I was so excited I nearly dropped my mobile phone as I fumbled for the camera app. I was trying to move smoothly, silently and speedily so I wouldn’t spook the doe and her twins. Despite my noisy movements the gentle-eyed deer came closer. Click. Click. Click. I captured several Facebook moments on my hike through Canaan Valley State Park in Tucker County, West Virginia.
A close encounter of the deer kind is a regular occurrence on Mark Chapin’s guided hikes through the park. Chapin guides Edible Plants Hikes, Survival Skill Classes and Back Country Navigation among other experiences from the park’s lodge. The deer are used to him. His last Edible Hike of the year is September 29. But, he is available to schedule for private hikes as well.
During our gentle two-hour stroll along the roadside and under the tree canopy we learned that a broadleaf plantain can be eaten or used on a wound to stop bleeding. We learned that red clover heads should be roasted before ingesting. Chapin identified chickweed and wood sorrel as salad additions. And, I tasted my first serviceberry, a blueberry-sized fruit with sweet, apple flavors.
Chapin reinforced caution by pointing out lookalikes. For example, toxic white snakeroot leaves are similar to edible wild mustard leaves. But the first has white flowers and the later yellow.
Hiking is one of the many experiences available to tourists in Tucker County, West Virginia. Home to twin tiny towns like Thomas (population 586) and Davis (population 600), Tucker County mixes back country with bohemia in the southern reaches of the Allegheny Mountains. If you’re looking for access to chain restaurants or stores, stay home. Subway is the only chain for miles. Interestingly, you won’t find any poison ivy on your local hikes either.
We were on a three-day getaway for two, but many visitors bring groups for family reunions, weddings and special events. The 26 vacation and 13 deluxe cabins at Blackwater Falls State Park, in Davis, make that stress-free. Ranging from one to four bedrooms they include shared bathrooms, an outfitted kitchen and ample common space.
Cabins are walking distance from the 57-foot tall Blackwater Falls. The six-story falls are so named for the dark water color which comes from the tannic acid of fallen hemlock and red spruce needles. Blackwater Falls has an accessible viewing point for those who with physical limitations. Waterfall junkies should also hike the less accessible, but enchanted path to Elakala Falls.
When driving through the park heed speed limits as deer frequently cross road with no regard for traffic danger. We saw them at least a dozen times.
During our trip we split our time among Davis, Thomas and Canaan Valley all in Tucker County.
Just outside the park, Davis—this highest city in the state at 3,100 feet — is two blocks of offices and retail on William Street. Shopping the historic coal town includes a well-stocked Highland Market where you can gather ingredients for folk remedies, buy homemade soaps and lotions or get fresh local vegetables. Down the street is WV Highlands Artisans Gallery, a cooperative of 25 artists selling everything from jewelry to pottery. And across William Street is Blackwater Bikes, where those challenged by the 100-plus miles of single-track riding in the mountains can rent a bike and start their adventure.
Locals and tourists pass the evenings at Stumptown Ales and Sirianni’s Pizza Cafe. Stumptown, which opened in August 2015, is what happens when the home brewing gets too big for the Man Cave. In this case, real estate lawyer Jonathan Robeson and his wife Cindy went commercial and launched a varied, but hop heavy beer list.
The brewery focuses on beer, not food. So guests either bring in food or head down the street to 30-year-old Siranni’s for traditional Italian-American dishes including film ski star Glenn Plake’s Garlic Chips.
Just two miles north Thomas also reinvented itself after modern freeways and big box stores diverted life away from small towns. One art gallery attracted another and now the street is home to several galleries and antique shops. Farm to table is spoken at restaurants here.
Après shopping, dinner and music at the Purple Fiddle are apropos. The Fiddle was founded because of 9/11. Spooked by current events, professional photographer John Bright and his then girlfriend Kathryn Richards left Charleston and drove through the Appalachians seeking a safe place to raise their unborn child. On their route they saw a for-sale sign in an abandon general store at the south end of Thomas. They bought the building. Their dream was to create a family-friendly place with good coffee, craft beers and Appalachian music.
Seventeen years later the Brights are divorced, but the Purple Fiddle still serves good coffee, a large selection of craft beers and healthy menu items. The stage is occupied most nights by acts from around the region. Occasionally, because of Bright’s connections in the industry, a star – Avett Brothers — will sneak in while passing through the area.
Canaan Valley, about 10 minutes south pf Davis, is home to Canaan Valley Ski Resort. Winter activities are obvious; this time of year though visitors can ride the chair lift to a 4,280 feet elevation and catch trees turning the mountainside into vibrant stretches of fall color. An overlook area at the top offers a panoramic view of the area.
The small towns of Tucker County make a busy weekend getaway.