CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – West Virginia is home to some of the most beautiful vistas in the world that are full of life and activity. Because of this, West Virginia calls itself the home of 35 state parks and nine state forests, each holding their own set of adventures.
Here is just a handful of what the mountain state has to offer.
Beartown State Park is 107 acres of natural beauty located on the eastern summit of Droop Mountain near Hillsboro, W.Va. and is open daily from April to October.
According to wvstateparks.com, “the park’s name comes from residents who claimed the many cave-like openings in the rocks made ideal winter dens for black bears in the area. It also refers to the many deep, narrow crevasses that crisscross the area and appear from above like the streets of a small town.”
Speaking of unusual rock formations, Beartown holds a variety of massive boulders, overhanging cliffs and deep crevasses. Along its cliffs are hundreds of eroded pits both small and large. Cracks and crevasses are often filled with the roots of surrounding vegetation and ice from a long-passed winter.
“The land was purchased in 1970 with funds from the Nature Conservancy and a donation from Mrs. Edwin G. Polan, in memory of her son, Ronald Keith Neal, who lost his life in the Vietnam War.” Since then, basic facilities have been established, as well as a boardwalk flanked by guiding and insightful signs for easy access.
Foot travel to the boardwalk area is welcome even in the winter season, with parking available at the closed entrance gate.
Established in 1936, Coopers Rock State Forest, located near Morgantown, features “canyon overlooks, historical sites, picnic shelters, 50 miles of hiking and biking trails, sandstone cliffs for climbing and bouldering, cross-country ski terrain, a lake perfect for reeling in trout and a nearby river for rafting.”
The park is named after the series of sandstone cliffs above the Cheat River Gorge where a fugitive, a cooper by trade, supposedly hid and where he continued to make and sell barrels from his mountain hideout. There are also the remnants of the 1800s iron industry that once flourished in the area, most notably the Henry Clay Furnace, the first steam-powered blast furnace in western Virginia.
“Many of its structures, including the main overlook, picnic shelters and superintendent’s house, were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Eleven of these structures have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.”
Named after the amber waters of Blackwater Falls, “a 57-foot cascade tinted by the tannic acid of fallen hemlock and red spruce needles,” Blackwater Falls State Park is other showstopping features such as Elakala Falls, Lindy Point and Pendleton Point Overlook.
Visitors from around the world come to enjoy taking the steps to the falls or using viewing platforms. The park also has 20 miles of hiking trails and the longest sledding magic carpet on the East Coast.
In the 1930s, the West Virginia Power and Transmission Company donated “446 acres around a scenic overlook at the head of the canyon, including the falls itself” to the state park system, though the park wasn’t formerly established until 1937.
For something less scenic and more quaint, you can visit Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park, located on a small island in the Ohio River.
The park is accessed by a sternwheeler riverboat from Point Park on 2nd Street in Parkersburg and features a Palladian mansion on the island and a museum of regional history located in Parkersburg. The island itself also hosts tours of the grounds and mansion and horse-drawn carriage rides. “Tours are offered when the park is open, from May through the last weekend of October.”
The island was settled in 1789 by Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett, wealthy Irish aristocrats fleeing political persecution and personal scandal. In 1805, they “allowed their estate to become headquarters for Aaron Burr’s military expedition to the Southwest, an episode that raised the island to national renown and awarded it a permanent footnote in American history.” The Blennerhassetts then fled the island when Burr’s scheme collapsed.
Cass Scenic Railroad State Park’s most noteworthy feature is its 11-mile long heritage railroad that runs by an authentic company town and an overlook at Bald Knob, among other scenes.
The Company Store opens daily and houses a gift shop along with The Last Run Restaurant and Soda Fountain. Visitors can also check out “an artisans co-op and the Cass Historical Theater and Historical Museum, one of America’s only authentic lumber railroading museums.”
The railroad is actually still in operation thanks to the Durbin Greenbrier Valley Railroad.
The town of Cass was founded in 1901 by the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company for the loggers who worked in the nearby mountains. The railroad, started in 1901, was used to haul lumber to the Cass mill. The town operated until 1960, when the mill and railroad were shut down due to rapid decline of the timber industry in the region. “In 1961, Cass was brought into the state parks system. In 1977, the company town also was made part of the parks system.”
Hawks Nest State Park is located near the New River Gorge Bridge and is most known for its scenic overlook of the New River Gorge National River.
Besides its 31-room lodge, the park also boasts “a 270-acre recreational area with a nature museum, aerial tramway, jetboat rides, hiking trails and one of the most challenging whitewater boating waterways in the nation.”
The area used to be a nesting ground for osprey and the site of a trail used by Native Americans before they were scattered in the late 1800s by the completion of the portion of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway that ran through the gorge. The Department of Natural Resources took control of the Hawks Nest property in 1963 and built the park lodge along with other facilities.
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