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.
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.
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
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, 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.
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,
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.
- This handsome bridge at the end of Camp 70 road in Davis, WV now links CVI property to the Wildlife Refuge
It took awhile but it was worth it. On Saturday, October 15th, at 2 p.m. locals, tourists, politicians, dignitaries and more than one dog will be on hand to cut the ribbon officially opening our new bridge across the Blackwater River.
As if Dolly Sods wasn’t fascinating and beautiful enough, there’s an extra special attraction that happens every year in the fall, when birds migrate. Within the Wilderness Area area across from the Red Creek Campground, bird enthusiasts from the state’s Brooks Bird Club (among others) maintain a banding station along the Allegheny Front. The fine nets that are strewn along the rock outcroppings temporarily capture migrating birds as they travel up over the Alleghenies on their way south.
The bird banding station in Dolly Sods operates throughout September and early October. It makes a great day trip for visitors to Canaan Valley and Davis, WV. And it’s just one of many fascinating reasons for exploring our beautiful West Virginia highlands.
There’s nothing like a fresh coat of paint to give a place a lift, and this year, for the first time since the inn was built, we now have a fresh new sign — a hand-painted sign, which is a rarity in these parts. We wanted a hand-made sign to reflect the special character of the Inn, complete with minor imperfections.
The new sign was painted and installed by local handyman Al Pityo. Al is the ultimate jack-of-all-trades: resourceful and highly creative, and he also has a steady hand. We also had design consultation from local artist Linda Reeves, who chose a fresh but soft color pallette.
There was lots of back and forth about how to make the sign, and what kind of paint to use, but we eventually agreed on good old latex house paint, a decision I hope we won’t regret.
After a few years of winter winds and summer sun we’ll know if we made the right decision or should have gone with one of those stick-on vinyl signs that modern sign guys make. In the meantime downtown Davis, WV will benefit from the beauty of our colorful and charming hand-made sign.
Fall in Davis, WV this year is more fruitful that I ever remember. For whatever reason — the heavy spring rains, the lack of late frost– the fruit is simply everywhere.
In the bogs on the edge of town extending all the way to Dolly Sods are millions (yes!) of plump red cranberries. They’re often found near cottongrass, and they grow low to the ground, which makes for a back-aching harvest. If you plan to pick, bring a small bucket to sit on and wear your waterproof shoes as cranberries are found in spongy wet places.
As for apples, they can be found along the sides of the roads, in and out of town, and just about anywhere humans have ever been. Many of them are poor quality volunteers — suitable mostly for cider. But some of them are wonderful, and you can only know by biting into one. Unfortunately, most are simply wasted, piling up in alleys and yards, or collected to feed the deer. The abundance is astounding, and the waste a little shameful.
I discovered a few amazing pear trees this year, and some awesome cherries. Often these trees are zapped by the frost in late spring, which limits their fruit. But this year, when the mild days came, the blossoms stayed, and we are basking in the abundance of what was produced.