By Allen Hamrick
The beckoning call of the wild is within most West Virginians; it is why we live here and we die here. We have deep rooted vibrations of nature that adventurers from all over the world run to in this state. Scenic vistas will stir one’s soul to a place where they do not want to return from, a place of peace and harmony with the two things that all humans need… nature and wilderness.
One particular quote that describes that need is this, “If all the green things that grow were taken from the earth there could be no life. If all the four legged creatures were taken from the earth, there could be no life. If all the winged creatures were taken from the earth, there could be no life. If all our relatives who crawl and swim and live within the earth were taken away, there could be no life. But if all the human beings were taken away, life on Earth would flourish. That is how insignificant we are.” – Russell Means, Oglala Lakota Nation (1939-2012).
The world seems to be closing in all around us; the pressures of daily living take their toll as we fight the good fight to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. We dream daily of a day where we can pack a bag full of the latest survival gear and go answer the call that drives us…the call of the wild. We imagine casting a fly into a wild stream flowing through the hills far away from the noise of the grind, and it captures our imagination and senses as we can just smell the aroma of a fresh caught trout on a spit with a cup of cowboy coffee in hand. The idea of backpacking into the wild, or perhaps pushing the limits of your physical ability on a mountain bike on back woods trails or just taking the time to enjoy the outdoors often causes us to rethink our own sanity, but we go anyway. We need places where the human spirit can still believe in some small way that adventure still exists. We need vast places where our eyes can open wide to the wonder and mystery of the trail we just stepped on.
There is no better stimulant than the wilderness trail. We have an unconscious pull towards it; we react to it but at the same time feel as though common sense should have taken over, but it doesn’t matter. Adventure is a leap into the unknown, leaving all you know to endeavor and make every effort to go and get back again knowing your trip is part of that natural vibration that makes West Virginia so great. Make no mistake, not all hikes, bike rides, canoe trips, off the grid camping trips or laboriously looking for that honey hole of trout will be easy.
You pack a bag hoping you have everything you need to get back while at the same time wondering if you will… or will even want to. You grab your walking stick or get on your bicycle and make that first move into a different existence away from the civilized life into an exhausting trek through old trails and new to feel the wind in your face, to feel alive again and to kick start your heart. Or one can simply drive somewhere, pitch a tent in a state forest and become pioneers again with open fire cooking and exploring the back woods natural streams that only West Virginia can boast of. We carry our packs over trails, through streams, over rocks and every muscle and joint is strained, but the experience is well worth it. We forge out our own stories and tales of the trail to be retold upon the return to work all the while day dreaming of the time we can return.
Those of who live in West Virginia have the opportunity to go and enjoy and backwoods adventure. Our home is full of wild places, scenic views, open trails and hidden mountain streams that boast some of the finest in trout fishing. Some are easy to get to while others take effort and focus. There are miles and miles of trails that will give your eyes the chance to witness nature at its best, mountain landscapes that would turn you and a camera into an artistic brush with West Virginia as the work of art when travelled at the right time. West Virginia is home to many state parks and nine state forests. Rail trails are there to challenge the bikers and hikers and are a thing of beauty as you ride away from the beaten path onto the route the trains took many years ago.
One of the newest and most challenging state park rail trails is in our own neck of the woods just waiting to be used. The Elk River Trail is one of the most scenic rail trails in the state with cool hollows, waterfalls, and natural tunnels created by the forest. The Elk River runs the length of the trail that starts in Gassaway and will run all the way to Clendenin when completely finished. In the older days it was said that from Hartland to Clendenin was one of the most beautiful sections of the B&O. There are events that will be held on the trail and if you feel that call of the wild, hop on your bike and go the distance. The new state park will always be evolving, offering more opportunities for the adventurer. The trail has been a getaway for many hikers, bikers and horse riders from the beginning, and it continues to grow in popularity. Bathrooms, picnic tables and outdoor exercise machines have been installed for the trail rider’s convenience.
Recently, students of the Clay County Schools summer school programs woodworking class completed three benches that they installed along the trail. A total of eight students worked on the benches over the course of three and a half weeks. This past week two students, McKenzy Taylor and Tilyr Bird, helped park officials install the new benches along the Clay County portion of the trail with one at Villanova, one behind CCHS and one near the mouth of Leatherwood Creek. These students worked hard to get these benches completed and installed so that not only would the trail be a great ride and hike but also a place of rest and reflection.
State parks are a needed habitat not only for the protection of the state’s resources and history but for the people. They provide a place where people can in some way reconnect with the great outdoors with family and sometimes for that ride or run of solitude. These youth have provided a necessary implement for any trail users in the future to sit a spell, enjoy some great scenery and, as they used to say, take a load off. West Virginians, it’s time to find a trail, whether it’s a day’s journey or just a hop skip and a jump, and take the time and get your body moving. The Elk River Trail is a great place to start becoming a part of West Virginia not just someone who lives here.
Remember, as the wise once said, “The earth doesn’t need us, we need it.” Don’t let everyday life lose what flavor is has left and become automatic and with no luster. We need that shot in the arm that the West Virginia wilderness provides with the sounds, the smells and the escape. We could travel this state for years and never get enough of its lure. It’s time to shape your own tradition and folklore for future generations and the best place to start is West Virginia, home of adventure.