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Appalachia and Americana in West Virginia


What makes Morgantown unique isn’t the plentiful rafting, fishing and rock climbing in the surrounding mountains, although there’s plenty of that; it’s that the city is home to West Virginia University (WVU), “and with that brings all types of opportunities,” said Susan Riddle, executive director of the Greater Morgantown Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The university is a hub of both student and resident life in the city, as well as a major attraction for visitors. Located on 91 acres, the WVU Core Arboretum has three miles of walking trails between the WVU Coliseum and the Monongahela River. The trails lead through old-growth forest, groomed lawns and wildflower fields dotted with interpretive signs, trailside benches and a small amphitheater. In May, the university also opened the new Falling Run Trail project, 16 newly constructed biking and hiking paths that connect the downtown campus to WVU’s Organic Research Farm.

The university also owns and operates its own zip line and aerial adventure course on its research campus. The Adventure WV Outdoor Education Center includes a canopy tour with four zip lines, an aerial bridge, an aerial ladder and a rappel station. Groups can also tackle the challenge course with high and low ropes elements. Zip lining with WVU adds an extra element because guides “teach you about sustainability and what the trees are used for,” Riddle said.

The new 2,500-seat Monongalia County Ballpark, which opened in 2015, is home to the minor league West Virginia Black Bears and the WVU Mountaineers baseball teams. On campus, the WVU Art Museum is “wonderful” and another popular stop with groups, said Kay Fanok, the CVB’s assistant executive director. One of the museum’s current exhibitions, on display through October, features the work of street artist and activist Shepard Fairey.

Visitors are now adding a new stop in downtown: At the Metropolitan Theatre, they see a new statue of Don Knotts that was unveiled in July. Knotts is Morgantown’s famous native son and WVU alumnus and was best known for his role as Barney Fife in “The Andy Griffith Show.” The Met is home to the Morgantown Community Orchestra, and the West Virginia Public Theater partners with the WVU College of Creative Arts to put on musicals and plays.

One of Morgantown’s most popular attractions is its public transit. The Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit system first started running in 1975 as a government-funded pilot program. The system connects WVU’s three campuses and the downtown area, and individual passenger cars that look like small buses run on dedicated tracks powered by electrified rails. Visitors often like to ride the system and learn about its history and engineering, Fanok said.

Logan County

The Hatfield-McCoy feud has today become entrenched in American folklore. William Anderson Hatfield, known as Devil Anse Hatfield, was the patriarch of the Hatfield clan during the feud, but he managed to survive it and even helped end it in 1891. The Hatfield McCoy Convention and Visitors Bureau, which promotes Logan County and its three main cities — Chapmanville, Logan and Man — offers a self-guided driving tour map that highlights the significant stops pertaining to the feud, said CVB executive director Debrina Williams.

“The Devil is buried in Logan County,” she said, and visitors like to swing by his gravesite, which is marked by a marble statue.

Although not the cause of the feud, both the Hatfield and McCoy families were known to make and sell illegal moonshine, and visitors can get a taste of that history today. The now legal Hatfield and McCoy Moonshine Distillery is owned by Chad and Amber Bishop, and Amber is a “direct descendant of Devil Anse Hatfield, so they claim that is Devil Anse’s recipe,” Williams said. Groups can take a behind-the-scenes tour of the distillery, sample the ’shine and browse the gift shop.

One could argue that West Virginia is known for two things: moonshine and music. Every Friday and Saturday night at Chief Logan State Park, audiences gather for Pickin’ in the Park. Local musicians get together to jam at an old horse stable that was converted into a music venue, where they can hear some classic country, gospel and bluegrass, as well as take part in a downhome hoedown.

“This area is well known for its history with music and sitting on porches in days gone by, playing a fiddle and guitar, and singing,” Williams said. “And every Friday and Saturday, they’ll teach you how to two-step if you don’t know how, and they will highly encourage you to learn.”

Also in the 4,400-acre park, visitors will find a museum that features regional historic art and artifacts, such as quilts and Blenko Glass, and a wildlife center that features West Virginia native animals, including bobcats, barred owls, wild boar and two black bears named Mandy and Rascal. In the summer, groups can catch performances at the park’s outdoor amphitheater; this season features “Hairspray” in June and “Grease” in August, with discounted tickets for groups.

The Hatfield-McCoy region also has more than 600 miles of off-road trails and roads that crisscross and connect area counties. Most are open to dirt bikes, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and UTVs — side-by-side, off-road vehicles that can seat up to six people — although Bear Wallow Trail in Logan is now open to Jeeps and other four-wheel-drive vehicles. Scarlet Flame Side-X-Side Adventures takes small groups on UTV trail tours, driving fast and slow, through dirt and mud. Twin Hollow Campground and Cabins also offers ATV rentals, and groups can take a picnic lunch with them or simply ride into town, which is legal, to park and grab lunch.

“It’s a fabulous day to spend in the mountains,” Williams said. “It’s very scenic, and it’s very peaceful, but it can be a thrill-rushing ride as well.”

Rachel Carter

Rachel Carter worked as a newspaper reporter for eight years and spent two years as an online news editor before launching her freelance career. She now writes for national meetings magazines and travel trade publications.