Were any of us surprised as we flipped on our televisions to the Weather Channel and saw our own Snowshoe Mountain acquiring its first deep snow and icy winter wrap? Our Thanksgiving rendition of a Mountain State Mini (a Wild, Wonderful West Virginia three-day vacation) finds us in Pocahontas County where woodstoves burn brightly and communities settle in for a long, cold winter ahead.
Offering some of the best skiing in eastern North America, it complements an array of activities elsewhere in the county known as Nature's Mountain Playground. Settle in and recall Thanksgiving times that were special to you, as we enjoy the down-home warmth and tranquillity of this county.
This Appalachian child remembers the approaching season with delight as vivid memories remain of a fourth-grade teacher assembling our school's best voices to sing "Bless This House" over the school intercom before the Thanksgiving break. Neighborhood grandmothers readied turkeys while Macy's Parade kept children occupied. When Santa appeared in New York City's Herald Square, it was OK to pull out the Montgomery Ward Christmas Catalogue to inform relatives about which items needed to appear under the decorated tree on Christmas morning.
Photo by Shannon Bennett Campbell
The Old World atmosphere atop Snowshoe Mountain provides a destination unto itself where contemplation can be had overlooking the vistas below. Wonderful food sits on every corner, so packing a lunch is not necessary for this mountain climb.
When the pumpkin pies had cooled and the stuffing in the oven had turned the perfect color, all were invited to enjoy the meal. A special prayer was offered and dishes were passed around the table. Forget much conversation because everything tasted too good, and there was no room for chatter with full mouths.
Naps and football followed. The beauty of it all is that it pretty much still happens the same way today. If we are thankful as this season approaches, it is that we are able to keep our global position fairly stable, gratefulness still reigns, and grandmothers are all special and essential to our families whom we cherish and seek to be home with during this penitent time. Thus, take a trip through these hills and consider why a West Virginia Thanksgiving is the place where fresh air, flowing streams and mountain vistas will lift spirits and provide plenty of reasons to give thanks. Discover why Dante Alighieri claimed, "Nature is the art of God."
The accumulation of moisture on Snowshoe Mountain is not the only well-known water source in Pocahontas County. Noted as the "The Origin of Rivers," at least eight have their beginnings here including the Greenbrier, Shaver's Fork of the Cheat, Tygart, Williams, Cherry, Cranberry, Gauley and Elk. Many trout are taken from these streams, so always pack the pole when you head for a Pocahontas destination. The Greenbrier River Trail State Park offers the longest biking trail in West Virginia - all of 78 miles of it. Visit www.greenbrierrivertrail.com for information needed for a perfect trip.
To say the least, some of these streams are always in view throughout the nearly l,000 square miles of this elongated area that branches into three separate mountain highways stretching the length of the county. These are Routes 2l9, 250 and 92/28. Each one produces its own excitement and showcases several small communities to form the backbone of the area and the support for many small farms along the way. Each is equipped with several churches that fill faith needs of believing people and each manages to equip residents with basic living items.
The Route 219 journey through Valley Head and Mingo will bring us to Slatyfork (only an hour from Elkins) where we will be confronted by the formidable mountain named after the Snowshoe rabbit. While spending time at Pocahontas County HIgh School in the mid-70s helping students get scholarships during the early beginnings of Snowshoe, I heard all the stories of its origin. Mostly, I remember an optimism about obtaining needed jobs and a pessimism that no one could surely get this huge project completed. Initially, area hotels were used to house skiers and Snowshoe visitors were transported by bus to the mountain's top.
A visit to Snowshoe's crest today reveals an annual average patronage of 200,000 skiers from every state in the Union. Fourteen lifts and 60 trails, along with several ski outfitters where clothing and equipment can be purchased, accommodate guests. Snowshoe managers assured me that with the snow already on the ground, the projected Nov. 23 opening date will be met. Visitors will find some new eating places to complement the award-winning restaurants that have been favorites for many years. Italian cuisine and charbroiled burgers will be found in the Old World Village that makes us feel very removed from our daily routines.
All-season photography is huge in this locale with a Gary Player-designed Raven Golf Course open in the spring. Real estate agents have been busy for several years moving hotels, motels, homes, rental cabins and condominiums into the area. Most people would not believe what exists in this tourist mecca unless they made the journey. No one will be disappointed. In fact, they will be amazed at what energy and excitement has been generated by Intrawest, the current owners, and what a healthy feeling will be had by breathing such pure mountain air. It can cause you to smile and feel like you've conquered the world. If a non-skier, this kind of uplifting experience makes the mountain ride worth it. Get more details at 866-851-4681 or go online to SNOWSHOEMTN.COM.
Not far away and continuing on Route 219's path is county seat Marlinton, a quiet country town that sports all the basics, but also boasts of its interesting Opera House located on the National Register of Historic Places and providing year-round entertainment.
A Christmas Parade is planned in Marlinton for Dec. 2. This town also has several good restaurants. The Greenbrier Grille that sits beside the bridge crossing the Greenbrier River is one with family-style menus and homemade desserts to complement your meal.
Looking for more excitement on Route 219? Keep moving onto Hillsboro where Pearl Buck's Homeplace will steal your eye. In the stately white two-story farmhouse restored and fully furnished to match the l938 Nobel Prize Winner's era, one can get lost while learning of this writer's experiences and subtle honesty about the needs of Chinese children. Her reflections in other writings also are poignant noting in Hallmark's "Pearl S. Buck: The Complete Woman" that she believed women would never be totally happy or content unless they pursued the arts and developed the talents within themselves.
Moving further on this roadway toward Lewisburg, some reverence must be observed at Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park. The largest West Virginia Civil War engagement took place here with 9,000 soldiers battling and ending Southern involvement in the state.
In the county's south at Seebert on Route 27/21 and in the heart of the Monongahela National Forest, is West Virginia's oldest and largest state park, Watoga. It is noted for its large swimming pool and is equipped with condos, cabins and cottages, as well as camping areas. A nice restaurant is on the grounds. Visit www.watoga.com.
As we move onto Route 92 toward Green Bank, a turn to the left on Route 66 will get one to Cass Railroad where trains have quit traveling for this season, but will prepare to carry many for the next. Plan a summer visit now and get tickets reserved at www.cassrailroad.com. All will be aboard by May 27 and continue through Halloween.
A totally great place to take the family north on Route 92 is the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank. Its Science Center features hands-on exhibits and displays from which children will gain knowledge. The telescopes will be explained and a gift shop and restaurant will make the trip complete. Check www://gb.nrao.edu/epo/gp/ for current events and opening/closing schedules.
While at Green Bank, visit the Artisan Gallery Shop, and at nearby Arbovale get into nostalgia at the Snow High Card and Candle Shop. Located in an old Farmers Supply Co. store, all kinds of odds and ends will take your eye.
The Thanksgiving season is made rich by the people of Pocahontas County. Perhaps, it is the many small communities along our trail that really make us stand up and notice what makes it special. Frank, Denmar, Bartow, Arbovale, Durbin, Green Bank, Huntersville, Dunmore, Slatyfork, Hillsboro, Minnehaha Springs and Frost do not have a major merchandise outlet, but they possess tight-knit neighborhoods where everyone knows each other's names and appreciates contributions each makes. The gifts of these community types have been doctors, scientists, military leaders and business owners. Their nurtured qualities were assured with close family ties and caring churches supporting residents and providing foundations not always found in larger metropolitan places. Some may view smallness as a curse. I certainly see its merit.
As our ancestors shared the earliest Thanksgiving feast together with native Indians, let us be mindful of our peaceful desires.
As we experience the earnest calm that filters through sunlight's beams on the highest among our Allegheny Mountains, let us think of ways we can compromise and remain around the table. Remembering what Washington Irving once reflected, "There is a serene and settled majesty in woodland scenery that enters into the soul and delights and elevates and fills it with noble inclinations." If we want to be influenced by our environment, look no further than the majesty God gave us in Pocahontas County - a land for all seasons; a place where I promise thanks will be given.