the markets are competitive and you might be better off working for someone else and taking less risk). This provides good exercise and keeps you outside all day long. The downside is that you probably won’t be working much in winter. Many landscapers transition to similar jobs in the off-season, such as snow removal.

Perhaps the most obvious job is farming. You don’t exactly create your own schedule — because you’ll be working around the clock no matter what — but many people take pride in sustaining themselves instead of relying on others. And you can be creative with planting. Aside from staple crops like corn and potatoes, you can plant sunflowers for seeds, berry bushes, or trees for fruit and nuts. You reap exactly what you sow, so to speak!

Try looking at the trails near where you live. Although many look for volunteers in the spring, summer, and fall seasons to maintain trail conditions year-round, some longer trails actually employ ridgerunners or maintenance crews. Ridgerunners often spend three or four days hiking along the trail, and then have the rest of the week off. Some trail agencies also employ caretakers at shelters or camping sites to maintain outdoor bathrooms or collect payments from visitors.

Environmentalists, geologists, and archaeologists all work outdoors, but you might be able to find a niche that doesn’t require much education. The downside is that you probably won’t find anything that pays well — but that’s the risk you take for outdoor adventure on a daily basis.

Ever considered working for a zoo? Zookeepers spend much of their time outdoors with animals, which is another boon for many people who appreciate all aspects of nature. Depending on your qualifications, you might be able to find a good-paying job. 

Construction work is often provided by the state, which means you don’t always need much education to get started in a new career. Much of this work is conducted outdoors. It isn’t for everyone, but it’s an option.

Another great option for wine lovers is researching and establishing a vineyard. Although this job requires a lot of patience, many aspects occur outdoors and the financial benefits often pay off. 

The state of West Virginia provides many resources for those looking for a job. Utilizing these resources and other employment services will likely provide you with work faster than the shotgun approach, but to each his own.

The Best State Parks To Enjoy This Winter

Most state parks in West Virginia are best enjoyed over fall, spring, and summer — but some are best suited to winter climates because of the state’s diverse, breathtaking environments. We’ve already discussed Blackwater Falls and Canaan Valley State Parks in previous posts, but keep in mind that they’re recommended for snow sports lovers as well. Any West Virginia state park is great for outdoors enthusiasts who enjoy hiking in snow. 

Pipestem Resort State Park is spread across 4,050 acres in Summers and Mercer counties. Visitors can stay at 26 cabins and two quaint lodges, although winter guests should take note that some lodgings will be closed for reservations until about May 2021. Call ahead to make reservations.  Pipestem is open all winter for cross-country skiers and sledders. There is even an outfitter on site offering rentals for visitors who cannot bring their own gear.

Another previously mentioned location of interest is the renowned Greenbrier River Trail State Park, which encompasses 78 miles of former railroad corridor for hikers and bikers — and even those who prefer to travel on horseback, though we don’t recommend it in winter. Greenbrier River Trail is the longest rail trail in West Virginia and actually one of the longest in the country. Those who venture here in winter will likely want to bring cross-country skis or snowshoes to travel easier.

Twin Falls Resort State Park in Mullens offers visitors scenic vistas of Wyoming County. There are 25 miles of trails with a golf course and swimming pool, and accommodations open year-round for the winter traveler. History buffs will want to check out Pioneer Farm to see what it used to be like in West Virginia during the first settlements. The park offers plenty of skiing and sledding opportunities at Winterplace Ski Area. There is also a winter cafe for those in need of a warm pick me up.

This Is Your Last Chance To Enjoy The Outdoors Before Winter!

Autumn is upon us — and that means different things for different people. Most of us will soon be indoors by the fire, trying to avoid the inevitable deep freeze. Others will be gearing up for hunting season. Some will be out foraging or reaping the last of the year’s harvest. But those of us who don’t want to endure the winter cold know this is the last best chance to get outdoors for a hike. Where are the best places for an adventure at this time of year?

West Virginia is home to a number of magnificent state parks that provide visitors with every kind of activity they could be seeking, so we advise you to start there. For example, Audra State Park near Middle Fork River is located in Southwestern Barbour County and Upshur County. The area is great for biking, camping, boating, fishing, geocaching, hiking, and an arctic swim if you’re into that sort of thing.

Babcock State Park is another gem with approximately 4,127 acres to explore. You’ll find it only 20 miles from New River Gorge. This is a great place for history buffs and photographers, but you can also go biking, boating, and hiking. Feel free to fish and hunt in specified areas during hunting season, but check in with state park officials to leave an itinerary. Also, there are cabins available for those who would like to stay longer.

Blackwater Falls State Park will be closed for renovations from November 2020 until the end of June 2021 — but it’s worth the wait. Located in Tucker County along the Allegheny Mountains, you can find one of the most scenic waterfalls anywhere in the state. Blackwater is 57 feet high. Common activities include biking, boating, camping, fishing, geocaching, hiking, and swimming. But there are also scenic train rides and snow sports — depending on the season, of course.

Kanawha State Forest isn’t far from Charleston, which makes it an easy place to visit on weekends — or even for an afternoon hike on weekdays. Birders and botanists love this location for its eclectic species. There are museums and historical sites located a short distance from the park. But inside you can do all the usual activities: bike, camp, fish, hike, and hunt.

There are nearly 4,000 acres of exploring to do in Lost River State Park, best known for Cranny Crow overlook — a point from which you can peer down at five state counties. There are a number of historical sites nearby, but most come for the view. There are plenty of trails where visitors can bike and hike or even go horseback riding.

Coronavirus has kept most of us cooped up at home for far too long, but those government-imposed restrictions shouldn’t keep you from enjoying the great outdoors — as long as you’re careful. Instead of looking for the nearest divorce attorney because the wife is sick of you, grab the kids and take one last camping or backpacking trip!

Coronavirus Cases On The Rise Again

Those who are most responsible for processing and providing data on the novel coronavirus outbreak have been under a political hailstorm since the very first case, risking not only their lives, but the jobs as well — and all just to do what is right for the rest of us. But that doesn’t seem to matter to West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, who questions the reliability of coronavirus case count numbers.

Point in fact, Justice forced the resignation of Cathy Slemp, the commissioner for the public health bureau and a state health officer who has served for many years. Justice (an ironic name) did this only hours after suggesting that his state’s caseload might be overblown, a tactic directly out of President Trump’s playbook.

Justice said earlier, “If we were on our game here, in DHHR (Department of Health and Human Resources) and Dr. Slemp’s office, if we’re on our game and you’re listening to the governor say that there’s six active cases at Huttonsville and you’re looking at the reports that you’re putting together and sending them to me on active cases and you’re looking at Randolph County and they’re reporting a hundred-and-some-odd cases, then you’re not doing your job.”

This seems to line up quite nicely with the conservative war against facts coming from those who know best.

Current coronavirus cases have been tracked from South Carolina, where people have traveled to and from for Memorial Day, and church services held in three counties without taking appropriate precautions.

Justice has also failed to implement preventative measures such as mandating face masks, which are known to help prevent the spread of coronavirus from those who are infected to those who are not. His reason why? Because it would be far too “political.”

That’s your governor, folks. Lives apparently aren’t worth saving because of politics.

For those of you who are in need of some exercise, please use caution on trails and in outdoor spaces. Keep six feet in between yourself and others, and wear a mask when in close proximity to other travelers.

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!