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|West Virginia: Mid Ohio Valley: Articles|
All's Fair: West Virginia Festivals
All year long, all around the Mountain State, West Virginians celebrate: heritage and diversity, favorite foods and flowers, famous folks and landmarks. From mountain music to maple syrup, form walnuts to wine--- it seems there's a festival to commemorate everything good.
One of the biggest and best is also among the most venerable. The Mountain State Art and Craft Fair, held at Cedar Lakes Conference Center near Ripley, is the oldest of the state's traditional heritage fairs. From July 3 to July 6 this year, the sprawling conference center will open its grounds, lake and historic structures to thousands of visitors who come to admire and buy the work of more than 200 juried craftspeople, watch live demonstrations, eat good food and hear traditional music and storytelling.
From January to December, here are a few other favorite festivals:
Beginning in January, health-conscious Berkeley Springs raises a toast to that most refreshing of beverages during the three-month-long International Winter Festival of the Waters; the spotlight event is a gala judging of waters from near and far. In February, Helvetia does its best to hurry Old Man Winter away during Fasnacht; the Swiss town's festival includes a masked ball. March brings maple syrup, and its eponymous festival, to nearby Pickens.
Early April is ramp fest time. Raise a forkful of the tasty wild leeks in Richwood, Elkins and elsewhere around the state. In May, festivalgoers will dine upon dandelions in White Sulphur Springs and savor strawberries in Buckhannon. At the end of the month, the Vandalia Gathering in Charleston kicks off a busy summer season of music, folk life and heritage fairs.
The heat's on in July. In Shepherdstown, it's a steam-powered celebration of James Rumsey, the real inventor of the steamboat in 1787, years before Fulton. Festivities include a launch of a half-sized replica of the inventor's Rumseian Experiment. On top of Snowshoe Mountain, the heat is from hot peppers at the resort's annual Chili Cook-off. And August just wouldn't be August without the West Virginia State Fair outside Lewisburg. September's eclectic: among other things, they'll be lauding Italian heritage in Clarksburg, honey in Mineral Wells, and oil and gas in Sistersville.
In October, BASE jumpers will parachute from the towering New River Gorge Bridge near Fayetteville on Bridge Day; other folks will find themselves off the ground at the Mountaineer Balloon Festival in Morgantown. November marks the beginning of three months of glittery splendor at the Winter Festival in Wheeling. And in December, on of the most joyful holiday celebrations takes place in the middle of the river-on historic Blennerhassett Island near Parkersburg.
For more festival suggestions, look at the calendar of events in each regional section of this publication or contact the West Virginia Division of Tourism at (800) CALL WVA.
Pioneers and Entrepreneurs
The Mid-Ohio Valley's history and culture are intertwined with the Ohio River, the focal point of Parkersburg. The comfortable pace of life in the region's largest city belies its dramatic early days when pioneers, adventurers, entrepreneurs and rascals streamed down the river in search of western fortunes.
By 1792, Parkersburg was a commercial center and defense stronghold, with a blockhouse on the site of what is now a city park, The Point. For a taste of those times, ride the sternwheeler that departs from Point Park and ferries passengers back to the year 1800 on Blennerhassett Island.
Civilizing the Land
George Washington, surely one of the great real estate developers of all time, wrote in his journal about the excellent land south of Ravenswood at the Great Bend in the Ohio River. Here, in a pleasant riverside park, the Washington's Lands Museum displays a collection of artifacts that includes early land grant documents signed by Patrick Henry and a horse-drawn hearse. Also in the park is the 1840s Sayre Log House.
In downtown Parkersburg, the 1825 Federal-style house built by prominent early settler Tillinghast Cook is a living classroom for students and a fascinating museum for visitors. The Henry Cooper House, at Parkersburg City Park, was built around 1804 and is one of the state's oldest museums.
North of Parkersburg in the small town of Boaz, a massive three-story Italianate mansion perches on a bluff overlooking the Ohio River. Henderson Hall, 23 years in the making (1836-1859), features original furnishings and more than a century's worth of memorabilia.
Stories and Sternwheelers
America's first oil boom, beginning in 1859, turned Parkersburg into a vital commercial center and spawned the oil and gas barons who were a driving force in the creation of West Virginia. Their stories come alive at Parkersburg's Oil and Gas Museum, housed in a vintage hardware store.
The tycoons often congregated at the Blennerhassett Hotel, once considered the state's finest. An aura of turn-of-the-century glamour still pervades the renovated hotel and restaurant.
For a pioneer's perspective on the Mid-Ohio Valley, take a cruise on a sternwheeler. Departing from Point Park, Ruble's Sternwheelers ply the Ohio and Little Kanawha Rivers with a variety of nostalgic river excursions, including dinner and dance cruises and fall foliage floats.
Sports and Speed
Year-round, Parkersburg City Park is a fine place for families, with swimming, picnicking, paddleboats, tennis, miniature golf and, in winter, ice-skating.
If you love motor sports, cut to the fast lane at the West Virginia Motor Speedway off I-77 south of Parkersburg at Mineral Wells. USA Today named it one of the ten best dirt tracks in the nation. The Dirt Track World Championship takes place at the Pennsboro Speedway, just off US 50, each October.
Showcasing the Arts
Parkersburg is the Mid-Ohio Valley's showcase for arts and live entertainment. Film festivals and live theatrical reviews are presented regularly at Smoot Theatre, a refurbished 1926 vaudeville house. The Parkersburg Actors Guild goes onstage with comedies, drama and musicals in its own downtown theater. Classical music takes center stage when the West Virginia Symphony is in town.
Touring exhibitions of national stature and works by regional artists are featured at the Cultural Center for Fine Arts.
You'll find handcrafts by hundreds of West Virginia artisans at several large craft outlets in Parkersburg. Among them are the Little Kanawha Crafthouse, The Country Junction, and Mulberry Lane Country Store. Doll collectors will delight in the limited-edition dolls crafted by sculptor Lee Middleton, whose workshop is just across the river from Parkersburg in Belpre, Ohio.
For handmade goodies of the edible variety, visit Holl's Chocolates in Vienna, just north of Parkersburg. Swiss chocolate maker Hall brings his skills from his homeplace of Zurich.
Antique shops in the Mid-Ohio Valley often feature vintage regional glass. Maher's Antiques in Parkersburg also offers a selection of crocks with A.P. Donaghoo's Excelsior Pottery signature, recalling the days when homemakers throughout the Midwest stored food in the Parkersburg company's pots.
Just east of town, Pleasant Valley Trading Company is an antique, collectible and craft mall near Mountwood Park. Or take a leisurely drive upriver to Williamstown's Antique Mall to find wares of several dealers under one roof. A few more miles north, in downtown St. Marys, the Rusty Rails Antique Mall offers a broad selection.
Small Town Americana
The river dominates the western area of the region, but its influence gives way to hills as you travel eastward, where towns are smaller and the landscape more rural.
Just north of Parkersburg on WV Route 14 at Boaz, a large log building houses Mountain State Muzzleloading, stocking everything for the muzzleloading gun builder or collector, as well as an Early Americana Museum.
A short detour off US 50 takes you to quaint Harrisville, where Berdine's Five and Dime, the nation's oldest such store, still stocks penny candy at an antique confection counter, along with every other imaginable item, from the frivolously fun to the solidly functional. Original oak shelves and counters, tin ceilings and vintage lighting add a nostalgic glow.
Nearby, Pine Hill Pottery offers handmade pottery, traditional and contemporary. For a special treat, visit R.C. Marshall Hardware in Cairo for carriage bolts, wash tubs, oil lamps, nails by the pound, brass door pulls and thousands of other useful items. Or simply sit in a rocking chair, sip sarsaparilla and play checkers.
The hills of this area are dotted with cozy bed-and-breakfast inns that offer easy access to North Bend State park, golf and the North Bend Rail Trail.
Settle into the tranquility of the Mid-Ohio Valley in any of the region's many parks. At sprawling Mountwood Park, east of Parkersburg on US 50, visitors fish or paddleboat on a 50-acre lake. The park also has an extensive system of mountain bike and ATV trails.
North Bend State Park stretches along the North Fork of Hughes River near Harrisville. This family-style park features a 29-room lodge with a restaurant, campsites and cottages. Besides swimming, hiking, tennis, miniature golf, fishing and other recreation, North Bend features an interpretive trail and playground designed especially for visitors with visual or physical disabilities.
Trails and Tunnels
North Bend Rail Trail is for hikers, bikers and horseback riders. It stretches 72 miles from Parkersburg to near Clarksburg, passing through several pretty towns and ten tunnels. Breathtaking scenery and several bridges add to the pleasure on this former main line of the B&O Railroad. It is part of the 5,500-mile American Discovery Trail.
For sport fishing, start at the top - the top of the Mid-Ohio Valley region in St. Marys. Here, where Middle Island Creek joins the Ohio River, trophy muskie and bass are common.
You can hook largemouth bass, striped bass, white bass, northern pike, channel catfish, freshwater drum, sauger, walleye and muskie of trophy proportions in several other spots as well. Try the Willow Island Locks and Dam on WV Route 2, just south of St. Marys; the Belleville Locks and Dam below Parkersburg on WV Route 68; and the 158-acre Palestine State Fish Hatchery south of Elizabeth on WV Route 14.
The Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge stretches north from the Mid-Ohio Valley into the Northern Panhandle. The protected habitat is home to hundreds of species of birds, mammals, fish and freshwater mussels.
The Hunt Is On
The Mid-Ohio Valley offers a plentiful population of whitetail deer and other game for hunters. East of Parkersburg, the 10,000-acre Hughes River Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and the new 1,800-acre Ritchie Mines WMA provide public access to hunting and fishing.
Easy, Peaceful Feeling
The Mid-Ohio Valley is easy to reach and wonderfully peaceful - with history, arts and scenic wonders enough to make your heart beat faster. And all of it is offered up with West Virginia warmth and hospitality that never goes out of style.