Day trips around West Virginia keep life interesting
CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (AP) – From mountains and rivers to downtown shopping and history, West Virginia has a lot to offer those who live here and those who come to visit. And throughout the state, there are myriad options for day trips.
Some areas are filled with history, while others are made for adventure. There are places people can enjoy without spending a penny and areas where people can pay for a full day of activities. There is always something for someone to do in the Mountain State, even if he or she has to look high or low for it.
The Bridge Walk in Fayetteville offers visitors a unique perspective of the New River Gorge Bridge. The Bridge Walk gives people the chance to access the catwalk underneath the structure.
Benjy Simpson, managing member of the Bridge Walk, said it’s such a unique experience because there are very few opportunities like it around the world.
“We have been in business six years and have seen over 34,000 people,” he said. “People have visited from all 50 states and from 62 different countries.”
The walk is open for all ages and abilities, Simpson said. When the catwalk was designed, it was done in such a fashion as to be able to accommodate all kinds of things.
“The bridge was designed so people can go in a wheelchair if they need to. There are no steps, no stairs and some little hills to get to and from the bridge,” he said. “We’ve had blind and deaf people as well. It’s amazing to see how well they can hear and compensate for the loss of sight.”
One of the great things about the Bridge Walk is that people can proceed at their own pace, Simpson said. Groups are welcome to come out and spend their time taking in the views and enjoying the high-level walk.
“The bridge is six-tenths of a mile and we do self-guided tours. We have the longest continuous safety system in the world, so once you’re clipped in, you don’t unclip until you get to the other side,” he said.
People are able to get a 360-degree, panoramic view, Simpson said. They are happy to take photos of guests while they are on the catwalk to keep as memories.
“We like to share the different facts about the bridge, the history, tell them about all the things they can see,” he said. “We run every day of the year that we can. High wind prevents the tour, and high snow and ice when we can’t get to the bridge.”
At the middle of the catwalk, visitors are 851 feet above the New River, Simpson said. The view of rafters and kayakers is one people won’t be able to find anywhere else. People are able to sit on the catwalk and watch them from above.
“Some people come even with a fear of heights. So far we’ve had 122 people back out and not finish, and that’s OK,” he said. “Heights are a real fear for some people, but we work with them and get them across.”
Simpson said tours can range from one to two people up to groups of 20. It’s important to keep the groups smaller so they can hear all the information about the walk and have the opportunity to proceed at their own pace.
“We have the ability to discuss with people what they want to hear while they are out there or we could just take them out and not say anything,” he said. “We have had the same price since day one and we’ve tried our best to not raise it.”
At the Bridge Walk, officials do full moon tours, Easter Sunday sunrise walks, as well as celebrations for Bridge Day, West Virginia’s birthday and the upcoming solar eclipse.
The Centre Market in Wheeling offers the option of shopping and eating while also getting to learn some history. Kurt Zende, manager, said the center of the market is made up of two historic market houses that are owned by the city.
“Inside the houses are 10 different businesses that include art galleries, eateries, an ice cream store, pie place and a bakery,” he said. “Outside there are roughly 25 other businesses that range from antique shops to wine shops to gift shops.”
Zende said it’s easy for people to spend their entire day at the Centre Market because there is so much to see.
“This is just a quaint little area. It can be nostalgic for a lot of people because you have that experience of shopping in an open area downtown,” he said. “Along with that, the sights are just aesthetically pleasing as well.”
During the summer months, the market picks up and there are more things to do. Every first and third Friday from June to September, Zende said Centre Market host street parties.
“We have local and regional bands come in, the eateries cater out onto the street and bands play from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., ” he said. “The street is closed off and the bands play. People are welcome to enjoy spending time with friends, food and beverages.”
Businesses throughout Centre Market hold different events throughout the year such as wine tastings and different types of gatherings, Zende said.
The market is a great place to spend a day with the family or a group of friends while enjoying food and history.
For something a little more out of the ordinary, ACE Adventure Resort in Minden, Fayette County, offers the Wonderland Water Park that features inflatables on a 5-acre lake.
Although the park has been on the lake for some time and open to the public, it wasn’t always marketed, said Heidi Prior, the resort’s former marketing director.
“The water park really took off two summers ago, and we were blown away by the response,” she said.
Money received was put back into the park in the way of 40 new inflatable toys and two more water slides, Prior said.
The Blob is one of the most popular activities on the lake next to the water slide and zip-line that enters the water, Prior said. The Blob is a giant inflatable that launches one person into the air when another person jumps on the opposite end.
“Sometimes we hold Blob competitions to see who can go the farthest and people really seem to enjoy that,” she said.
The park also offers a pizza and grill area, as well as an outdoor bar that overlooks the lake, Prior said. The two wood-fired brick ovens are actually run on wood that is harvested and cut on the 1,500 acre base.
“Although people can make reservations, people are more than welcome to just walk up to the park,” she said. “We have full- and half-day passes, as well as special rates if people participate in one of the guided activities we offer.”
Wonderland Water Park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Half-day passes can be purchased for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. or 3 to 8 p.m. Children ages 5 and under are admitted free with each adult full-price pass.
“One good thing about the water park is most people who come are from West Virginia. It’s exciting that this water park is really hitting it off with them,” Prior said.
There are also two different season passes available as well. The weekday season pass is Sunday through Friday, excluding Saturdays and holidays. The Unlimited Pass includes all days, as well as Saturdays and holidays.
Other activities are also included in park passes, such as a climbing wall, volleyball courts, a giant chess board and a bungee trampoline where kids can get strapped in and jump.
For more information about ACE Adventure Resort and the water park, visit www.aceraft.com.
Quilt trails are another unique feature that can be found, especially in the southern part of the state. Mason County was the first in the state to have a quilt trail, according to Denny Bellamy, Mason County Convention and Visitors Bureau director.
“People are able to come here, pick up a map, and head on their way. There is so much more than just seeing the quilts on the trail,” he said. “There are all sorts of different things to see from the West Virginia State Farm Museum to the Amish country in our county.”
The quilts that are placed on barns are usually 8-by-8 or 6-by-6-foot squares with some sort of quilt pattern, Bellamy said. When those who have the quilts have them up, it’s an invitation for people to come on their property.
“This invitation allows people to visit with the farmers and quilters, and they love it,” he said. “This is a really neat way to see rural Mason County. We do have Amish in the interior of our county, and they are the real thing.”
The Quilt Trail also connects to other counties, Bellamy said. The trail offers visitors a unique look into different areas of the county that they might not otherwise see.
“This is one way to control where tourists go and we don’t want them to stop exploring,” he said. “We want them to keep on going, there’s always another quilt square going into the next county.”
The Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory is hidden off in Monroe County between Gap Mills and Waiteville. It’s located off the Allegheny Trail and is about a mile hike, said Rodney Davis, volunteer birder.
“We have visitors year round. In the summer we have anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 people a month just to come up for the view,” he said. “In the fall, we start around Sept. 1 for our fall raptor count.”
Davis said there are a group of volunteers who count the migrating hawks, eagles and falcons. People are able to see anywhere from 4,500 to 6,000 migrant birds every year.
“Our vantage point is such that you get an excellent view of the birds. They are above us, around us and even below,” he said. “Sometimes we have eagles at eye level, and it’s very impressive.”
Davis said visitors are able to see about 40 miles on a clear day. The observatory is located in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest.
Davis mentioned that people are able to even just hike up around the observatory and have a picnic if they like. Those interested in visiting don’t even have to know about birds.
“We encourage people to come out no matter what their experience with birds is,” he said. “They can help call our attention to birds because they can be anywhere. Everyone who goes regardless of their bird expertise can participate. We are always looking for people to help us count and watch for the birds.”