Ta-dum…Ta-dum…It’s getting closer. Corridor H that is.

June 26th, 2015

There’s nothing like a shiny new highway to brighten the eyes of developers and land speculators. And in West Virginia, the newest of all new highways is Route 48, an east-west thorofare that when complete will link I-79 in central WV with I-81 and the Shenandoah Valley. And it’s already caused a few land booms (and busts) along the way.
The road has been in the works for many years, as part of a system of needed “corridors” identified by the Appalachian Regional Commission. The plan was to improve transportation infrastructure in this most tortuous of states, and it has largely succeeded.
This year, finally, Corridor H (as it’s known locally) is almost at Davis and Thomas. It’s an impressive undertaking, as it cuts through the mountains from Wardensville, past Moorefield, and up the Allegheny Front to this high plateau we call home. It passes through green rolling pastures, craggy rock outcroppings (with picturesque goats!) and foggy crests.
Will it bring in more tourists? Probably. It certainly makes the drive easier (and a bit faster) for travelers from Washington, DC and helps locals driving to distant jobs, airports and shopping expeditions.
Will it get finished? There are still gaps, including an important crossing of the Blackwater Canyon and a stretch in Virginia that may be years from completion.
Will we all get rich? That remains to be seen. It will require tough decisions to shape growth and development in a way that benefits everyone. But if we’re lucky, we will be able to preserve what is worthwhile about this beautiful area while improving our economy. Stay tuned!

Cobbler Season: Bumper Blackberry Crop Ahead!

June 20th, 2015
blackberry shrub

Thick sprays of blackberry blossoms in early June. They’re everywhere!

Last year's blackberries were good for picking in July and August

Last year’s blackberries were good for picking in July and August

Picking blackberries each summer is one of the simple pleasures of living in Davis, WV. For many of us, walking dogs on the edge of town means checking out the progress of the amazing blackberries that grow here in such abundance. In early June, roads and trails are positively lined with blackberry stalks, each thick with blossoms. In July and August, when the berries ripen, mounds of bear scat appear on the trails. Bear love berries, and eat tons of them, but there are still plenty left for human picking.
This year’s crop appears bigger than usual, if that’s possible. An old timer once told me that as a child he and his cousin picked 98 GALLONS of blackberries one summer, for his uncle, who made wine.
I make cobbler, using a simple crust recipe from Mimi Kibler of La Fontaine Bakery. It was her mother’s. It’s perfect with ice cream and makes a nice supper (or breakfast) if you’re too tired to cook. It’s these simple pleasures that we appreciate living here on the edge of the great outdoors.

Blackberry Cobbler

Filling:

5 cups blackberries
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar

Crust:

1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 egg
1/3 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix berries with cornstarch and sugar, add to 9” baking dish.
Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
Add egg to dry mixture and barely stir to combine. (Using fingers works best)
Sprinkle crumbly mixture over fruit.
Drizzle with melted butter.
Sprinkle top with dash of cinnamon.
Bake 45 minutes.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

They were teaching STEM before STEM was cool!

June 13th, 2015

Unlikely as it may seem, in 1963 a small group of forward-thinking West Virginians created one of the most successful STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education programs in the country. It is the National Youth Science Camp, which for over 50 years has brought together the top science students from every state for four weeks of intensive study and outdoor recreation. A program free to the aspiring scientists, and run by a dedicated staph (their word), the camp is a bona fide success story. Of its alumni, 45% have achieved doctorates, and 85% are working in STEM-related occupations.
Plans are now underway for the camp, and the National Youth Science Foundation that runs it, to move to a permanent home in Tucker County, on the edge of Davis, WV, and near Blackwater Falls. The goal is to construct a National Center for Youth Sciences Education that will improve and expand existing programs with permanent year-round facilities.
It’s a brilliant idea. Tucker County is one of the most beautiful and unspoiled areas in our state, surrounded by nearly a million acres of Monongahela Forest and close to two National Wilderness areas. It’s a great location for recreation and will provide a fantastic laboratory for environmental education. To find out more go the NYSF website, and if you’re inclined, donate to their cause. With their proven track record, it’s a sound investment, and a patriotic way for you to help move our nation’s STEM education forward.

It’s Official: Blackwater Bikes Changes Hands

June 9th, 2015

Downtown Davis Gets A Fresh New Look

Downtown Davis Gets A Fresh New Look


After weeks of speculation it’s finally official: Blackwater Bikes, the well-known bike shop in downtown Davis, WV has a new owner — and he’s getting the sign repainted!
The little shop on Route 32 has been the center of mountain biking activity in the region for many years and a sponsor of numerous rides and races. The shop has an impressive history. The new owner, Rob Stull, replaces Roger Lily, who took over from Gary Berti and Matt Marcus, who bought the place from Laird Knight, who founded the shop in 1982. Whew! All were and are dedicated mountain biking riders and enthusiastic champions of the sport.
Laird’s company, Granny Gear Productions, was nationally known for mountain bike promotions and founded the popular 24 Hours of Canaan race, which was scuttled after the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge eliminated many of the valley’s trails.
The shop is well located in downtown Davis, sandwiched between Sirianni’s Cafe and the Bright Morning Inn, and a stone’s throw from Hellbender Burritos.
Rob will continue selling bikes and gear, running rentals, servicing equipment, and sponsoring rides and races in the area, including the upcoming Canaan MTB Festival June 18-21. And he wants to hear from riders about how they would like to see the shop evolve. His first act, besides giving the place a good sweep, has been to freshen up the peeling paint on the shop’s sign and post his new summer hours: Mon-Sat 10-5 and Sunday 10-4.

Splashdam Trail: Purdiest Trail in 48 States!

June 7th, 2015

heart of the highlands sign

Davis' newest trail is now complete

Davis’ newest trail is now complete

gorgeous new bike trail in Davis, WV

gorgeous new bike trail in Davis, WV

Best trail signs in Tucker County!

Best trail signs in Tucker County!


As if there weren’t enough great hiking and biking trails in Tucker County, WV, there’s a newish one, the beautiful and accessible “Splashdam Trail” which leads now from the bridge in downtown Davis, WV along the Blackwater River about 4.5 miles. The trail is extraordinarily beautiful in a place where there’s already plenty of pretty trails. It’s extraordinary because of the variety of ecosystems it covers. It passes through fern meadows, mossy boulders, a wickedly beautiful stream called “Devil’s Run” and impressive rhododendron thickets. For most of its length it follows close to the Blackwater River, providing views of the river’s whitewater that just weren’t available until now.
Almost as impressive as the scenery are the kick-ass trail-building skills on display. The techniques used are first-class, efforts begun several years ago by Ken Dzaack, a consummate trail engineer with a fine eye for beauty. Ken began the project when the land was owned by the Canaan Valley Institute. The land is now owned and managed by the WV Department of Natural Resources, and is part of the Little Canaan Wildlife Management Area. The trail was finished through the efforts of the Heart of the Highlands organization, a group building a trail to link Davis, Thomas and Canaan Valley and hopefully join up with other major trail networks in the region. The effort, which requires cooperation from numerous landholders, is a long slog, but there are dedicated and talented people behind it (Ken’s wife Julie, for one), and some federal money, which never hurts.
The Splashdam Trail skirts the southern bank of the Blackwater River, away from the majority of established trails, in an area that is basically pristine and little used. It is used by hikers and experienced mountain bikers, mostly locals, who use it to access other trails south of town.
Visitors to the Bright Morning Inn are always looking for hiking ideas and right now, the Splashdam Trail is one of my top picks. It’s beautiful, it’s close and makes a perfect day trip from town. And with the newest section now complete, you don’t have to drive to locate the trailhead.
While you’re at it, check out another local treasure, the “Smallest Church in 48 States,” nine miles north on Rt. 219 in Silver Lake, WV. It’s really named “Our Lady of the Pines Catholic Church” and features an altar and twelve one-seat pews across an aisle. Built in the 50’s as a family church it’s a peaceful spot set among beautiful gardens, including masses of blooming lily-of-the-valley in springtime.

Pet Friendly Accommodations: Now I get it!

May 30th, 2015

Ssoula (2)
Even though I have owned the Bright Morning Inn for fifteen years now, and have accommodated people’s dogs for many years, I never really understood what all the fuss was about…until now. Because now I own a dog, too, and it’s crazy how much I love her!
Davis, WV is a particularly dog-centric kind of town. It is surrounded by miles and miles of fantastic trails and gravel roads perfect for running dogs. There are creeks for swimming, geese for chasing and muddy bogs for wallowing. There are blueberries to hunt in the summer (dogs love them) and amazing snow drifts to leap through in winter.
At the Bright Morning Inn we accept quiet well-behaved dogs only. And in all these years we’ve had very few problems. It seems that people don’t like to travel with crazy dogs. Imagine that! We don’t take cats, however, as there are way too many people allergic to cats and they can, well, climb on things. Not good in a public space.
I don’t keep my dog Ssoula at the inn too much. She’s good but not entirely well behaved. Still, she has brought me so much joy that I can’t quite imagine life without her, which is just what my guests have been feeling all these years, too.

Hunting Chaga in the West Virginia Woods

May 20th, 2015

Chaga looks like blackened wood, or charcoal, when attached to the tree

Chaga looks like blackened wood, or charcoal, when attached to the tree

When pried from the tree the underside of the chaga is a rich yellowish orange

When pried from the tree the underside of the chaga is a rich yellowish orange


It’s a mushroom, it’s a fungus, it’s a parasite. It’s chaga, and it’s plentiful in the northern mountains of West Virginia. Known for it’s medicinal properties, chaga is brewed into tea that some people believe will boost your immune system and fight cancer. I have no experience with that. But I do know it’s fun to hunt, fun to collect and when you drink it, it tastes like the forest.
Chaga grows on yellow birch trees found in northern forests. Here in the woods surrounding Davis, WV, such trees are numerous.
The bark of yellow birch trees isn’t really yellow, more like a dull greyish green. But it’s clearly papery and birch like, and relatively easy to spot. The trees are also found in the woods ringing the Canaan Valley, in Dolly Sods and in much of the Monongahela Forest.
Hunting for chaga requires patience and persistence, and a few tools, as it has to be pried from the tree. To brew into tea, the flesh is then dried and ground into powder, or, if you’re lazy, small chunks can simply be steeped in hot water (not boiled). This is the preferred method of local folks, who have turned many people onto chaga over the years. The resulting brew is an excellent tonic after skiing or exercise. It makes you feel refreshed, and connected to nature somehow. Maybe it’s just the hydration, who knows.
There’s much to be learned on the internet about chaga, if you’re interested. But the most important thing to know is that getting out in the woods, whether hunting for chaga or not, is always good for you. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inonotus_obliquus

ArtSpring 2015 Promises Fun in West Virginia Memorial Day Weekend

May 15th, 2015

Tucker County West Virginia hosts its fourth annual ArtSpring weekend on Memorial Day weekend this year, with art, food, music and fun throughout Davis, Thomas and Canaan Valley.
The weekend’s activities begin Friday May 22nd and continue through Sunday May 24th. A schedule of events can be found at www.artspringwv.com or by visiting www.facebook.com/ArtSpringWV
The weekend features activities for every age and interest. There will be fine art demonstrations, caricature artists, street musicians, photography walks, mushroom walks (led by Chip Chase), food and craft vendors, and much much more. The event was created by local artists to highlight the area’s growing art and cultural scene, which, when added to its outdoor recreation venues, creates a vacation opportunity the whole family can enjoy.
So bring the kids. Bring the dog. Bring sunblock…and a jacket. It’s spring in the mountains…anything is possible!

West Virginia Mine Wars Museum Opens May 16th

May 5th, 2015

West Virginia, and much of Appalachia, has a conflicted relationship with the coal industry. It’s an industry that provided and still provides good paying jobs in an area where employment is scarce. It’s an industry that produced pride, in jobs that were necessary, important and challenging. But the price for those jobs has been steep: death, disease and environmental destruction.
In the industry’s early years the coal companies held much of the region’s political power. Attempts to mobilize miners to improve working conditions and wages were met with stiff resistance. At one point the battles between the two sides became actual wars.
The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum, now under construction in the tiny town of Matewan, WV preserves and interprets artifacts and historical records of the local communities affected by the mine wars, exploring historical events from multiple perspectives through the lives of ordinary people.
The grand opening for the museum is May 16th. You can find out more and even contribute by visiting www.wvminewars.com
It’s an important piece of history. Don’t miss it.

West Virginia Spring: A Sea of Serviceberry

May 1st, 2015

Spring comes slowly in the northern mountains of West Virginia. Near Davis and Thomas, in Tucker County, we endure a lengthy and dreary mud season when everywhere else is in gorgeous bloom. But by late April, and early May, we are rewarded by a remarkable show of Serviceberry trees. Not just a few, either, but a mass of trees whose delicate blossoms dominate the landscape for weeks.
The show is especially lovely between Davis and Canaan Valley, along Route 32, but in truth it’s beautiful nearly everywhere. It’s a subtle show, though,

Serviceberry trees dominate the landscape in Tucker Co, WV

Serviceberry trees dominate the landscape in Tucker Co, WV

Delicate and subtle Serviceberry blossoms

Delicate and subtle Serviceberry blossoms

one that isn’t often (or easily) photographed.
In the mountains we call the Serviceberry “Sarvis” and locals say the name came from the use of these, the first flowers of spring, at church services held by settlers for early circuit-riding preachers. Whether that’s true or not I can’t say. But it’s a good story and one we like to repeat.
The Serviceberry is a valuable tree for wildlife, producing small sweet berries mid summer. Birds, deer, and bear love them, and a small handful will give you a lift when hiking in Dolly Sods.
Still, it’s in spring, when the blossoms come, that this unassuming little tree is truly unforgettable.



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