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    State of West Virginia

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    West Virginia is a state in the Appalachian, Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern regions of the United States. It is bordered by Pennsylvania to the northeast, Maryland to the east and northeast, Virginia to the southeast, Kentucky to the southwest, and Ohio to the northwest. West Virginia is the 41st-largest state by area and ranks 40th in population, with a population of 1,793,716 residents. The capital and largest city is Charleston.

    West Virginia became a state after the Wheeling Conventions of 1861, at the start of the American Civil War. Delegates from northwestern Virginia's Unionist counties decided to break away from Virginia, which also included secessionist counties in the new state. West Virginia was admitted to the Union on June 20, 1863, and was a key border state during the war. It was the only state to form by separating from a Confederate state, the second to separate from a state after Maine separated from Massachusetts, and one of two states (along with Nevada) admitted to the Union during the Civil War. Some of its residents held slaves, but most were yeoman farmers, and the delegates provided for the gradual abolition of slavery in the new state constitution. The state legislature abolished slavery in the state, and at the same time ratified the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery nationally on February 3, 1865.

    West Virginia's Northern Panhandle extends adjacent to Pennsylvania and Ohio to form a tristate area, with Wheeling and Weirton just across the border from the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. Huntington in the southwest is close to Ohio and Kentucky, while Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry in the Eastern Panhandle region are considered part of the Washington metropolitan area, between Maryland and Virginia. West Virginia is often included in several U.S. geographical regions, including the Mid-Atlantic, the Upland South, and the Southeastern United States. It is the only state entirely within the area served by the Appalachian Regional Commission; the area is commonly defined as "Appalachia".

    The state is noted for its mountains and rolling hills, its historically significant coal mining and logging industries, and its political and labor history. It is also known for a wide range of outdoor recreational opportunities, including skiing, whitewater rafting, fishing, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and hunting.

    Other nominated names for the state included Vandalia, Kanawha, Appalachia, and Western Virginia. The capital was originally Wheeling, before switching to Charleston, moving back to Wheeling, and finally back to Charleston. While it is now a solidly Republican state, it was Democratic from the Franklin D. Roosevelt era to the 1990s. The first governor was Arthur Boreman.

    Find more things to do, itinerary ideas, updated news and events, and plan your perfect trip to State of West Virginia
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    National Parks

    Welcome to America's newest National Park: New River Gorge!

    America's Best Idea is welcoming a new park to the National Park system. New River Gorge National Park was designated as the United State's 63rd National Park. New River Gorge is the first National Park in the great state of West Virginia. It sits on the southeast corner of the state. Despite its name, the New River is one of the oldest rivers in the world. It has carved beautiful canyons out of the Appalachian Mountains, and is a prime spot for adventure travelers. It boasts some of the best whitewater rafting in the USA, and offers some prime climbing and hiking trails. New River Gorge also offers plenty of wildlife, as it offers some of the most biodiverse ecosystem in the world. The nearest major cities to New River Gorge are Roanoke Va, Knoxville Tn, and Cincinnati Ohio. For more information, visit the NPS site.

    Inspiration

    Ghosts of Grand Canyon: the mysterious disappearance of Glen and Bessie Hyde

    On October 20, 1928, newlyweds Glen and Bessie Hyde launched down the Colorado River in a homemade 20-foot scow, embarking on a journey that would take over a month and celebrate Bessie as the first woman to boat the river in its entirety. On November 18, one month into their trip and mere weeks from making history, they were seen for the last time. Glen Hyde, an Idahoan farmer and avid outdoorsman, met his wife, Bessie Haley, an artist from West Virginia, on a passenger ship to Los Angeles. The two fell in love and married in Idaho on April 12, 1928. For their honeymoon, they decided, they would embark on a boating adventure down the Colorado River. Were they to succeed in their endeavor, they would not only make Bessie the first woman to complete the trip, but also set a record for the fastest excursion down the river. The Colorado River, which runs through Grand Canyon, Arizona, is known for its brutal and difficult whitewater. Glen was experienced in river rafting. Bessie was new to this type of adventure. About halfway through their long journey, the couple stopped at the Bright Angel Trail, one of the most popular trails that run through Grand Canyon National Park. At the time, Emery and Ellsworth Kolb owned a photography business at the trailhead. The two brothers met the Hydes, who came to the rim to restock their supplies before completing the rest of their trip. The Kolbs said that Bessie seemed apprehensive. “I wonder if I’ll ever wear pretty shoes again,” she said wistfully, admiring a well-dressed young girl before venturing the 10 miles back down the dusty trail to the scow. She never wore pretty shoes again. The couple had intended on returning to Idaho by early December of 1928. When they didn’t arrive, Glen’s father helped launch a search that discovered their scow abandoned near river mile 237, just 40 miles from the end of their journey. The scow was upright, held in place by its tow line caught underwater, still toting their coats and boots, a gun and Bessie’s diary, with its final entry on November 30. The shore near the boat was undisturbed. Glen and Bessie were nowhere to be found. Ninety-two years later, the mystery of the couple’s disappearance remains unsolved and lends itself to spooky riverside tales and a wealth of elaborate conspiracy theories. In the early 1970s, an elderly woman on a river trip down the Colorado River announced that she was Bessie Hyde. She was about the age Bessie would have been, claiming to have killed Glen in disagreement and hiked out of the canyon. She later recanted the story, which was proven untrue. Another conspiracy theory emerged suspecting Georgie Clark, a respected river guide, of being Bessie Hyde. Following the death of Clark, whose real name was Bessie DeRoss, in May of 1992, Hyde’s marriage license and a pistol were found in Clark’s home. However, this theory was also debunked. In 1976, the skeletal remains of a young male were found on the Kolb brothers’ property. The skull still had a bullet in it, and there was suspicion that Emery Kolb was somehow responsible for Glen Hyde’s death. However, a forensic investigation later deduced that the remains belonged to a man much younger than Glen who had likely committed suicide no earlier than 1972. Legal investigations into the disappearance have ended and the couple was pronounced dead by drowning, but the mystery remains unsolved. While Glen and Bessie didn’t achieve fame in the way they had hoped, their names live on in books and eerie campfire ghost stories.

    Adventure

    Confessions of a Former White-Water Rafting Guide

    PJ Stevenson, white-water rafting guide turned director of marketing for West Virginia's Adventures on the Gorge, has spent nearly a quarter-century in the industry, and she's seen it all, from bachelor-party hijinx to aquaphobic guests to nonagenarian regulars. Here, she unpacks the best, worst, and most bizarre things she's seen on the job.  How did you discover you were destined for this line of work? I came to West Virginia with my mom to go rafting when I was 14. And that was kind of it. I told her when we were leaving to go home that I needed to be a guide when I was old enough. Not that I wanted to, but needed to. When I was 18, I applied for guide training and was accepted. That was 24 years ago, and I’ve never questioned that this was where I was meant to be. Destiny is a funny thing. I had no intention of working in marketing for a river company. However, there was one fateful day on the river when I hit a rock and broke my leg, which led to light duty work in the office. The following year, I continued to guide but also took on some office responsibilities. After a company merger, I landed in the marketing department, where I’m now the director of marketing. It’s really cool to be able to do this job and still be able to go rafting if I want to!  What do you love about guiding? River people (and outdoor folks, in general) are really amazing. There’s a very strong bond among our staff and the community, unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. That, combined with having the river gorge as your office and a stream of vacationers with one goal in mind—fun—makes guiding and being a part of this business very fulfilling. Being there for guests while they experience the crazy adventures we offer here for the first time brings back memories of my first river trip. It makes me appreciate the path I’ve chosen. My niece will tell you that my job is as a convincer, and that I go to work every day to convince people to come have fun in the Big Nature, as she likes to call it. If that were really an official job description, I’d chose it every time. And I get to wear flip flops to work every day. What’s not to love? What's the biggest surprise you've experienced?  I’ve been in the outdoor industry for 25 years, so it’s safe to say not much surprises me anymore! One foggy morning, I get to the dam (where the Upper Gauley begins) to meet my crew for the day. We had a single guest who was afraid of water and decided that he was going to go rafting to cure his fear. He chose to do the toughest section of whitewater we have, not once, but twice in the same day and paid extra for the smallest raft that we have. It was just me and him in the boat, which makes it more challenging. In the middle of Pillow Rock Rapid, a Class V, he fell out and went deep. His life jacket popped him back up and he looked for me with great big eyes and a smile and said, “I think I’m cured!” (I don’t recommend this as a cure, but it sure was fun that day.) What's the strangest thing you've experienced? What's the funniest?  Adventures on the Gorge, by its very nature, draws out the fun (and sometimes weird!). Guests come for all kinds of reasons and to celebrate just about anything. It’s not uncommon to see men dressed in embarrassing outfits for bachelor parties or a group of ladies in beaver pelt vests and bikini tops. We used to have a group who would pick a theme for the weekend and dress the part—pirates, Vikings, ninjas, whatever struck their fancy. Each year, it got a little crazier. One of these guys had a prosthetic leg and actually wore different ones that matched the theme. What's the scariest, or the most intimidating?  Funny that after 15 years of guiding Class IV-V whitewater, my first tourism grant presentation to a panel of 12 people was one of the most intimidating experiences I’ve had in my career. I was also one of the first women to R1 the Upper Gauley (meaning navigating a small raft by myself). At the put-in, or starting point, I attempted to start my trip three times before finally pushing off. At the end of each rapid, commercial boats were there hanging out to watch and see what happened next. After each of the big Class V rapids, the crowd grew larger. At the end of the trip was a 14-foot waterfall, with a large calm area where people were gathering to relax. It felt like I was dropping into the Coliseum. I could hear people chanting my name right before the drop, a collective gasp, and then cheers as I sailed right through it. Who is the most memorable guest you've had?  We have had a lot of really amazing guests—people who come from all over the world and from all walks of life. As a part of my job, I get to host cocktail parties on Saturday nights for our loyal guests, and each has unique stories and memories about their time spent at Adventures on the Gorge. A few of the folks I most look forward to seeing each year are Alex, a blackjack dealer about to complete his 100th rafting trip; Frank, a 90-plus-year-old gentleman who rafts the Upper Gauley River with his adult kids; and Shawn, who has three tattoos based on our company logo. It’s so much fun to hear what the past year held for them and to meet the new folks that they are bringing into the fold. What's the most challenging thing about being on the water?  Guiding has been the least challenging part of my time in the industry. The most challenging part of my job is getting more people to see West Virginia the way I do. It’s an amazing place filled with the friendliest people who are open to sharing their little piece of heaven with anyone who is interested. West Virginia is often a mystery to people, but there are wild and wonderful things you can see and do here.

    Inspiration

    10 Coolest Small Towns in America 2011

    Once in a while, you discover a town that has everything—great coffee, food with character, shop owners with purpose. Each year, the Budget Travel team celebrates these places with our "Coolest Small Towns in America" competition. It starts with a call to you—our readers—to nominate the most interesting towns you know with populations of less than 10,000. From there, our editorial team whittles the selections down to the three most promising contenders. It's then up to you to vote on your favorite. This year's winner was Lewisburg—an irresistible small town in West Virginia. Each of the nine runners up has something special to offer, from the quiet, artistic enclave at La Pointe, Wisconsin to the scenic beaches of Astoria, Oregon. In honor of the sixth anniversary of our "Coolest Towns" franchise, we've also compiled a slideshow of all of the contenders from previous years. You won't find a more charming slice of small town Americana than you will right here. 1. LEWISBURG, WEST VIRGINIA (POPULATION 3,830) Arts in AppalachiaA small town is usually lucky if there's a decent one-screen movie theater, maybe a community dance troupe. But a Carnegie Hall? This speck on the map in the Greenbrier River Valley lays claim to one of only four in the world (105 Church St., carnegiehallwv.com, ticket prices vary). The 1902 building now serves as Lewisburg's creative control tower, attracting an unlikely band of artistic characters, back-to-the-land types, and retirees. Jeanne and Michael Christie embody Lewisburg's blend. The duo run the Davenport House B&B, where guests can bottle-feed one of the property's baby lambs after taking coffee and breakfast on their private patio (Tibbiwell Lane, off of Davis Stuart Rd., thedavenporthouse.com, one-bedroom cottage from $120). Michael is a painter whose work has shown in New York City's Hoorn-Ashby gallery, and Jeanne is the former director of front-office operations at the Greenbrier hotel, 10 miles down the road. "You know, you always think of the ideal American town, where the kids are safe, the streets are clean. We have that, but we also have Wynton Marsalis coming through," says Jeanne, who'd just finished a morning of shearing sheep. While Michael is a seventh-generation West Virginian, many of their friends and neighbors are newer to the community, drawn in large part by the creative atmosphere anchored by Carnegie. For example, Hall Hitzig, who goes by the moniker the Crazy Baker, came in 1986 and "never looked back" (thecrazybaker.com). Now, he makes granola in the nearby mountains—and sells it everywhere from Puerto Rico to Arkansas. Hitzig's sticky toffee cake also wins raves at Lewisburg's sunny Stardust Café (102 E. Washington St., stardustcafewv.com, cake slice $8). At Stardust, co-run by Hitzig's twin sister, Destiny, and her daughter Sparrow, glasses are filled with "local spring water" (don't call it tap), and the greens are cultivated largely in local gardens. Lewisburg's arts scene is hardly limited to traditional performers like Marsalis; next door to Stardust, for instance, Tamera Pence identifies the potter of each espresso mug at her year-old emporium, Bella the Corner Gourmet (100 E. Washington St., bellathecornergourmet.com, mugs from $14). "We're very locally driven here," she explains. "And we're also a central hub. I have clients bringing their coolers in all the way from Charleston, more than two and a half hours away." -Nina Willdorf 2. ASTORIA, OREGON (POPULATION 9,477) Pioneers on the PacificAstoria has always been on the frontier, both the Lewis and Clark variety (they set up camp here in 1805) and the geographic (it sits both at the mouth of the Columbia River and in a teeming temperate rain forest). Sure, the place has prettied itself up nicely since those pioneer days with the addition of aging Victorians and craftsman-style bungalows, but the folks in sleepy coastal Astoria have never lost touch with their rough-and-tumble side. Take, for example, the surfers off of Astoria's scenic beaches, where ocean temperatures rarely break 60 degrees until midsummer. "You really have to suit up," says Mark Taylor, owner of Cold Water Surf (1001 Commercial St., coldwatersurf.com). "We're talking five-millimeter wet suits, gloves, and booties—but Astorians have always been a tough bunch!" Even the city's swankiest design hotel, the Commodore, embraces a decidedly masculine and nautical aesthetic (258 14th St., commodoreastoria.com, from $89). Reopened two years ago after being shuttered since 1966, the property pairs modern furnishings with sly nods to the city's history as a seaside cannery hub: thick braided ropes, nautical charts, and fishing floats. As afternoon rolls around, locals gather at the four-year-old Fort George Brewery + Public House for burgers made from local beef, as well as pints of the hoppy Vortex IPA, the Belgian-style Quick Wit ale, and as of this year, the 1811 Pre-Prohibition Lager, created in honor of Astoria's bicentennial (1483 Duane St., fortgeorgebrewery.com, pints from $4.25). You didn't really think these former pioneers would celebrate with champagne, did you? -Beth Collins 3. CLAYTON, NEW YORK (POPULATION 1,978) A River Runs to ItSome shore communities take their location for granted. Not so with Clayton. "I have lunch on the river every day," says Gregory Ingerson, a guide at the 320-ship Antique Boat Museum (750 Mary St., abm.org, admission $12). The curators are so proud of their nautical heritage that they use Q-tips to clean the exhibits, right down to the well-preserved heel marks in the floor of one turn-of-the-century houseboat. Clayton sits on a peninsula that juts out into the St. Lawrence River, so far north that the fire department's boat flies the American and Canadian flags. One of the benefits of that isolation is that the river itself is like a neighbor. In the summer, the old ferry terminal, where wealthy visitors once caught rides to their cottages on the Thousand Islands (birthplace of Thousand Island salad dressing), now hosts concerts. Out on the water, the family-run Ferguson Fishing Charters offers morning fishing trips followed by picnics on a private island, where a guide cooks the day's catch over a fire for lunch (fergusonfishingcharters.com, half-day charters for a group of four $325). Back on dry land, K's Motel & Cottages' two-night "ship watch special" includes a room, a two-and-a-half-hour boat cruise, admission to the Antique Boat Museum, and two meals (1075 State St., thousandislands.com/k, $159 per person). -Ray Pagliarulo 4. EUREKA SPRINGS, ARKANSAS (POPULATION 2,073) Honeymoons and MoreSure, you could sleep in one of the Queen Anne-style B&Bs, visit the monumental 67-foot-tall hilltop Christ of the Ozarks, catch a Branson-style show, or hunt for ghosts in the historic downtown. You could easily spend a week on the tourist circuit in this late-1800s Victorian spa retreat. But you'd never get to meet the real Eureka Springs. Eureka Springs may be the honeymoon capital of the Ozarks, but don't let the kitschy, heart-shaped Jacuzzis fool you. "The guy on the street corner playing fiddle?" says local artist Cathy Harris. "He is a trained concert violinist." "And those men at the bar just may be geniuses," adds Harris's husband, J.D., a sculptor with beaded gray dreadlocks. "We had a team win the international Mensa competition two years in a row." The current of creativity bubbles up just about everywhere, if you look hard enough. At the Eureka Thyme gallery, Marsha Havens skips the trinkets of other tourist traps in favor of works that draw on Ozark inspirations: wooden bowls made from found downed trees and clay bird whistles that warble like the real thing (19 Spring St., eurekathyme.com, wooden bowls from $50). You might even say that an artisan spirit is part of the recipe of Garden Bistro, where partners Lana Campbell and Robert Herrera draw from local ingredients for their Amish-style bread baked in flowerpots and unfussy plates of family-style veggies grown on her farm (119 N. Main St., 479/253-1281, pork chops $19). The biggest surprise of all may be the 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa, a palatial ivy-covered grand hotel with claw-foot tubs and manicured gardens (75 Prospect Ave., crescent-hotel.com, doubles from $129). From this perch, you'll be inclined to look back to see Eureka Springs, but the leafy Ozarks keep the valley all but hidden from view—an apt vista for a town dubbed Tree City USA. -Nicholas DeRenzo 5. LA POINTE, WISCONSIN (POPULATION 309) A Superior HamletIt's called the Island Wave, and to the folks on Madeline Island—a quiet, North Woods enclave of artists on Lake Superior—it means you greet everyone, even when you're driving. It's a lovely idea, but in summer it can get, well, dangerous. That's when La Pointe, the island's only town, swells with visitors. "The line goes out the door for hours on July 4th," says Marie Noha, owner of the Mission Hill Coffee House (105-106 Lakeview Pl., on Middle Rd., 715/747-3100, coffee $1.45). And then there's the winter, when the only way off Manhattan-size Madeline is by wind sled or ice road. Then the Island Wave becomes a way to connect to the outside world. "I don't mind the loneliness," says Amitty Romundstad, manager of the Inn on Madeline Island (641 Main St., madisland.com, doubles from $95). The literary and opera societies meet in the off-season, and occasionally there's a gorgeous show put on courtesy of the northern lights, when hearty La Pointe locals gather on the ice road to be dazzled together. "We're not a community," says novelist and boat captain Richard Coleman. "We're a tribe." -Debra Weiner 6. PHOENICIA, NEW YORK (POPULATION 309) A Riverside RetreatThe library in Phoenicia burned down this spring, and suddenly there were books everywhere. Not casualties of the fire, but boxes and boxes of donations to replace what was lost. Residents now check out books (and fishing poles) at the temporary library branch housed in the old medical building on Ava Maria Drive. Phoenicia may look like a one-street river town sandwiched between hills in New York's Catskills—it does a wicked tubing business in the summer—but it's got a bookish, cosmopolitan vibe in its soul. "It's not just crazy guys with cars in their yards," says Michael Koegel of Mama's Boy, a hip little cafe and smoothie bar (7 Church St., mamasboymarket.com, mac 'n' cheese $4.95). Like Koegel, many Phoenicians came from Manhattan, and they've brought a healthy dose of quirk with them. For instance, former New Yorker Alan Fliegel, who owns A Community Store, sells locally made clothing and underground comic books—and runs a well-stocked communal art gallery upstairs (60 Main St., 845/688-5395, comic books from $1). Yet like its library that loans fishing poles, Phoenicia hasn't lost touch with its down-home roots. If you spend the night at the cozy Phoenicia Lodge, you may feel like you've woken up in Mayberry (5987 Rte. 28, phoenicialodge.com, doubles from $70). You certainly will after breakfast at Sweet Sue's Restaurant (49 Main St., 845/688-7852, mixed-berry pancakes from $5.25). The pancakes (pumpkin, pineapple-coconut, and 20-plus other varieties) are legendary, as are the lines waiting to get inside. -R.P. 7. NEWTOWN BOROUGH, PENNSYLVANIA (POPULATION 2,384) Amish Country CharmNewtown Borough isn't the kind of place where you'd expect to see millionaires tooling around in a fancy car. In fact, the rural Bucks County burg is close enough to Amish Country that most of the convertibles around these parts are horses-and-buggies. But when Rick Krotz and his brother-in-law Bill Kane hit an astounding sort of daily doubl—Krotz won $607,000 on the Cash 5 lottery in 2006, and Kane netted $3 million from a single scratch-off ticket in 2009—this is exactly the place they wanted to be. Both men grew up nearby and had always loved Newtown's well-worn charms. It's home to the nation's oldest movie theater, Newtown Theatre, a 375-seat, red-brick treasure that's been in operation since 1906 (120 N. State St., newtowntheatre.com, tickets $9). The Brick Hotel, built in 1764 and still looking sharp decked out in hunter green shutters and striped awnings, is one of the few places that can honestly claim that George Washington slept here (1 E. Washington Ave., brickhotel.com, doubles from $80). And director M. Night Shyamalan likes the look of Newtown so much, he filmed Signs here in 2002. So last year, the lottery brothers bought Ned's Cigar Store (4 S. State St., nedscigar.com, cigars from $3). It's now filled with mahogany chairs, cherrywood cabinets—and a steady stream of hopeful lotto-ticket buyers. "I guess they think our luck might rub off on them," Krotz says. "That would really be the dream come true—to sell someone else a big winner." -Andrea Minarcek 8. CEDAR KEY, FLORIDA (POPULATION 896) Unspoiled on the GulfIf someone asked you where to get the best New England clam chowder, you might be inclined to say, "Duh, New England." You'd be wrong—by over 1,000 miles. For the past three years, the Great Chowder Cook-Off in Newport, R.I., has been won by Tony's Seafood Restaurant of Cedar Key (597 2nd St., tonyschowder.com, cup $4.65). In fact, the town is America's second-largest producer of farmed clams, one of many surprises in this two-square-mile hamlet 130 miles north of Tampa. Despite its prime location on the Gulf of Mexico, Cedar Key has escaped the pull of developers-its spit of beach isn't long enough to attract large-scale building projects. Instead, it still feels like a ramshackle, old fishing village straight out of Hemingway. "People always say it's like Key West 30 years ago," says innkeeper Ada Lang. Built in 1919 and restored in 2004, Ada's Wabi Sabi Cottage is a time-capsule example of a "Cracker" cottage, a style of wood-frame house popular in the 19th century (689 4th St., 352/543-5696, from $130). The last time outside developers set their sights on Cedar Key was in the late 1880s, when pencil makers carted off the island's namesake cedars. (There's still a bit left in the worn wooden exteriors of tackle shops and clam shacks on Dock Street.) If you're looking to catch your own lunch, Kayak Cedar Keys offers boats specially equipped with rod holders and anchors, perfect for whiling away hours in search of redfish and trout (kayakcedarkeys.com, rentals $50 per day). Weary paddlers can rest up at Point Cottage, an octagonal stilt house overlooking Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge (12218 Franko Circle, pointcottage.com, $179 a night, sleeps six). And there's always dinner at Tony's. The menu is extensive, but don't you dare skip the chowder: The recipe has been entered into the Great Chowder Cook-Off Hall of Fame. -N.D. 9. RIPON, WISCONSIN (POPULATION 7,733) College Town PerfectionThey must have made odd neighbors: the Utopian Socialists on the prairie and the entrepreneurial abolitionists up on the hill. The socialists lived on a commune. The abolitionists later founded the Republican party. And yet, in the 1850s, they joined forces to found Ripon (the town) and then Ripon (the college). Town and gown have been intertwined ever since, proudly perched in the middle of the cornfields 85 miles northwest of Milwaukee. In some college towns, the locals and students get along like rivals at the Michigan-Ohio State football game. Not in Ripon. The professors sit on the local school board. The students sing in the church choirs, and church folk welcome the school's 1,000 or so students with a potluck every fall. Friday evenings in summer, across from the college president's office in the old public library, townies and academics alike turn out for concerts on the Village Green. "My favorite is Tuba Dan's polka band," says Professor Mary Avery, who oversees a student group that helps local businesses, such as the Watson Street Sub Shop, create financial plans (314 Watson St., watsonstreetsubs.com, subs from $6.75). Watson Street in turn lets the students use its storefront for fund-raisers. "We are the quintessential college town," says David Joyce, president of Ripon. "Or maybe it should be the quintessential town with a college?" -D.W. 10. GREENSBURG, KANSAS (POPULATION 777) The Real Emerald CityWhen you pull into Greensburg, you may well think you're not in Kansas anymore: Elegant wind turbines and LED streetlights have replaced cornfields and barns. After a 2007 tornado destroyed 95 percent of Greensburg, those who stayed vowed to build the ecofriendliest town ever. "Being green is such a part of our identity that people assume we changed our name after the storm," says Ruth Ann Wedel, site manager of GreenTown, the city's rebuilding campaign. (For the record, the "green" comes from stagecoach driver D.R. Green.) Like the name, the idea of going green dates back further than you'd expect. "These are not hippie-dippy concepts," says Stacy Barnes, director of the 5.4.7 Arts Center (204 W. Wisconsin Ave., 547artscenter.org, free). "These are the same tenets used in pioneer days—south-facing windows in chicken coops to increase sunlight, reusing everything like Mennonites do. We got lazy over the past century." The gallery, named for the day the storm hit, houses contemporary art from around the U.S. Many businesses here pay tribute to the past. Green Bean Coffee Co. serves milkshakes to fill the void left by the destruction of the old soda fountain (105 E. Kansas Ave., notyourmommascoffee.com, shakes $3.50). Nearby, you'll find innovations both high-tech (solar panels) and low (banisters made from tractor parts) at the Silo Eco-Home B&B (402 S. Sycamore St., 620/723-2790, doubles from $110). Just goes to show: It's not so hard being green after all. -N.D.

    10 Endangered State Parks

    California's Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve has made big news twice in the past two years. The first time came in December 2010, when scientists thought they'd discovered an unusual form of bacteria that devoured arsenic while it lurked in the mud around the lake's knobby limestone spires. But it was the second headline, five months later, that was really scary. That was when California's state parks department announced that Mono Lake itself was about to be wiped out—though by a far more mundane force. SEE THE STATE PARKS NOW! Mono was one of 70 parks targeted by the state in an effort to cut $22 million from California's budget gap, which totaled $9.2 billion at the time. Also on the list: Jack London's former home and writing studio in Sonoma County and a handful of old-growth redwood forests along the northern coast. All told, California was talking about mothballing about 25 percent of its 278 parks. The news hasn't been much better elsewhere. New York, Illinois, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Virginia, and Idaho have contemplated closing parks in recent years; Ohio has considered leasing some state park lands for oil and gas drilling to help raise money; and Virginia has explored corporate partnerships to keep park gates open. What gets lost in this game of budgetary Russian roulette is how precious these lands can be. State parks, such as the ones you'll see here, often rival their national-park cousins in sheer beauty: Did you know that Niagara Falls is actually a New York state park? Last year, the nation's 6,624 state parks attracted 720 million visitors, more than twice what the national parks see, and they do it with almost $1 billion less in annual operating revenue. "Some states have had cuts of 30, 40, 50 percent or more in their operating budgets, and some budgets have been cut twice in one year," says Rich Dolesh, the vice president for conservation and parks at the National Recreation and Park Association. Yet, true to their more-with-less ethos, state parks are finding imaginative ways to hang on. Michigan has seen some success selling annual passes to its parks system, and other states have made arrangements with communities and nonprofits to share the financial burden—at least for a while. In April 2012, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pledged $89 million for repairs and improvements to his state's parks. As for California: As of press time, 65 of the 70 endangered parks had been temporarily spared—including Mono Lake—thanks to help from the communities that depend on them. They've cobbled together private donations, volunteer staffing, and funding by city and county governments and nonprofits to try to bridge the gaps. We may not be out of the woods yet, but we're certainly sniffing out the trail. 1. MONO LAKE TUFA STATE NATURAL RESERVE  California This park's namesake tufa towers, limestone formations that rise from its 65-square-mile lake, are impressive from wherever you're standing. But to fully apprecate them, you've got to approach like an osprey might: coming in low over the water. Can't fly? Then bring a canoe. Up close, the spires resemble white-chalk skyscrapers, a kind of surreal city that's visited by more than a million migratory birds each year. Just don't get too close to the ospreys themselves. From April through August, the birds nest on the towers, and it's forbidden to come within 200 yards. Like anything else this old—the lake has been around for anywhere from 760,000 to 3 million years—Mono Lake endured its share of woe long before the latest California budget struggle. Between 1941 and 1981, Mono lost half its volume and doubled in salinity after four of its five tributaries were diverted to supplement Los Angeles's water supply. Even now, it's almost three times as salty as the ocean. Yet, thanks to the Mono Lake Committee, which rallied to reclaim those lost streams in 1978, the lake is slowly filling up again. And now that the nonprofit Bodie Foundation has stepped in to help keep Mono Lake open to the public, you'll be able to witness the lake's gradual climb back to a healthy level—however long that takes. Let's hope we can say the same for the rest of California's parks. Where to Stay: There's no camping at Mono Lake, but you'll find a range of accommodations in Mammoth Lakes, a ski town 40 miles south. The pet-friendly Mammoth Creek Inn Hotel and Spa has a new spa and fitness center and 26 renovated rooms (themammothcreek.com, doubles from $109). While You're There: You can't very well travel to Mono Lake and not tack on a visit to Yosemite National Park, just 13 miles west. Although, with nearly 12,000 square miles to explore, you'll need more than a brief detour to tackle it all (nps.gov, admission $20 per car). How to Help: Make a donation to the Bodie Foundation, specifying that you'd like the money to go toward Mono Lake (bodiefoundation.org). Park Info: 1 Visitor Center Drive, Lee Vining, Calif., 760/647-6331, parks.ca.gov, hours vary (call the park in advance to check), admission free, parking $3. 2. NIAGARA FALLS STATE PARK  New York Niagara Falls has an image problem. Really. Start with the fact that almost no one knows that this crown jewel of the state park system is a state park—not to mention that, at 127 years old, it's also the nation's oldest. The American side has long played second fiddle to the casino-and-hotel-lined Canadian section, due in part to New York State's $1 billion park-repairs deficit, which has left its falls in desperate need of pedestrian bridges, railings, walkways, and upgraded water and electrical systems. Last year, the New York Times had one word to describe the 400 acres surrounding Niagara: "shabby." But even in reduced circumstances, Niagara is worth the trip. There's actual nature on the American side—it feels like a park, not a Vegas Strip knockoff. And that nature has a pedigree: The park was designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, the man behind New York's Central Park. In April, the state launched a $25 million project that will address the park's urgent infrastructure needs as well as restore elements—native plantings, intimate overlooks—outlined in Olmsted's plan. Today, prime viewpoints can be found on Goat Island, which sits between the American and Canadian falls. But the best bang for your buck is the $1 elevator ride up the Observation Tower at Prospect Point, which yields a priceless view from 220 feet. No raincoats necessary. Where to Stay: The 39-room Giacomo, in a 1929 Art Deco building, opened three years ago with modern furniture and abstract art; rooms also have free Wi-Fi, Keurig coffeemakers, and refrigerators (thegiacomo.com, doubles from $139). The Giacomo is two blocks from the park, and you can see the rapids from the hotel's 19th-floor Skyview Lounge. While You're There: If you've brought your passport, the Butterfly Conservatory at Canada's Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens is worth a border crossing. Its 2,000 airborne inhabitants (from 45 species) have been known to alight on certain lucky visitors (niagaraparks.com, admission $13, parking $5). How to Help: Donate to any New York state park via the Natural Heritage Trust (nysparks.com), the Alliance for New York State Parks (allnysparks.org), Parks & Trails New York (ptny.org), or any individual park's website. Park Info: First St. and Buffalo Ave., Niagara Falls, N.Y., 716/278-1796, nysparks.com, open 24 hours daily, admission free. 3. LUDINGTON STATE PARK  Michigan Michigan's Recreation Passport Program, a $10 annual park pass, has pumped $6 million into the state and local parks system since it launched in 2010. The bad news: Collectively, parks around the state still need more than $300 million in repairs. The roof at Ludington's nature center buckled under heavy snow in 2009, and it still hasn't been fixed. Now the entire building has to be torn down. Sadly, there's no money for that either. Ludington deserves better. Snug between Lake Michigan and Hamlin Lake, the nearly 5,300-acre park has seven miles of sandy, dune-strewn beaches, a historic lighthouse you can climb, more than 20 miles of hiking trails (plus paths for biking and cross-country skiing), and the shallow, clear Big Sable River, which is perfect for drifting down in an inner tube. No wonder Ludington has been a Great Lakes-area favorite since it was established 76 years ago. Where to Stay: Ludington's four campgrounds fill up quickly; reserve campsites six months in advance or cabins and yurts one year out, when openings are posted (midnrreservations.com, camping from $16). You can also try the Lamplighter Bed & Breakfast, an 1892 home with an original oak banister, leaded-glass windows, and a porcelain-tiled fireplace (ludington-michigan.com, doubles from $115). While You're There: Explore downtown Ludington, a onetime logging-town-turned-beach-retreat, or go further back in time at Historic White Pine Village, two miles south. The site has a collection of 29 restored (or re-created) 19th-century buildings, enhanced with educational exhibits (historicwhitepinevillage.org, adults $9). How to Help: Make a tax-deductible donation to a specific park or purchase a gift certificate (for camping fees, mooring fees, and merchandise) at michigan.gov. Park Info: 8800 W. M-116, Ludington, Mich., 231/843-2423, michigan.gov, open daily 8 A.M.-10 P.M., admission $8. 4. CACHE RIVER STATE NATURAL AREA  Illinois There are more famous swamps than the one in Cache River State Natural Area, a nearly 15,000-acre Illinois state park 30 miles from the Kentucky border. The Everglades, say, or Okefenokee. But who wants a crowd along? One of the northernmost examples of a true Southern swamp, the delightfully under-the-radar Cache River park gets only about 200,000 annual visitors—that's about one visitor per acre per month. Other life forms aren't nearly so scarce here: The park's wetlands, floodplains, forests, and limestone barrens harbor more than 100 threatened or endangered species. It's best explored by canoe, along six miles of paddling trails that bring you face-to-face with massive tupelo and cypress trunks. There are also 20 miles of foot trails in the park and a floating boardwalk that leads to the center of Heron Pond, which is carpeted in summer with a bright-green layer of floating duckweed. BYO boat, or rent one from White Crane Canoe and Pirogue Rentals in Ullin, Ill., about 12 miles west (whitecranerentals.com, canoe rental $15 per person per day). Where to Stay: A half-hour drive west of the park, Anna, Ill., has a handful of antiques shops, a pottery museum, and the Davie School Inn, an 11-room, all-suite B&B in a converted 1910 schoolhouse (davieschoolinn.com, doubles from $100). While You're There: Work in a detour to Metropolis, Ill., a.k.a. Superman's hometown. The Super Museum has more than 20,000 TV and movie props and other collectibles amassed by owner Jim Hambrick (supermuseum.com, admission $5). How to Help: Join the Friends of the Cache River Watershed nonprofit (friendsofcache.org). Park Info: 930 Sunflower Lane, Belknap, Ill., 618/634-9678, dnr.state.il.us, visitors center hours Wed.-Sun. 9 A.M.-4 P.M., admission free. 5. RED ROCK STATE PARK  Arizona When the grandest of canyons is in your backyard, it's easy to take your lesser landmarks for granted. That seemed to be the case in Arizona, which targeted 13 of its 22 parks for closure in 2010, including Red Rock. Fortunately, not everyone was so quick to write off the little guys. Red Rock's lifeline arrived via the Yavapai County and City of Sedona governments and the Benefactors of Red Rock State Park, which jointly raised $240,000 to temporarily finance the park. That will keep this 286-acre nature preserve open at least until June 2013. Among the best ways to take in the rust-colored canyon are the park's five miles of hiking trails and one mile for biking and horseback riding. Birding is big here, too: Every Wednesday and Saturday at 8 A.M. (7 A.M. in summer), guides lead aviary walks along the banks of Oak Creek, and guests can follow along with the park's checklist of feathered regulars: black-chinned hummingbirds, great blue herons, and the occasional yellow-billed cuckoo. Everything in Red Rock is colorful! Where to Stay: Sedona's hotels can be pricey, so try an apartment or casita rental on vrbo.com, with over 150 local listings—some under $100 per night. While You're There: Get your massage fix. Sedona regulars favor Stillpoint...Living in Balance, naming its massage the "Best of Sedona" in a local poll the past four years (stillpointbalance.com, 70-minute massage $90). How to Help: Visit benefactorsrrsp.org to make a donation, or sign up for a subscription to Arizona Highways magazine: $5 of the $24 cost will be directed to the park of your choice (arizonahighways.com). Park Info: 4050 Red Rock Loop Rd., Sedona, Ariz., 928/282-6907, azstateparks.com, open daily 8 A.M.-5 P.M., admission $10 per car or $3 for individuals. 6. BLACKWATER FALLS STATE PARK West Virginia Blackwater Falls's namesake cascade isn't just the most picturesque spot in this 2,456-acre park—it's also one of the most photographed places in the state. The area is equally eye-catching when it's dressed in the bright greens of spring, the Crayola-box colors of autumn, or silvery winter, when parts of the falls freeze into man-size icicles. The falls themselves—more brown than black—get their distinctive hue from tannic acid that leaches into the river from hemlock and red spruce needles upstream. But there's something potentially more serious darkening the future of West Virginia's state parks: hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) wells that could be built on ecologically significant public lands. Surface rights don't always include the mineral rights when park land is acquired; in West Virginia, the mineral rights under approximately 40 percent of the state parks, including Blackwater, are privately held. It's those split-custody parks that experts say are at greatest risk. Chief Logan State Park, about 200 miles away, already lost a fracking battle when the state's Supreme Court, over the objection of the W. Va. Department of Environmental Protection, voted unanimously in 2010 to allow natural gas drilling in the park—a process that typically calls for not just drilling, but also the construction of roads and the clear-cutting of trees. Almost the entire state of West Virginia sits atop the Marcellus Shale, the natural-gas source targeted at Chief Logan, which means that a dozen or so other parks could soon find themselves fighting for their rights, too. Where to Stay: Outdoorsy types can pitch a tent at 65 campsites, or upgrade to one of 26 deluxe cabins with full kitchens, private bathrooms, and fireplaces—but not A/C. For that creature comfort, you'll need to book a night in the 54-room lodge, which also has a game room and an indoor pool (blackwaterfalls.com, camping from $20, lodge rooms from $84). While You're There: Plan a day trip to the small yet lively town of Elkins, W. Va., taking the hour long scenic route through Blackwater and Canaan Valley State Park. In Elkins, the Randolph County Community Arts Center hosts free concerts, arts workshops, and traveling exhibitions year-round—its third Smithsonian exhibition just came through this summer (randolpharts.org). How to Help: Donate cash, stock, or even office supplies to Friends of Blackwater, a group focused on preserving the ecosystem of Blackwater Canyon (saveblackwater.org). Park Info: 1584 Blackwater Lodge Rd., Davis, W. Va., 304/259-5216, blackwaterfalls.com, open 6 A.M.-10 P.M., admission free. 7. HONEYMOON ISLAND STATE PARK Florida You'd expect a place called Honeymoon Island to be dreamy, and with four miles of white beaches and two more of nature trails (where osprey, terns, and bald eagles nest), Florida's most popular state park is tailor-made for romantic strolls. Even back when it was known as Hog Island—before a 1930s developer put up a string of beach cottages and renamed the spot to lure newlyweds—visitors to the tiny barrier island were all but guaranteed dolphin sightings and stunning sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico. The cottages are gone now, but more than a million people still cross the bridge to the island each year to spend the day swimming, surfing, kayaking, and collecting shells along the north shore. The only thing you can't do is sleep under the stars. Last year Florida proposed adding a privately run RV campground to Honeymoon Island State Park, citing high demand for more camping opportunities in state parks. However, area residents protested the campground and its potential disruption of the park's ecosystem, and the plans were dropped. For now, at least, the beaches close at sunset, with only those osprey, terns, and eagles to look after them. Where to Stay: Hotels and vacation rentals abound in the adjacent towns of Dunedin and Clearwater. Frenchy's Oasis Motel, 11 miles south of the park, gives the old-fashioned motor lodge a Mid-Century Modern spin with starburst clocks, a bright, citrusy palette, and free Wi-Fi (frenchysoasismotel.com, doubles from $119). While You're There: Before a hurricane divided them in the 1920s, Honeymoon Island and neighboring Caladesi Island were a single land mass. Today, you can only reach car-free Caladesi by boat (or Jet Ski). The only public ferries leave from Honeymoon Island; rides take 20 minutes and run every half hour starting at 10 A.M. (caladesiferry.org, $14 round-trip). How to Help: Make a tax-deductible donation through Florida's Help Our State Parks (HOSP) program (mailed to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Recreation and Parks, 3900 Commonwealth Blvd., MS 540, Tallahassee, FL 32399). Park Info: 1 Causeway Blvd., Dunedin, Fla., 727/469-5942, floridastateparks.org, open daily 8 A.M. to sundown, admission $8 per vehicle ($4 for solo drivers) or $2 for pedestrians and cyclists. 8. KATY TRAIL STATE PARK  Missouri The largest rails-to-trails conversion in America, the 240-mile Katy Trail spans Missouri's midsection, from Clinton in the west to Machens in the east, along the former track of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) Railroad (a.k.a. the Katy). The mostly flat path is open to hikers and cyclists—and in some sections, horseback riders—and traverses historic railroad bridges, tunnels, forests, valleys, and open fields. In spots, it skirts the edge of the Missouri River. Some hardy souls tackle the whole trail (a roughly five-day undertaking for an experienced cyclist). Those who prefer a more leisurely trek should consider a daytrip between Rocheport and Boonville, two early-19th-century towns (the latter established by Daniel Boone's offspring) separated by 12 miles of nature preserves, vineyards, and river views. Of course, all those miles of pathway—including 500 bridges and 60 buildings—don't just tend themselves, and it is estimated that the Katy Trail has $47.5 million in deferred maintenance projects, accounting for nearly a quarter of the total $200 million backlog of repairs needed in Missouri's parks. Where to stay: There are no campgrounds in the park, but you can have your pick of small-town inns along the route. Some cater to cyclists with extras such as free laundry service, double-size whirlpool tubs, and free bike storage and tune-up tools. Rocheport's School House Bed & Breakfast, in a three-story brick schoolhouse from 1914, sweetens the deal with fresh-baked cookies at check-in (schoolhousebb.com, doubles from $149). While you're there: Missouri's 100-plus wineries produce nearly half a million cases of wine each year. Les Bourgeois Vineyards and Winery, the state's third-largest, is just outside downtown Rocheport on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River (missouriwine.com, open daily 11 A.M.-6 P.M.). Bonus: The School House Bed and Breakfast gives rides to guests who are too tired to make the uphill trek. How to help: Donation boxes are posted at all trailheads; you can also "adopt" a section of trail or a bike rack or make a tax-deductible donation at katytrailstatepark.com. Park Info: Clinton, Mo., to Machens, Mo., 800/334-6946, katytrailstatepark.com, open sunrise to sunset, admission free. 9. VALLEY OF FIRE STATE PARK  Nevada In the past four years, general funding for Nevada's state parks has been reduced by roughly 60 percent, with almost $3 million cut in 2011 alone. While no closures are planned, the parks are suffering from reduced maintenance, and staffing levels have been cut by 19 percent, even as attendance has grown. One of the state's best-loved parks is the Valley of Fire, 42,000 arid acres about an hour's drive northeast from Las Vegas. The park delivers its own kind of high-stakes drama, trading neon and nightclubs for 150-million-year-old sandstone formations and 3,000-year-old petroglyphs (images carved in rock). You could even say it has star quality: The surreal, burnt-sienna landscape stood in for Mars in the 1990 movie Total Recall. If you're embarking on your own photo safari or DIY sci-fi flick in Nevada's largest state park, don't miss Arch Rock, Elephant Rock, or the Beehives, all of which are essentially solid-stone versions of exactly what they sound like. And be sure to take snapshots with and without people in the frame—the structures are even more outstanding when you can get a sense of their scale. Most important of all: Bring lots of water with you. There are few facilities within the park, and the sandy stretches of some hikes make them more strenuous than you'd think, particularly in the summer, when Mojave Desert temperatures top 120 degrees. Best to come in spring or fall for a more comfortable trip. Where to Stay: The park contains 72 campsites, including RV spots with water and electrical hookups (campsites $20 per night plus $10 for hookups; $2 discount for Nevada residents). If that's not your speed, the family-run North Shore Inn has a pool, in-room fridges, and powerful air conditioning (northshoreinnatlakemead.com, doubles from $85). While You're There: When you've had your fill of heat, the waters of Lake Mead are about six miles away. Boat rentals for fishing and water skiing are plentiful; the nearest outfitter is Echo Bay Marina, on the lake's northern reach (echobaylakemead.com, five-seat fishing boats $60 for a half-day rental). How to Help: There's a donation jar in the visitors center where you can deposit a contribution. Park Info: Interstate 15 at Highway 169, Exit 75, Overton, Nev., 702/397-2088, parks.nv.gov, open daily sunrise to sunset (except for campers), admission $10 per vehicle (or $8 for Nevada residents). 10. OHIOPYLE STATE PARK  Pennsylvania If ever there were an all-purpose park, southwestern Pennsylvania's Ohiopyle State Park is it. Looking for waterfalls? It has four (including the one in our slide show, which seems as if it must have inspired Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater house, just five miles away). Trails? Hikers get 79 miles of them—plus 27 miles for cyclists, 11 for folks on horseback, and nearly 40 for cross-country skiers. And why not throw in a natural water slide or two? The lifeblood of the 20,000-acre park, however, is the Youghiogheny River Gorge-a.k.a. the Yough. The Middle Yough, which flows to Ohiopyle from Confluence, Pa., is the gentler section, with Class I and II rapids for rafters and kayakers; the Lower Yough, downstream, gets up to Class IV whitewater. Combined, they attract a good chunk of the 1 million people who visit the park every year. But if Ohiopyle has a little something for everyone, there's a lot more to the park than meets the eye—and that's just the problem. Like some 60 other Pennsylvania state parks (as well as West Virginia's Blackwater Falls, on page 60), Ohiopyle is situated atop the natural-gas-rich Marcellus Shale-and the state doesn't own the mineral rights underneath the park. In fact, the mineral rights to about 80 percent of Pennsylvania's state park lands are privately owned (or available for lease), and under current legal precedent, mineral rights are given precedence over surface rights. Parks advocates fear that it won't be long before a drilling rig is erected in a state park. Sound alarmist? Well, Pennsylvania issued its first lease for oil and gas extraction on state forest lands back in 1947 and drilling continues today. Where to Stay: The quietest campsites in Ohiopyle's Kentuck campground are the walk-in sites numbered 51-64 and 103-115; however, some folks have found the camp's firm 9 P.M. quiet hours a little too restrictive. If your brood tends to get livelier as the night wears on, consider a vacation rental in Hidden Valley, Pa., or Seven Springs, Pa., both less than 30 miles to the northeast; these two ski towns have solid selections of rental condos and homes that can be deeply discounted in the off-season (vrbo.com). While You're There: Two Frank Lloyd Wright homes are within a 10-minute drive of the park: world-famous Fallingwater, designed in 1935 (fallingwater.org, admission $8), and the lesser-known Kentuck Knob, built in 1956 (kentuckknob.com, tours from $20). How to Help: Send a donation through paparksandforests.org, or pick up a 16-month (Sept. 2012-Dec. 2013) Civilian Conservation Corps wall calendar, the profits from which are reinvested in parks (888/727-2757, $8.50). Park Info: 124 Main Street, Ohiopyle, Pa., 724/329-8591, dcnr.state.pa.us, open from dawn to dusk, admission free.

    Inspiration

    The Mining Towns of Southern West Virginia

    John Denver immortalized West Virginia's country roads with the song that's become the de facto state anthem, one that even visitors know by heart. My colleague Moira, who's riding shotgun and taking photographs, and I belt out the lyrics repeatedly during the course of our trip. South of Charleston, country roads crisscross raging rivers, bisect towns too small to show up on a map, and roll over the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. The triangle between Charleston, Beckley, and Lewisburg is almost heaven (as Denver croons and the state's license plates advertise), and not just because of the pleasant driving. There's also enough history to keep us intrigued, enough adventure to keep us active, and enough kitsch to keep us entertained every mile of the way. Day 1: Charleston to Beckley After landing in Charleston midmorning, we head straight for Beckley, home to Tamarack, a 60,000-square-foot circular mall dedicated to West Virginia arts and crafts. Though architecturally bizarre--its roofline resembles the Statue of Liberty's crown, painted fire-engine red--half a million visitors a year come to buy crafts (blown glass, quilts, and wood carvings), listen to musicians, and watch the artists-in-residence work in their glass-walled studios. Our loop through the building ends at the buffet restaurant, where Moira and I fill up on fried-green-tomato sandwiches and pan-seared locally farmed trout before hitting Coal Country. By the 1880s, the completion of the Chesapeake & Ohio and the Norfolk & Western railroads had brought thousands of miners to southern West Virginia. Beckley is the gateway to what's now known as the Coal Heritage Trail, a 100-mile stretch of boom-and-bust towns reaching south to the Virginia border. At the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine museum--a working mine from 1890 to 1910--we hop a battery-powered tram and venture 1,500 dark feet into the mountain, past mossy walls and under a dripping ceiling. Our guide, Joe Norkevitz, who worked for various local coal companies for 40 years, explains that Beckley miners spent their 16-hour shifts on their knees or backs, as the average coal deposits were only waist high. I start to feel claustrophobic, and it only gets worse as he goes on to explain the dangers of collapses and methane gas explosions. Above ground, a walk through the museum and coal camp provides a look at the stark life miners lived outside of the mountain. A simple stove, desk, and a narrow single bed somehow fit in a tiny shanty, no more than six feet wide by nine feet long. At the Country Inn & Suites nearby, Moira and I have a renewed appreciation for our standard room's size. Day One Lodging Country Inn & Suites2120 Harper Rd., Beckley, 800/456-4000, countryinns.com, from $75 Attractions Tamarack OneTamarack Place, Beckley, 888/262-7225 Beckley Coal MineNew River Park, Beckley, 304/256-1747, open April-October, $15 Resources Southern West VirginiaCVB 221 George St., Beckley, 304/252-2244, visitwv.com Day 2: Beckley to Lewisburg Today's plan is to take scenic Route 3 toward Lewisburg. At White Oak Mountain Sporting Clays, in Shady Spring, manager Joe Clinebell shows us the proper handling of a 12-gauge shotgun. Shooting clay targets is the fastest growing gun sport in the country, says Clinebell, who describes it as "golf with a shotgun." We walk through the woods from station to station, firing at targets that, depending on how they're launched, simulate the movement of rabbits, ducks, or pheasant. Moira has never picked up a gun before but still manages to hit a few. I don't do much better even though I've shot skeet several times recently. Clinebell suggests that keeping my eyes open as I pull the trigger would help my aim. Using up our 50 rounds takes about two hours. By then, we're good and ready to move on to Hinton, a railroad town founded in 1873 at the point where the Greenbrier, Bluestone, and New Rivers meet. On the outskirts, we stop for lunch at Kirk's. The restaurant proper isn't much to look at, but the view from the back deck--it juts out over the New River--is spectacular. Ducks float by below us, and the water churns near the rocky shore. I've heard that Kirk's has the best hot dogs around, and I'm not disappointed--the bun is perfectly toasted, and there's a heap of fries on the side. On Temple Street, the Railroad Museum--which displays old signals, pieces of track, and Pullman uniforms--doubles as a vistors center. We pick up a map and explore the many Victorian buildings that have put Hinton on the National Register of Historic Places. Ten miles past Hinton, we drive over the 6,500-foot Big Bend Tunnel, which John Henry helped construct in the early 1870s. There's an eight-foot bronze statue of him--bare-chested, with a steel-driving hammer in hand--at a turnoff just before Route 3 dives into Talcott. The road continues to meander through the Greenbrier Valley, famous in the early 1900s for its natural mineral springs and exclusive spas. The sulfur-rich water was thought to cure tuberculosis, and trains brought the wealthy and ailing from as far as New York City. We drive past the Pence Springs Resort, formerly the Grand Hotel, which was once one of the area's most luxurious spas. Following the Depression, the place did time as a girls' school and then as a women's prison before reopening in 1987 as a hotel. We cruise into Lewisburg by late afternoon. During the Civil War, the city was a Confederate stronghold until Union forces defeated the Confederate Army here in 1862. A walking tour of the historic district leads us from the Confederate Cemetery to the boutiques and antiques shops on Washington Street. That night, a well-known Lewisburg band called the Manhattan Jazz Quartet is playing at the Sweet Shoppe, a bar where the beer is cheap and there's never a cover. Moira and I listen to the final set before we call it a night at the Hampton Inn. Day Two Lodging Hampton Inn30 Coleman Dr., Lewisburg, 800/426-7866, hamptoninn.com, from $84 Food Kirk's Family RestaurantRte. 3, Hinton, 304/466-4600, hot dog $1.75 Sweet Shoppe125 W. Washington St., Lewisburg, 304/645-3214, beer $2 Attractions White Oak Mountain Sporting Clays2350 Hinton Rd. (Rte. 3), Shady Spring, 304/763-5266, $50 for gun rental and 50 target rounds Hinton Railroad Museum206 Temple St., Hinton, 304/466-5420, summerscvb.com, free Resources Greenbrier CountyCVB 540 N. Jefferson St., Lewisburg, 800/833-2068, greenbrierwv.com Day 3: Lewisburg to Fayetteville We're on the road early because we have to get to Class VI River Runners by 10 a.m. First-timers probably aren't inclined to choose a run that includes Class V rapids, but Moira and I have only one shot at the New River so we decide to make the most of it. (Actually, I insist we make the most of it.) An old school bus takes us the 15 miles to the put-in. As we switchback down a sickeningly steep mountainside to the river's edge, trip leader Eric Cormack goes over his safety spiel. I feel Moira's increasingly nervous glare burning a hole into the side of my face. "If you fall out of the raft, and some of you will," Eric warns, "don't panic, remember to face downriver, and keep your feet up." There are thousands of submerged boulders (the very things that create the white water). "You don't want to get stuck up under there," Eric says succinctly. As it turns out, the bus ride is the scariest part of the day. Our five-hour run along 13 miles of river includes stops for swimming and a picnic lunch. The rapids--with names like Surprise, Pinball, and (ahem) Bloody Nose--are exhilarating, but there's plenty of gentle drifting, too. Just before the pick-up spot, we pass underneath the New River Gorge Bridge, the world's second-longest single-span steel arch. Back at Class VI headquarters, everyone goes to Chetty's Pub to watch the video footage from our trip. (A videographer paddled alongside us in a kayak, taping every scream, spill, and high five.) I catch a glimpse of my face as our raft dropped over one of the more challenging rapids: I look positively deranged--scared out of my mind and loving every minute of it. I happily shell out $14 for a still photo of the moment. Moira and I go back over the bridge to Dirty Ernie's Rib Pit. Co-owner Connie Taylor tells us Dirty Ernie was the foul-mouthed, hard-drinking original owner. Crunching across peanut shells customers have tossed on the cement floor, we head to a booth near the jukebox. A plate of barbecued pork ribs and a cold beer is the perfect end to the day. Day Three Operators Class VI River Runnersoff U.S. 19, near Fayetteville, 800/252-7784, classvi.com, from $89 Food Chetty's Pubabove Class VI River Runners, Fayetteville, 800/252-7784 Dirty Ernie's Rib Pit310 Keller Ave., Fayetteville, 304/574-4822, open late April--mid Oct., ribs from $12 Day 4: Fayetteville to Charleston Leaving Fayetteville, we drive south to a small part of the 70,000-acre New River Gorge National River park. The town of Thurmond--or what's left of it--consists of a couple of abandoned storefronts and a railroad depot. It's hard to picture it as one of the busiest places around at the turn of the century, when there were 26 mines in the area. But Prohibition, competing rail lines, and the Depression took their toll, and by 1940, it was well on its way to becoming a ghost town. The restored Thurmond Depot is now a visitors center and museum, and it's here that we learn one of the town's most colorful tales. The Dunglen Hotel, also known as "Little Monte Carlo," hosted the world's longest continually running poker game. It lasted 14 years and ended only when neighbors from the other side of the river lost their patience and burned the place to the ground in 1930. If Thurmond is the New River's past, Fayetteville is its future. It's become a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Every third Saturday in October, a quarter of a million people flock to the area for Bridge Day, when hundreds of base jumpers parachute off the New River Gorge Bridge. In town, we walk down Church Street to the Cathedral Café, in a deconsecrated Methodist church. Sunlight streams in through stained-glass windows as we eat grilled panini--smoked turkey and avocado for me, three cheese for Moira. Back on the Midland Trail, the road clings to the mountain high above the gorge in a series of stomach-wrenching turns. Just past the entrance to Hawk's Nest State Park, one of the turns reveals a wildly painted Volkswagen beetle crashed into the side of a rusty corrugated trailer. It's called the Mystery Hole. Owner Will Morrison makes us promise not to tell what we see on the 10-minute underground tour, and he's the kind of guy you don't cross. Moira gets so discombobulated by the strange happenings (and perhaps my driving) that she ditches me for the parking lot. On our way to the airport, we give our favorite song another go: "Drivin' down the road, I get a feelin' that I should have been home yesterday." But as I look back and catch my last glimpse of the Kanawha River, I can't help wishing we had another day. Day Four Food Cathedral Café134 S. Court St., Fayetteville, 304/574-0202, panini $6.25 Attractions Thurmond Depot Visitor CenterRte. 25 past Glen Jean, 304/465-0508 Mystery HoleU.S. 60, at mile marker 44, 304/658-9101, mysteryhole.com, $4 Resources New River Gorge National River304/465-0508, nps.gov/neri Fayetteville CVB310 N. Court St., Fayetteville, 888/574-1500, visitfayettevillewv.com Finding Your Way Continental, Delta, and US Airways all fly into Charleston's Yeager Airport. For a midsize car, expect to pay about $100 for four days. Before you leave home, pick up a copy of Far Appalachia, in which Noah Adams (former host of NPR's All Things Considered) recounts his journey by jeep, bike, foot, and raft from the New River's source in North Carolina to its mouth at the Gauley Bridge. Day 1: Charleston to Beckley, 60 miles Yeager Airport Road becomes Greenbrier Street/Route 114. Follow signs for I-64 east/I-77 south (also called the West Virginia Turnpike). There are two $1.25 tolls. Take exit 45 for Tamarack; it's visible from the interstate. The Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine is off exit 44. Head east on Route 3 (Harper Road) for a mile and a half and make a left onto Ewart Avenue. After about a mile, you'll see the New River Park entrance on the right. Day 2: Beckley to Lewisburg, 58 miles Follow Route 19 south from Beckley to Shady Spring, then Route 3 east toward Hinton. White Oak Mountain is four miles up on the right. Continue east on Route 3 through Hinton, Talcott, and Pence Springs. At Alderson turn onto Route 63, and at Roncevert, take U.S. 219 four miles into Lewisburg. Day3: Lewisburg to Fayetteville, 57 miles Take I-64 west from Lewisburg and exit at U.S. 60 west, also known as the Midland Trail. At the junction with U.S. 19, head south toward the New River Gorge Bridge. Exit right at Ames Heights Road for Class VI River Runners. If you actually cross the bridge, you've gone too far. Warning: There are lots of cops on U.S. 19; observe the speed limit carefully. After rafting, get back on U.S. 19 south and cross the bridge. Fayetteville is on the other side of the New River. Day 4: Fayetteville to Charleston, 60 miles To reach Thurmond, take U.S. 19 south 12 miles to the Glen Jean exit. Follow the signs about seven miles down narrow Route 25 (no RVs). Backtrack to Fayetteville on U.S. 19. Cross the New River Gorge Bridge one last time and take U.S. 60/Midland Trail heading west to Charleston.

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