Everyone grew up with a special place. Maybe it was a hidden overlook, a fishing pond, a small-town hardware store or the tree house in your backyard. Sometimes we forget those places and find it difficult to get away from today's stresses.
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Beartown State Park
There may be no other place in the Appalachians more enchanting than Beartown, hidden just a couple miles off U.S. Route 219 in Pocahontas County. So quiet a whisper can seem loud; so quaint not too many folks know about it. This tiny state park has a surreal landscape. Imagine dozens of deep, green, moss-and fern-covered chasms surrounded by sandstone walls eroded by years of wind. It's called Beartown because local residents claim the many cave-like openings in the rocks make ideal winter dens for the black bears of the area. The many deep, narrow crevasses form a crisscross pattern and appear from above like the streets of a small town.
Marbles, Marbles, Marbles
During West Virginia's industrial boom in the early 20th century, coal mining communities sprouted through the state. Recreation was limited, so adults and kids alike shot marbles. The marbles are collectable today, and visitors to the state can choose from a variety of marbles at Tamarack, the state's artisan center in Beckley. Along the Ohio River on the western side of the state, there are a number of glass factories, including world-famous Fenton Art Glass. While Fenton doesn't specialize in marbles, nearby Marble King in Paden City does and often uses leftover Fenton pieces to make its famous marbles. Individual marble artisans can be found in Pennsboro and other nearby locations.
A Grandview of Rhododendrons
Come early summer, the Grandview Park area of the New River Gorge National River in Raleigh County comes alive with a stunning display of rhododendrons. The state flower grows naturally in the moist, acidic soils of the 1,000-feet-deep gorge cut by the northern-flowing New River. The flamboyant bushes, which the pioneers called “hells” because their winding branches were so difficult to get through, line the roads and hillsides throughout the park. An unusual horseshoe bend of the New River is visible from the main overlook, some 1,400 feet above. Visitors are treated to views of soaring hawks above and whitewater rafters below. In the summer, Grandview is home to Theatre West Virginia, which presents three different outdoor dramas throughout the season.
A Classic American Amusement Park
At the turn of the 20th century, streetcar line developers built amusement parks to increase traffic on their electric railcar lines. Camden Park in Huntington was developed by the Camden Interstate Railway, and survives today. Since 1903, the park has been a favorite family place, with a reputation as a fun way to spend a day. Camden Park is famous among roller coaster enthusiasts for its two classic wooden rides, The Big Dipper and The Lil' Dipper. The rides are considered by the American Coaster Enthusiasts to be “Coaster Classics,” a small group of vintage coasters that have maintained their traditional wooden coaster roots. And this year, the park's carousel celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Nothing but the Sound of Water
Sandstone Falls near Hinton, Summers County, is a place for lazy summer days. Wile away time traveling to the railroad town of Hinton where the Dairy Queen is regionally famous for its hot dogs and dining area that hangs over the rushing New River. Just a short drive south on Route 20 you'll find the massive Bluestone Dam and the Bluestone Lake. Head south about a mile or so, leave Route 20 and follow the winding road to the left. It leads to the awesome Sandstone Falls, the largest falls on the New River. You can join a National Park Service ranger here for nature walks or head out on the boardwalk by yourself for a close-up view of the roaring falls that seem within an arm's reach.
The Climb of a Lifetime
In the Appalachian Mountains, few overlooks are as famous or magnificent as Seneca Rocks in Pendleton County. The gigantic Tuscarora sandstone outcropping juts 900 feet above the North Fork River. During World War II, the U.S. Army used the rocks to train troops for battle in Europe. Today it's one of the East's most famous rock-climbing areas, but even the casual hiker can make it to the top, thanks to a well-marked trail and a viewing platform maintained by the U.S. Forest Service. Area climbing schools provide instruction and equipment, and within eyeshot is an old country store with souvenirs. The Seneca Rocks Discovery Center sits at the base of the rocks, providing interpretive exhibits on the history of the area and uses of the Monongahela National Forest, of which Seneca Rocks is a part.
Not Just the Run of the Mill
Babcock State Park, Fayette County, is home to what is probably West Virginia's most famous photograph—the old mill along Glade Creek. Indeed, the Glade Creek Grist Mill is the picturesque centerpiece of a park loaded with special places. You can buy bags of cornmeal and flour freshly ground by waterpower right there. Glade Creek tumbles over boulders below on its way to the New River. There's fresh trout to be caught in its chilly waters and hundreds of birds to be spotted in its 4,000-plus acres of parkland. Rustic log cabins, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, are a superb way to enjoy the park and its natural amenities.
Tamarack: The Best of West Virginia
Tamarack is the nation's first statewide collection of handmade craft, art and cuisine showcasing the best of West Virginia. From furniture to glass or potter to Appalachian quits, Tamarack features West Virginia's best handcrafts, regional specialty foods, live performances, craft demonstrations and theater. The Taste of West Virginia food court, managed by the Greenbrier, serves delectable meals and desserts.