Article by: Keith Doherty
Gauley Season is right around the corner, so we can expect to count on certain things in the coming weeks: big whitewater rapids, fall colors, beautiful scenery, tall tales around the campfire, and Tug Chamberlin’s booming voice floating across the river, matched only by his infectious smile.
This year marks Tug’s 31st rafting season as a whitewater professional.
It was happenstance that Chamberlin began guiding at all.
In 1990, he was walking across his college campus in Virginia when he noticed a summer job board.
“There was a picture of a raft going through Surprise Rapid on the New River with people flying out of the boat, and it said Be a Whitewater Raft Guide,” said Tug. “So, I used the 1990’s version of text and filled out a 3” by 5” card and mailed it in, and they called me two weeks later.”
When pressed on his previous river experience, Tug added with a smile, “Well, I guess if you consider floating the James River with an inner tube tied to another inner tube holding a cooler, whitewater experience, then yeah, I had a little bit.”
And it’s that humor and wit that has had Tug’s guests coming back year after year to ride in his boat.
Jeff Fischgrund is a spine surgeon, originally from New York, who lives and works in a hospital near Detroit, Michigan. He’s been rafting and coming with Tug for twenty-three years now.
“The guy is just so genuine and multifaceted,” said Jeff. “You just sense his passion, not only for the river, but you sense it for his family. You sense it for his job. You sense it just for doing the right thing. We have three or four guides that we've used for the past twenty years that are like that. Tug for obvious reason stands tall above them because he's kind of a big guy. But just to hear his perspective on life, and what things are important to him. It's not what you would think of a typical raft guide.”
Joni Snodgrass is an ultrasound technologist from Bowling Green, Kentucky. She’s rafted the Gauley River for ten years now and is a regular in Tug’s boat.
Joni exclaimed, “Tug is one of the best guides and best guys on the planet. He is incredibly knowledgeable in all things pertaining to the river: the rapids, the flora and fauna, the ecology, and the history. You ask a question, you can be sure he will know the answer. He will tone down the ride a bit for newcomers, but if you’ve been down the river a time or two, you’d better be ready to get wet. He truly does give his guests the best ride on the river based on their abilities.”
Miki Dunn, a Registered Nurse from Greensboro, Maryland, agreed, “He is down to earth in explaining what is about to happen, and he is going to give you the best ride of YOUR abilities. If he knows you can handle extreme, he will take you extreme.”
And getting the best ride is what it’s all about when it comes to creating whitewater rafting junkies. For a lot of guests, one time down the river is enough. They cross it off their bucket list and move on to the next activity. But the New River, and especially the Gauley River, have a way of creating what the raft guides call professional paddlers. Year after year, they come back, often booking multiple trips in the same season.
“The Gauley was my husband Brian’s first rafting trip twenty years ago. He fell out at Six Pack Rock, drank the water, and has been hooked ever since,” said Miki. “I first went on the Gauley in 2006, after getting some experience on the New River first. We go on the Gauley every Bridge Day Weekend and will be back again this year. For us, going to West Virginia is like a second home because of our friends and the ties we have. My father is from Welch, and Brian’s grandfather put in parts of Route 60, and his uncle was born in Ansted.”
Jeff added, “There’s a core group of us, probably 10 to 15, that go back every year. So, I have at least a dozen people that have been going there for over 10 years. And through the years, I've probably had about 150, maybe 200 people, come through either once or twice. They either love it once or twice, or they're hooked, and they stay forever.
“We started off staying at a bunkhouse, and we would get more elaborate each year, bringing camping equipment, decorations, and having big campfires. We would basically just park there for about five days. Now that we're getting a little bit older, we're not roughing it quite as much. We've upgraded to something a bit more civilized. But we still have that same core of people doing this once a year. This is not something we do normally during the rest of the year.”
“I started out only coming for one weekend during Gauley Season,” said Joni. “Over the years, I have expanded my trips to include a summer trip and an additional fall weekend or two, and I typically take multiple trips down the river each time I visit. It is a seven-hour drive from where I live, so I tend to make the most out of each visit. I have made it a tradition to do a Gauley Marathon on the last day of Gauley Season. The marathon gets you down the entire 26-mile river in a single day!”
And when you have guests going that often, they truly get a glimpse into what their guide experiences.
“I was really fortunate when I started working at ACE in ’90. The next season Fred Blocklinger came over from another company to develop our Summer Gauley Program,” Tug said. “There's always water in the Gauley in the summertime, so the owners wanted to expand their options. As a young guide, I started working those trips in that program's infancy. So, not only have I worked, thirty plus years of the Fall Gauley season, but I've also worked thirty years of low-water Upper Gauley trips, and high-water Upper Gauley trips. We’ve gone well above the 5000 cubic feet per second cutoff because sometimes you get out there, and it goes up on you, and you're stuck. I've seen the Lower Gauley at stupid high water, like 20,000 cubic feet per second, which is hands down some of the biggest whitewater I've ever commercially run. I mean bigger than rapids I saw in Grand Canyon when we did the Colorado River. So, I've been very fortunate to see the Gauley and do literally thousands of trips at different water levels.”
It’s a simple matter of fact that the Gauley River is a special place, and the more time you spend there, the more you will feel it. And it’s not just the whitewater. It’s not just the beauty. It reveals itself in moments.
“One of my favorite things about the Gauley is the fog,” said Tug. “Because there are some days when you are on the Upper Gauley, and you're on that first trip in the morning, and the fog is so thick out there that you can't see twenty feet in front of your boat, and you're getting ready to drop into this massive rapid, and you can't see any of it. Man, it's awesome. I love it.”
Joni said, “The Gauley is my outlet for frustrations, my wild exhilaration, and most importantly my place of peace. There will always be a special place in my soul for the Gauley. The beauty of the river and its surroundings is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The river has the power to move boulders, yet exudes tranquility and peace. When people say, ‘go to your happy place,’ this is where I go.”
Tug added, “It's just really cool water. It's clean water. At low water, when you're working Gauley ducky trips, and you're actually standing in the middle of some of these rapids, and you look down, and there's a freaking rainbow trout swimming around your leg. That's pretty cool. It’s so beautiful.
“I lived in Utah for a while. And really the Gauley River is what brought me back after grad school. And I can remember standing at the confluence of the Meadow River and the Gauley River when I first came back, not a cloud in the sky- Bluebird Day, and I was just looking across the river at the side of the hillside, and I was like ‘Good God, it's green!’ Because it was such a stark contrast from what I've just come from in Utah. It’s a pretty special place.”
And just like the guide, the guests all have their favorite spots and memories too.
“My hands down favorite rapid is Pillow Rock. It is an adrenaline rush to be barreling through rapids right towards a huge rock and make a sharp right turn to just miss the rock, close enough to reach out and touch it,” said Joni. “My second favorite rapid is Sweet’s Falls. It’s a 14-foot waterfall, no further explanation needed.”
“My most memorable experience was the day we took a 12-foot raft with Brian, Dennis (a good friend of ours), and me,” said Miki. “Well, to my surprise, we surfed Fuzzy Box of Kittens, and it’s on video… it was amazing.”
“So, we had been going down the Gauley for a good 15 to 18 years,” said Jeff, “I'm never going to say I got bored. I mean, I fully respect the power that river. But we had seen a couple of independent rafters in Shredders (a two-person raft). And I remember speaking to the owner of ACE saying, ‘What is it going to take to let us go on a Shredder?’ No commercial trips offer that.
“So, what it took eventually, was we would go a couple times a year during low flow, do a little bit on the New River as well, and eventually, we worked our way up to where we could had five of us going on Shredders on the Upper Gauley. And we had five of the best guides, obviously Tug was one of them. And I remember the five of us going down the river with known guides and everybody watching and staring saying, ‘Who are those guys? And how come they get to go on a Shredder?
“We did great, and the fact that we conquered all our fears and moved it up to a level with our West Virginian family. It's just something I will never forget- just five Shredders going down the river. It was even to the point where the photographer didn't even realize we were part of a commercial trip!”
It creates an opportunity for experience where bonds are made, and lasting friendships are formed.
“There’s not many businesses that you're involved with where your clientele or your guests actually become personal friends,” said Tug. “Typically, you keep them on a business level, right? But this industry is a little different, and I like that about it. Because it is a more personal industry. You spend five hours with these people every freaking day. If I keep them coming back, you definitely develop a deeper relationship than just guest and guide.
“You know, I've been to a few weddings of kids that I've literally watched grow up from their parents bringing them in my boat, and then they get married, and they say, ‘Hey man, come to the wedding.’
“Sure, why not?” Tug laughed.
“You wouldn't say a spine surgeon and a rafting guide have a lot in common,” said Jeff. “I think we have a lot in common once you look past the superficialities. Most people would see that. I consider him one of my better friends even though I’ve only seen him once a year for the past four years.”
And it’s not just Tug’s guests that get to experience his vibrance and creativity. Ten years ago, Tug created a Tourism Industries program at the local Vo-Tech, the Fayette Institute of Technology.
“I'd always thought for years that it would be really cool to teach local kids about the outdoors as a whole, and enlighten them that this is a viable industry,” said Tug. “Initially, when I first started the program, I took some of my college classes that I had taken and adapted them to the high school level. The accreditation they receive is basically the equivalent of an associate degree on a high school level. They’re getting experience as a hospitality tourism management professional, as well as taking entrepreneurial, financial, and job-seeking classes. In addition, they’re learning outdoor education with mountain biking, snowshoeing, 3-day backpack trips, Leave No Trace, and trail-building programs to name a few.
“The whitewater industry changed their regulations for guiding the upper section of the New River from 18 to 16 years old as the minimum age for a guide. It’s Class I and II whitewater. I would like to incorporate that guide training into my program. So, when my juniors get out of their first year, they can go straight to work in the industry.”
And the lessons from the outdoors and the classroom extend to the real world.
“A lot of people would have a hard time understanding the value that being a raft guide teaches you,” Tug said. “But when you start thinking about communication skills, teamwork skills, decision-making skills, those are all skills that you have to have as a raft guide. Because those are things that you do every day. You work with other raft guides. You have to work within that team. You have to talk to people every day on the river. It's kind of intimidating to speak to adults when you’re young, but when you're sitting in a boat with them all day long, you're going to have to talk to them. So, it's definitely an enhancer in communication, teamwork, and decision-making.
“If Plan A doesn't work when you're going through a rapid, you’d better figure out what Plan B is real quick.”
You can hear the passion in Tug’s voice when he talks about his Vo-Tech program. And it’s not any different when it comes to the river, which is simply not the norm when it comes to commercially rafting for as long as he has.
“I don't know. I'm lucky. I don't get burned out on it. You know, some guides get burned out on the people. They just can't deal with people anymore. Some guides get burned out on the river because they've run it so many times.
“And I just look at it as, I get to go out here and play on the river every day.”
Article by: Keith Doherty
As Covid-19 has more companies and employees scrambling to rethink the home-work environment, the “new normal” has simply been normal for the remote workers of the New River Gorge area, and the global pandemic has only confirmed what they’ve known for quite a while- Fayette County is an ideal place to find the work-life balance.
“Remote work is booming; it's been increasing steadily over the past twenty years. And now with this pandemic, it's just going through the roof- more and more jobs are becoming remote,” says Tom Gerencer, author of two books and a content writer for companies including HP, Adorama Camera, and Zety.com to name a few. “A lot of companies are realizing they don't need to have people in a physical office.”
Ethan Geyer, a Software Product Design Principal currently working for a marketing technology company called Acoustic, completely agrees. “Our company has around 1,000 employees located in San Francisco, Atlanta, Raleigh, NYC, Boston, Poland, and all parts in between, so remote collaboration is a constant. On any given project, I’m working with folks from all over the world, so the fact that I’m sitting in my office in Fayetteville versus an office in a big city doesn’t have much of an impact.”
The same is true for Kate McDaniel, a professional engineer in the Digital Solutions Group of Trinity Consultants, an engineering consulting firm. “I can work from the moon as long as I'm close to an airport and have access to a telephone.”
Gerencer quips, “It also helps to have a pair of noise-cancelling headphones in case my kids are having lightsaber battles in the same room.”
And that could be said for most remote workers all over the country. As long as they have a quiet space, a laptop, and an internet connection, they can work from anywhere.
So why did these folks choose Fayette County, WV?
Geyer says “After having spent ten years in the triangle region of North Carolina going back to school and nurturing our careers, my wife and I realized that we were spending almost all of our time coming back to Fayetteville to visit family, friends, and these beautiful outdoor spaces. We made the move back here last summer to spend more of our time playing outside and raising our daughter in the New River Gorge.”
Gerencer adds, “So I’ve lived all over. I’m originally from Maine. I’ve lived in some of the coolest towns- Breckenridge, Colorado; Bend, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; Missoula, Montana- checked out all kinds of cool places, and Fayette County beats them.
“If you’re a hunter, or you like fishing, or you like rock climbing, or you like whitewater, which is my favorite thing, the drive times are very short. So, within a half-hour drive from my house, I have some of the best whitewater in the country. I mean anywhere else in the country you might have great whitewater for six weeks. You might have great skiing for four months. But in Fayetteville, West Virginia, you have year-round, fantastic outdoor opportunities. There's not what they call a shoulder season, which you have out West, where you're spending five or six months thinking ‘What do I do now while I wait for the ski mountain to open back up?’ You’re never doing that in Fayetteville. And that's not true anywhere else I've lived, especially with the short drive times.”
“It’s literally the community,” says McDaniel. “The people here are super rad. I was getting home from a work trip and then not even going to my house in North Carolina. I had my bags packed in the car and went to Fayetteville almost every weekend. I came home one week and was like, ‘This is stupid. Why am I doing this? I should just move to Fayetteville.’ And so I did, and it's really just the people and the community. And the fact that the outdoors is so accessible. You're hiking; you're biking; you're whitewater rafting; you're doing whatever you want to do, and I just love being outdoors with the people who live here.”
Geyer adds, “More than some magical moment or epic trip here, I think it’s the ability to tap into the adventure and outdoor experiences without the kind of planning and traveling for recreation that it took when we lived in a more urban area. Whether it’s a weekend skiing at Snowshoe, a hike straight from our house down into the Gorge, family mountain biking, or a trip down the river—it all feels so close and accessible. I traded a nearly two-hour daily commute to now live and work within a mile of the Gorge. It’s also incredibly easy to grab a flight out of Charleston when I need to travel to one of our offices for in-person events or meetings with my teammates.”
McDaniel laughs, “I would not recommend this to anybody, but you can literally get there when your flight is boarding and still make your flight without having to run through the airport. It's really accessible.”
That’s not to say working remotely in the area doesn’t come with its challenges.
For starters, not all Internet in West Virginia is created equal. The folks who have cable internet are doing just fine, but it can be a struggle at home if you have DSL, or even worse, satellite.
But aside from basic infrastructure, working independently has its own hurdles.
Geyer says, “It can be hard to unplug from work when you don’t have a commute standing between your home and your office. “
“You really are isolated,” says Gerencer. “You don't have that network of office friends or acquaintances around you anymore. I have my family and that's great. If it weren't for kayaking, I don't think I'd ever see anybody, especially during this pandemic. It's actually been easier on me than it has been on a lot of people because I'm kind of used to it.”
McDaniel says, “Well, some people just can't work from home; it’s not a lifestyle they can handle. But if you can handle it, you're going to fall into one of two categories.
“The first category is you're either going to want to do anything but work, and you're going to have to figure out how to make that happen. You're going to want to do housework, or the dishes, or take your dog for a walk, or run errands, or whatever. And you just have to make yourself disciplined to work or you’re not going to have that job for very long.
“Or the second category is the one I fall into: you're going to carry your laptop around the house everywhere, and you're going to end up working 18 hours a day. And you’ll burn out if you do that.
“It takes a while to get that regimented discipline. You also have to force yourself to get out. I have seen myself sit in my house for a week, and never leave. And that can get really lonely and depressing. That's one of the reasons why I moved here. It’s so easy to get out of your house and go on a quick bike ride, hike, or go see friends to get that interaction with people.”
Having a dedicated space for work can be a crucial aspect for working remotely.
McDaniel says, “I have a whole bedroom that I have converted to an office, and it's just like anybody else's office. It’s really important to have a dedicated space that I can come in and out of, so you can just shut the door at the end of the day- just like you're actually leaving an office building. It's so weird because it's literally in your house, but when I leave my office, I'm done working, and I leave it there for tomorrow.”
But working remotely also allows you to not be tied to that designated workspace when the time is right.
Gerencer says, “We have a little 20-year-old pontoon boat with a tiny motor that we love to go out on Summersville Lake. I bought solar panels and a solar battery for it. Now I can go and camp out for a few days in a row. And I can work. I set my own work hours from eight in the morning until two in the afternoon. And, then I can stop work, take over from my wife, and play with the kids all afternoon and all evening- swimming and kayaking with them on the lake. So, I'm not married to my office, and I don't have a commute.”
McDaniel says, “I have really flexible work hours. If I don't want to take a personal day, I can take a Wednesday off and then work on a Saturday instead. I can randomly take a day off to go skiing when the conditions might be best.
“I started mountain biking when I moved here. It's been nice to learn a new skill and get involved in a new sport when you haven't been doing it forever. People are super cool about riding the easy, kiddie trails with you. And I just picked up paddleboarding this year as well, and I really enjoy exploring places like Kanawha Falls. This is a great place to get involved.”
And with the trend of working from home increasing by the day. We can only reason that there will be even more opportunities for remote workers to enjoy Fayette County.
Geyer says, “I would love to see Fayetteville emerge as a hub for creative / tech remote jobs. More and more large companies are adopting flexible working policies, and I know lots of friends in the Bay Area who would trade their small apartments and weekend warrior trips for an opportunity to live, play, and work here.”
“My friends who live in Seattle that make the exact salary that I do are living with three friends, and they're struggling to make ends meet. They’re living paycheck to paycheck, paying exorbitant rent for houses or small apartments,” says McDaniel.
Gerencer adds, “The economy in places like Fayetteville is going to boom as there's more and more remote jobs available. People are going to continue to want to live here, and people who are originally from here are going to realize they don't have to leave. They can get a remote job and stay in this amazing place.”
Article by: Keith Doherty
Back in the day, it might have been weird to see someone driving around West Virginia with a giant surfboard on top of their vehicle. Today, it would be stranger not see a SUP, or a stand up paddleboard, heading to the lake or a river on a beautiful day in WV.
“The biggest draw to stand up paddleboarding is that it is for everybody,” says Meghan Fisher, SUP Instructor and owner of Mountain State Paddle Sports. “It's something that's fairly easy to learn. And then as you keep doing it, you can evolve to do more.”
Melanie Seiler, Executive Director of Active Southern West Virginia, agrees, “I like that it does meet a lot of audiences. It's an activity that you can get on an inflatable paddleboard with grandparents, and they can have a good experience on a wide big board. Parents can get kids on a board and introduce them to the activity while still having a lot of control. And then it can go into more athletic experiences.
“It can be a great tool for cross-training. If you're pursuing other forms of recreation, you can use paddleboarding to strengthen your core. It can grow from there to paddling distances on flatwater, exploring rivers, surfing waves, and eventually, running actual whitewater, which is extremely exhilarating. There are also competitive races all across the world, and it's a great network of people in the race circuits.”
Paddleboarding continues to grow in popularity, and in Southern West Virginia, there’s arguably no better spot for it than Summersville Lake. Known for its beautiful, clear water and sheer cliffs, Summersville Lake has 60 miles of shoreline, and it is the largest lake in the state.
“I remember the first time I swam in Summersville Lake,” says Erin Larsen, yoga instructor and owner of Erin Larsen Yoga. “I sat on a rock and marveled at the water, marbled with pristine cliff lines and the blue, green shimmering in the sun. It was nothing short of magical.”
“The water quality is fantastic. It's probably some of the cleanest water in West Virginia,” says Fisher. “It’s crystal clear. I've never been on a lake where you can see 30 feet down. Oftentimes, people will see the bottom and think it’s really shallow. They’ll try to swim to the bottom, and of course, they can't make it. It’s beautiful water.”
It’s an amazing place, and it has become an obvious destination for instructors, outfitters, or anyone looking to venture out on their own with a SUP.
Seiler, who often organizes athletic events at the lake for Active Southern West Virginia, says, “We like the location because it's right off Rt. 19 and easily accessible to the region that we're trying to serve. It has multiple access points, and they’re designated specifically for paddle crafts in no-wake zones, so we can avoid motorized boats, and teach people the basics of paddleboarding and relay to them the importance of avoiding motor crafts.”
Fisher adds, “Depending on what you want to get into that day, you can find something specifically for every group or person. Today, I had a formal instruction, and she was brand new to paddleboarding. So, we went to the Battle Run area. There are lots of coves that are sheltered from the wind. You can paddle the entire no-wake zone and get a 4.5-mile paddle without any wake!
“And then you can put in at the other side of the lake by Salmon Run and get the complete contrast of that with giant cliff walls. Climbers love it. You can paddle up to the cliffs and scramble around them. The scenery is spectacular. You get a little bit more boat traffic, but you also have trickling waterfalls that you can paddle underneath and behind. It's really a special place.”
Families also love taking advantage of these spots with their paddleboards.
Tracy DeGaetano says, “"SUPing is really just an easy day for us. The boards are light and easy to transport. Our kids can easily jump on and off whenever they want, and even a short day out yields both a workout for me, and a fun, active outlet for my kids."
A smiling, nine-year-old Jack DeGaetano exclaims, “At the lake, I like finding the coolest places to climb and jump off.”
The versatility of the stand up paddleboard has always been major part of its appeal. It can be a glorified sunbathing platform or a vessel for serious workout mileage.
It’s easy to put together courses from short, simple loops to 12-mile paddles or even longer. Going from the Salmon Run ramp to the Rt. 39 bridge and back is an 8-mile course, as an example.
One of the more obscure but fun was to use your SUP board is for yoga.
“SUP yoga is just doing yoga on a paddleboard. It might sound a lot harder than it is, but it can be challenging or easy,” says Larsen “It offers you a way to not take yourself so seriously, which we can all do, especially on a yoga mat sometimes. You can lay flat on your back and do all sorts of stretches, or even just lay there and take it all in. If you want to take it up a notch, practicing standing poses on a board gives you quite the core challenge and will be a quick determiner if you are balanced or not- something a yoga mat doesn’t really do.
“I always teach a variety of poses to make it accessible to all levels, so those that have never paddleboarded before still enjoy being out on the water. If you can stand on two feet you can paddle a stand up board. It is the perfect intro watersport for a novice, and the boards these days are really light, allowing nearly anyone to grab one and head for the water. And of course, swimming in Summersville lake is superb, so if you happen to fall off your board, enjoy it.”
As beginner friendly as SUP is at the lake, there are still some guidelines folks need to be aware of before getting on the water for their first time. Being fitted with proper equipment will make for a much more enjoyable and safer day.
In addition to customized private trips and formalized ACA instruction, Mountain State Paddle Sports rents top-notch SUP equipment including high quality life vests that are effective and comfortable.
Fisher says, “I think the big thing with paddleboarding on the lake or in the ocean is that you don't have to be wearing a life vest by law. It’s just required to be on your board. However, if it gets windy, which it often does at Summersville, you can easily fall off. And once the wind starts blowing your board, it can move way faster than you can swim, and that can obviously cause lots of issues. So, it’s best to be wearing your life vest.”
Seiler adds, “Paddleboards on Summersville lake always need to be along the shoreline. It is not recommended to cross the middle of the lake if you are in a wake zone, especially in the summer months. We are seeing increased outdoor recreation because of the COVID-19 pandemic, where people are avoiding other leisure activities. So, if you do need to cross the lake in a wake zone, cross with your group clustered in a pod, rather than a long diagonal of people spread out. You have to be very conscientious that motorized crafts cannot easily see you.”
Basically, a little common sense will ensure a fun activity stays that way, and it keeps the focus where it should be: enjoying the lake and making memories.
Joe DeGaetano says, "Summersville Lake is at the top of our list during the summer when it comes to places to play as a family. Once the temps warm up, we find ourselves pulling out the SUPs. Almost always. we pack a cooler with drinks and food for the entire day, as well as a drybag with climbing shoes, Bluetooth speaker, and enough sunscreen for the four of us to spend the entire day out.
“It makes me happy to think that one day my kids will think back on these memories and realize that their days on the lake were some of the best times they've had."
Article by: Keith Doherty
We already know that once you get to Wild Rock you don’t have to go far for adventure: whitewater rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking, zip lines, high ropes courses, along with all of the great restaurants, music venues, and bars.
Adventures on the Gorge and local outfitters can offer you all the guided adventures that you crave. But what if you want to get out for the day or even an extended overnight trip on your own?
Not only is Wild Rock and the New River Gorge a spectacular vacation destination, but it can also serve as central hub and basecamp for some amazing one-tank trips to explore other hidden gems in West Virginia.
Below is just a sampling of the options within a short drive from Wild Rock.
A Side Note- These summaries are written from the perspective of when things get back to normal- think pre and post Covid-19. Check ahead and note any procedural changes from each venue and location as the state continues to slowly open back up for business.
Lewisburg/ White Sulfur Springs, Greenbrier County- 52 miles from Wild Rock
Charleston- 52 miles from Wild Rock
A smaller city, but a city, nonetheless. And a nice one too. With a population of just over 47,000, Charleston traffic isn’t overwhelming, and still offers many of the amenities we associate with city-life.
There are certainly several dining and food options in Charleston. Capitol Market is a must-see if you are there during the daytime hours.
Live music particularly stands out in Charleston with Mountain Stage leading the way. Check their schedule in advance as they consistently host world-class performers from all genres and disciplines. Mountain Stage typically records their live performances on Sunday evenings, and they will broadcast the edited shows on NPR at a later date. Most often it’s hosted in the Cultural Center in Charleston, but sometimes they take the show on the road, or play in the Clay Center just down street.
The West Virginia Symphony also calls the Clay Center home. Aside from their scheduled performances, the Clay Center hosts several concerts and plays each year. In addition, there’s an art museum, a science museum, and a planetarium & theater.
And if the outdoors is still calling you, Kanawha State Forest has some excellent mountain biking and hiking trails. Furthermore, Coonskin Park is a great location for sports, picnics, or swimming at the pool.
Richwood & the Cranberry Wilderness- 50 to 68 miles from Wild Rock
A scenic drive from Wild Rock, you’ll drive through beautiful, wooded countryside and cross over Summersville Lake, the Gauley River, and the Cherry River along the way to Richwood. A historic logging town, Richwood has some hidden secrets and one of our absolute favorite restaurants called The Whistle Punk. Definitely plan on eating here.
Just past the town, you will enter the Monongahela National Forest and the Cranberry Wilderness. Right about where your cell phone cuts out is where the magic begins. Miles and miles of hiking and biking options, both single and multi-day. You can camp alongside the Cranberry River or other nearby spots.
There are also excellent fishing and hunting opportunities depending on the season. We recommend Four Seasons Outfitters for the local beta. You can even buy ramps there, a tasty wild leek that is famous to the region.
The Cranberry Glades Botanical Area is a beautiful spot with a short easy and hike. A constructed boardwalk leads you out into the bogs, where you’ll find a much different landscape then you’ll see in the rest of the state.
Summersville Lake- 18 miles from Wild Rock
Summersville Lake is quite simply one of the most beautiful lakes in the Mid-Atlantic, and it’s also West Virginia’s largest. With 28,000 acres of water and 60 miles of shoreline, pick your activity of choice and go have a blast.
It will support just about any watercraft, motorized or muscled. With plenty of wake and non-wake zones, there’s enough room for the fishermen and the speed demons. Wakeboarding, water skiing, tubing, canoes, kayaks, WaveRunners- you name it, it’s allowed. And stand up paddleboarding just gets more and more popular. Contact Mountain Surf Paddle Sports if you need to rent a board.
The lake is deep enough to be a popular diving spot as well. Long Point boasts some cool rock features down below the surface, and if you get with the right folks, you can even find a sunken vessel out there. Contact Sarge’s Dive Shop for any diving questions or equipment needs.
Summersville Lake is also a well-liked spot with the rock climbers. There are several bolted areas listed in the climbing guidebooks, and some additional routes that can be accessed by pontoon boats. The awesome crew at Water Stone Outdoors can point you in the right direction.
The water quality of Summersville Lake is incredible, which makes the swimming fantastic. It can be little chilly in the spring, and it’s just about perfect in the summertime. If you simply want to access the beach and swim in a designated spot, go to the Battle Run Campground area. You can obviously camp there as well on some very nice sites.
There are several other campgrounds at the lake- some right on the water and others nearby.
On the interior of the lake, there are many miles of outstanding mountain biking and hiking trails. There’s also a Wildlife Management Area that provides some excellent hunting grounds.
Babcock State Park/ Clifftop- 19 miles from Wild Rock
Babcock State Park is probably the most photographed location in West Virginia. Similar to being able to hear John Denver’s Country Roads being played in countries around the world, pictures of Glade Creek Grist Mill and its stunning waterfall can be seen hanging on walls in the most random places around the globe.
Many visitors don’t get more than a thousand feet from the parking lot, but the park has a ton more to offer than an iconic view. Up top, there is a beautiful lake suitable for paddling. There are also extensive trails for hiking and biking depending on their user-group designation. Glade Creek is also a popular spot for fishing.
There are numerous cabins placed on both sides of the creek that are available to rent, as well as several picnic shelters and a tennis court with an amazing view.
Just down the road is Camp Washington Carver at Clifftop. This was the first 4-H camp for African Americans in the United States.
Today, it is most famous for hosting the Appalachian String Band Festival, a five-day gathering at the end of July of musicians and friends playing some of the most incredible music you will ever hear. While the stage performances are always inspiring, the music coming from the campgrounds will fill your soul.
Hawks Nest State Park- 6 miles from Wild Rock
This one is so close, it might be hard to consider it a day trip, but once you get to Hawks Nest, you’ll feel you’ve reached an entirely new destination.
At the top of the park is the 31-room lodge, which includes a nature museum, multiple conference and meeting areas, and a restaurant with a spectacular view. There are several overlooks on or near the property, which highlight a cliffside view of Mill Creek, the New River Gorge, and the Hawk’s Nest Dam.
An aerial tramway takes visitors from the lodge to the confluence of Mill Creek and the New River. From there, visitors have the option of hiking along the Mill Creek Trail. If you’re lucky and the water levels are right, you might even get to see some whitewater kayakers run the 18-foot waterfall amongst the other numerous challenging Class V rapids. This creek is also suitable for fishing when the water levels are low and steady.
Another option from the bottom is to jump onboard with New River Jetboats and head upstream to the last whitewater rapid of the New River Gorge to get a completely different perspective of the New River Gorge Bridge.
Beckley, WV- 25 miles from Wild Rock
Beckley is the largest city in southern West Virginia and the ninth largest in the state with a population around 16,000. You can find all the amenities you’ll need here, including some outstanding restaurants.
From a Wild Rock perspective, there are three spots that really stand out in Beckley.
The first is Tamarack, branded as The Best of West Virginia, and it is. That being said, once you get past the incredible artwork and displays, head straight to the cafeteria and order the trout prepared by chefs from The Greenbrier.
The Galleria 14 Movie Theater is by far the nicest spot to catch a film in the area. It has modern stadium seating, a great sound system, and in the summertime, the air conditioning is spot on.
However, the real underrated attraction in Beckley is the Exhibition Coal Mine. Tour an underground mine with an entertaining veteran miner as your tour guide- full of facts and fantastic stories.
Also located on the property are the Coal Camp, the museum & gift shop, the Coal Company House, the Superintendent’s Home, the Pemberton Coal Camp Church, and the Helen Coal Camp School.
It’s a very unique tour, great for all ages, and with a consistent 58-degree temperature inside the mine, it’s also a great way to beat the high summertime temperatures.
Grandview & Little Beaver State Park- 37 miles from Wild Rock
What’s in a name? Grandview is just that.
Overlooking a dramatic horseshoe bend, the sandstone platforms crest 1,400 feet above the New River. Maintained by the National Park Service, the park is a great spot to hike, picnic, and gaze from beautiful vistas.
The park is also home to Theatre West Virginia, which features impressive musicals and dramas in a wonderful outdoor amphitheater from June to August.
Just down the road from Grandview is Little Beaver State Park, a 562-acre park that packs a lot of recreation into its footprint. It has over 20 miles of trails, including some of the most fun and technical mountain biking to be found in southern West Virginia.
The 18-acre lake provides a beautiful spot for fishermen year-round. All paddle sports are welcome, and rentals are available seasonally.
Little Beaver also has several nice picnic shelters that you’d come to expect from a West Virginia State Park.
Webster County & Holly River State Park- 60 to 86 miles from Wild Rock
(Country miles; give yourself two hours each way for this one.)
Webster County in general is a hidden treasure of West Virginia. It has all the wonder of Pocahontas County, but it’s just off the beaten path, so it doesn’t get quite as much attention. Those who venture there for the first time immediately fall in love.
Steep terrain, wild rivers, windy roads, and beautiful landscapes provide for a scenic ride. You’ll be sure to pass many historic buildings and old cemeteries along the way.
Holly River State Park is the second largest park in the state system. It provides outstanding campsites with a beautiful creek and numerous hiking trails. The more you explore the area, the more you will find unbelievable swimming holes and scenic overlooks.
Webster Springs is known for hosting some exceptional festivals featuring food and fun. One of our favorites is the Woodchopping Festival, highlighting a wide array of lumberjack events. They host ramp dinners, of course, and many events that feature the Elk River.
It’s all seasonal, so you may need to check the calendar ahead of time to get in on the fun. You won’t regret a trip to Webster County.
The Highland Scenic Highway, Tea Creek, and the Williams River- 69- 80 miles
Watoga State Park- 81 miles from Wild Rock
Right on the edge of Pocahontas and Greenbrier counties, Watoga State Park is the largest park in the state system with over 10,000 acres of land. It has beautiful campsites, both primitive and electric. Sprinkled around the park are 34 cabins that range from modern to those built by hand by the CCC. The scenery all around is stunning.
The park has 40 miles of trails and a beautiful lake as well. You name the outdoor activity and you can find it here. Boating and paddle sports are encouraged. The lake is also part of the Division of Natural Resources stocking program, so bring your fishing pole.
Beartown & Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park- 74+ miles from Wild Rock
Town of Hinton, Sandstone Falls, & Bluestone Lake- 62 miles from Wild Rock
Thurmond- 20 miles from Wild Rock
The historic town of Thurmond was another boomtown from the railroad and coal era of the early 1900’s. Many of the historic buildings remain, and walking around the town is a trip into history. The National Park Service began repairs and restorations in 2003 to preserve the buildings.
NPS restored the Thurmond Depot as a visitor center. It also serves as an active platform with a shelter for the Amtrak that travels the gorge.
In addition to the buildings, the train depot, and the bridge that crosses the New River, there is a significant 7-mile path called the Southside Junction Trail that goes all the way to Cunard or vice-versa. Suitable for hiking and biking, it can be traveled round trip or with shuttle.
Plum Orchard Lake- 21 miles from Wild Rock
A few of our favorite places.
Article by: Keith Doherty
Like most Americans this year, Tom Nelson was paying attention to the news surrounding Covid-19 during the second week of March. The growing concerns had been there for a while, but the seriousness of the situation really began to rapidly shift when the NBA cancelled their games. The domino effect ensued across the country. March Madness was cancelled. College students were sent home. Governors began to close schools. Statewide safety precautions began to hatch, and Americans quickly braced for the New Normal.
The CEO of Zero Haliburton and a native son of West Virginia quickly realized that he and his wife were living in the epicenter of a global pandemic.
Nelson recalled, “We found ourselves right in the center of the storm. We felt at first that we would try to stick it out in our apartment there – and indeed we have several friends in NYC who have done that – but the city was rapidly becoming unrecognizable with streets empty of cars and people and businesses shut down everywhere. It was becoming oppressive, so we began looking at options.”
Nelson grew up in Charleston, WV and graduated from George Washington High School. His grandfather first came to WV in 1930.
“I left the state after high school and have since lived in many places around the world, including St. Louis, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and New York. I have incredibly fond memories of living in WV and wouldn’t have traded the experience of growing up here with anyone growing up anywhere else. My childhood memories are rich with all of the fun and discovery that comes with being young, but especially enhanced by the treasures that were offered by this state.”
As he faced the decision on where to stay as the crisis grew, the Mountain State became the obvious choice for he and his wife.
“West Virginia stood out to us for many reasons: my mother lives here, and we thought she might need some family nearby for help. The state is within a day’s driving distance of New York. It’s roughly halfway between where each of our daughters live, the population density is low – and I’m from here originally and know the state!”
They moved quickly and just in time.
“The day we arrived at Wild Rock, after a non-stop eight-hour drive from NYC, was the day New York state announced its lockdown.”
More restrictions from the state of West Virginia soon followed. And what could have been a personal hardship shifted to the sanctity of a haven.
“It was a perfect place to be. So much so that we extended our stay well beyond the original period of time we thought we’d be here. Some of that was due to the extensions of the lockdown in New York and elsewhere, but much of it was because we so loved sheltering in such a beautiful community as Wild Rock and the wider Fayetteville area.”
Springtime in West Virginia can be quite the phenomenon. The weather is completely unpredictable, but you can watch the New River Gorge come alive on a daily basis, especially, when you are literally living on the edge of it. The leaves pop and the flowers bloom along various elevation points. And the birds are active along the cliffline.
“The highlight of our time in quarantine here was most definitely the stunning beauty of this area. It was an unforgettable exercise in nature-watching to be here during the transition from late winter to spring. The weather remained unusually cool until early May, which we both enjoyed, and seeing the forest progress into green each day was remarkable. We also did a ton of hiking in the Wild Rock development (we wanted to avoid public trails) which was physically and mentally enriching.”
The Wild Rock property is a gated-community and naturally isolated from any traffic. Each lot is a minimum of two acres with miles of wooded trails and several scenic overlooks. The social distancing guidelines recommended by the state were essentially embedded into the community already. In fact, the only change Wild Rock had to make to their existing policies was to implement a four-day separation between guests to allow for extra cleaning time.
“We were very mindful of the protocols and paid full attention to them. Just about the time we arrived in WV, it was becoming increasingly clear that New York was the epicenter of the coronavirus in the US. From news reports and in conversations with friends from New York who had left the city, we were aware there was a great deal of sensitivity about people leaving their home bases to shelter in other locations. We completely understood that thinking, which is one of the reasons why we chose such a secluded spot to settle into.”
And if you have to be stuck in quarantine, what a setting the 3200-square foot Cliff House provides with its floor-to-ceiling windows and a 900-foot view of the gorge below.
“Cliff House and Wild Rock have been spectacular. We have an affinity for mid-century modern design style in homes, so Cliff House caught our eye immediately. It’s a gorgeous home with great style and high-end finishes. And the views through its many windows are incomparable.”
Settled into a new home office and a very comfortable living arrangement, the Nelson’s went on with life as best they could. But that didn’t mean things were exactly normal.
“Easily the biggest challenge, which everyone has felt universally, is not being able to socialize in person. We met a few other Wild Rock visitors and homeowners – from a safe distance – while outside and would have really enjoyed getting together with them more and getting to know them, but we felt we had to be hermit-like. Work and Zoom helped us get through, but we sure miss hanging with people!”
Some of those people that the Nelsons wished to socialize with was their family.
“My siblings, who grew up with me in Charleston, are no doubt wishing they could have been here too. My brother lives in Atlanta and my sister in Utah, which are both nice places, but when I sent them photos of the New River Gorge Bridge and other local scenery, I’m sure I made them very homesick for WV. Our daughters and son-in-law said many times how they wished they could visit us and enjoy the WV countryside.
“We will very much miss the house, Wild Rock, and this supremely charming section of WV…it has been an amazingly restorative refuge.”
Click the button below to book your Cliff House vacation today!
Article by: Keith Doherty
It’s a quiet, frigid January morning at Bridge Brew Works in Fayetteville, WV. A few people walk to the entrance of the tap room and wonder if they might be the only ones coming today.
But the tires continue to hit the gravel parking lot, and one by one, volunteers slowly file out until a crowd begins to form. Everyone can see their breath. Some folks are raring to go, already cracking jokes. Others are sleepy-eyed, clearly having just gotten out of bed. Everyone pours a cup of the Range Finder Coffee that's perched on the table.
A quick team meeting commences, followed by a group photo, and each trail crew member grabs a hand tool as they head into the woods.
The scene is typical for a trail building day at Wolf Creek Park. Once a month, the community members of Fayette County gather, and through their sustained dedication demonstrate the passion and need for new mountain biking trails in the area.
“Fayetteville has kind of always been an outdoor Mecca for fishing, rafting, kayaking, and rock climbing. Mountain biking goes hand in hand with all of those sports,” said Nathan Herrold, co-owner of Bridge Brew Works.
“When you look at the area, the one thing we are lacking are trails. We have world-class climbing and whitewater that you can’t just build. Trails are easy enough to build,” said Andy Forron, owner of New River Bikes.
The Wolf Creek Trail Project has been grassroots from its infancy.
In 2017, Forron walked the roughly 1000-acre property with Gene Kistler, co-owner of Waterstone Outdoors and a member of the Fayette County Urban Renewal Authority, Billy Strasser, of Mountain State Trail Alliance, and Sam Chaber, also with MSTA and owner of SC Resources.
Looking at the corridors, they envisioned where trails might exist in relation to the developmental land of the business park.
“They asked us to stay on a 25% side slope, so that if at any time, things were going to get developed, the trails wouldn't be ruined,” said Chaber. “They wanted a multi-use trail system but more tour-based towards mountain biking.”
“As far as I know, it’s the largest trail project on public, non-park service land that the area has ever seen. The trails have a different character than anything around. It has lots of little ridges and valleys, some cool rocky zones that allow for more technical lines. Longer loops. More topography. The forest is also really diverse, so the scenery and feel of the trails changes a fair bit,” added Forron.
Chaber agreed, “We're trying to incorporate a little bit of everything into it for all aspects of riders. Whatever your style is, you can come here and have fun. We're not going to have a lot of downhill. The most elevation we have is about 200 feet, but within that, there's a lot of cool features if you search them out, so that's what we've been looking for- a lot of terrain with awesome rock gardens that are going to require old-school, jank-style technical riding skills, as well as plenty of flow trails with options when it comes to the features.”
The volunteer support for the project has been overwhelming.
“It’s crazy. We did not think we were going to see the outcome that we did when we put together the first volunteer day. And everyone's always like, ‘Oh, yeah, we're interested in going,’ and you take that with a grain of a salt, especially with social media,” said Chaber. “So, then we showed up, and there's 37 people here. And that was the first day, and it just kept growing from there.
“Every time we posted an event, people would show up. And they're psyched, they want to be here, they want to work. And you don't usually get that in a community or volunteer project, and it's not easy work.”
“The trail building days have been really enjoyable for my family to take part in,” said Hillary Nicolau, a Fayetteville resident and trail crew volunteer. “It’s hard work, but we have lots of laughs and fun in the process, and we’re able to work together to dig out stumps, clear brush, and build new trails for the community. I’ve made several new friends and have really enjoyed getting to know many in our small town better.
“We have a wealth of trails and outdoor activities in our community, but with the limitations NPS puts on volunteer work, it’s nice to have the opportunity to channel the energy of our community into building new trails for everyone.”
After a physically demanding day of work, the trail crew is always rewarded with a bit of social time at Bridge Brew Works.
“It's been fun at the brewery to be able to host these events because it's literally in our backyard,” said Herrold. “We go out there for four to six hours, come back, and just basically have a big potluck where we reminisce on the day. Sometimes we'll go out to ride the trails as soon we get back. The buzz is in the air.”
In addition to the monthly gatherings, New River Bikes closes its shop every Wednesday to host a weekly trail building day alongside the other project leaders. These days are open to the public, but they have had particular support from the students in the Tourism Industries Program at the Fayette Institute of Technology.
Instructor Tug Chamberlin said, “Not only is it great to bike or hike on a trail that you helped build, but it also builds ownership in that park, preserve, or wherever that trail is located.”
“We all came together to make this happen,” said Forron. “We have seen 25- 50 people on the monthly trail work/potluck days, and the Wednesday workdays have also had a lot of support. Since it’s county land, the fact that the community is so invested is a huge part of why this is allowed to happen.”
And not only did the community volunteer force contribute physically, but their engagement and passion for the project also got the attention of the Fayette County Commission. Using reallocated coal severance money designated by the Urban Renewal Authority and approved by the County Commission, the Wolf Creek Trail Project is receiving $150,000.
“The contract is for 12.5 miles of singletrack,” said Chaber. “With that being said, it can expand. We have probably 26 miles flagged already, and another 10 miles available for a total of 36 miles on the GPS that could be developed out here. Volunteers have helped clear roughly 9 to 12 miles. There's been some tread work done here and there up to this point.
“I'll come in with my team, and we have basically six to eight months to finish the trail, hopefully by November. It's going to happen, and I think we're going to have an amazing trail system at the end of it.”
And with the momentum of the project, there’s no reason to think the additional miles won’t eventually be developed. The volunteer labor of the community has already had a real economic impact.
“What we're getting is well below the national average for cost of trails, let alone the West Virginia standard per mile or per foot of trail. And I would say the last eight trail projects that have gone out in West Virginia have not been made for less than $7 a foot, and we're getting this project for less than $2 a foot,” said Chaber.
It’s a testament to the project leaders and the community engagement. And while that’s all great news for outdoor enthusiasts, it doesn’t stop there.
“Wolf Creek is one of three systems of trails that will be on county or city land. So, it’s one piece of the puzzle that will help tie the area together,” said Forron. “Up next is Needles Eye Park and Fayette County Park, and we have already started working on both.”
“The big picture of what Gene Kistler and Andy Forron have been working towards with Adam Hodges and Bill Hannabass is to have trail systems that tie into each other,” said Chaber. “We now have three areas that could be phenomenal mountain biking in the Fayetteville and Oak Hill areas. Each one of them has their unique, sweet aspects that can make for amazing trail systems. And we already have a trail built that connects Wolf Creek Park to Needles Eye Park.”
It’s quite a development for an area that was already rich in outdoor adventure. The trail builders see this not only as a reward for the community but also a potential economic driver for the county.
“It helps put us on the map again, where we always should have been,” said Chaber. “If you have three of the most outdoor-related activities, and you have world-class of everything in an area, people our age and the younger generations will be psyched about living here and help grow this economy.
“Tourism is great. West Virginia is always going to tap into tourism, especially Fayetteville. But we need to start thinking on the flipside, instead of just tourism, where they're here for a couple of days, or here for a week, and then they're gone. We need to think of it as an outdoor recreation area or an outdoor recreation state. Once we get them living here or keep our local younger population from moving out of state, then they're paying taxes, then they're getting jobs, or creating jobs, starting businesses, employing people, buying houses, buying cars, which all in all is going to raise our economic value.”
Much like the new trail systems, it’s all connected. And it’s an exciting development for a community that craves healthy lifestyles and outdoor adventures.
Article By: Keith Doherty
What once started as space to simply handle the overflow traffic from the restaurant downstairs, The Grove in Fayetteville, West Virginia has turned into a cozy, cross of culture and community. And while it hosts anything from art exhibits, town hall meetings, book signings, or ping pong tournaments, it’s quickly becoming known as one of the premier music venues in Southern West Virginia.
“The Grove offers such a wide variety of events, artist receptions, different kinds of music- from Japanese punk to funk to bluegrass to rock and roll,” says music lover Kelly Jo Drey.
Local artist Aspen (Tree) Prather adds, “The Grove is everything that you would want in a city joint, without being pretentious. Everyone feels like a friend.”
And even though the traditional tourist season slows down quite a bit in the winter, many locals see wintertime as the true season in The Grove.
Owner Lewis Rhinehart says, “In the offseason, the availability of bands is better. They’re working on new records. They’re getting out to practice, basically doing these shows in small venues, almost as rehearsals. We get bands that are doing these runs through West Virginia where they play Beckley, Charleston, Fayetteville, Thomas, and Morgantown. So, a band can put together a six, seven-day tour just within the state. It’s kind of like the last frontier because there is a really hungry appetite for live music in West Virginia.”
In addition, many of these bands are playing festivals and larger venues in the summertime, and they are subject to proximity clauses in their contracts.
“They can’t play a venue within a certain mile radius. So, it limits the pool of bands during the tourist season,” says Rhinehart. In the wintertime, these restrictions don’t exist.
“And they have big names, and they get followed. And I just really pump it. Now people are actually starting to listen to me when I say ‘Tonight, you don’t want to miss. The bat signal is lit! Tonight, you really want to get here,’” says Rhinehart laughing.
The level of talent at The Grove has evolved over the years.
“One of the things that really has taken us to the next level was hiring a booking agent. His name is Matt Marks, and he’s a guitar player for one of the best bands in West Virginia right now called The Company Stores. He works for a booking agency out of Asheville called Speakeasy Artists, and he’s really helping us,” says Rhinehart. “We’re getting lots of national acts. Lots of bands that will eventually not be able to play here for sure. There’s nothing like being able to see a band like that that’s up and coming.”
“Travers Brothership, LITZ, Hustle Souls, and Dr. Bacon are all names that have been seen at The Grove and on bigger stages with bigger names. There is nothing better than supporting local musicians and seeing them flourish,” adds Prather.
Rhinehart says, “It’s a really exciting time in Appalachia right now- not just in food but also culturally, and especially with the emergence of Tyler Childers- bringing that whole country sound… but it's much more gritty, real country, real songs of despair- coal, death, whiskey, and murder ballad.
“On one hand it’s traditional, but on the other hand, it’s very pertinent right now- just due to the state of Appalachia.
“Looking at the whole scene, especially since I’ve started, we started off very small with duos or singer/songwriter-type people, with the occasional band. Some of the first bands that we booked were The Kind Thieves and the Parachute Brigade, who are now probably two of the most popular bands in Southern West Virginia. You mention bands like The Company Stores, Matt Mullins and the Bringdowns, Black Garlic, The Boatmen. All of those bands are just doing amazing things for music in Southern West Virginia.
“And then you have the individual artists like Andrew Adkins; he’s recently performed on Mountain Stage. His record has finished nationally in the Top 20 in the American charts this past year.”
Rhinehart also speaks to the rise of Travers Brothership and their relationship with The Grove.
“I’ve known those guys for ten years at this point. I went to high school with the keyboard player’s mom,” says Rhinehart. “And I thought ten gigs ago we’d never see them again because they were getting too big, and indeed, they are too big.
“But they love Fayetteville. They call Fayetteville their second home. They love playing The Grove, and these guys are playing huge festivals. They’ve played the SweetWater 420 Fest. They’re a headlining act at Floyd Fest this year. They got mentioned in Rolling Stone. They played here after all of that, and they’re getting ready to play here again.”
And it’s that intimate experience that works for the both the artists and the audience.
“One of the things that I love is how accessible the music is. The musicians are right there, close to the audience,” says Drey. “You can really get a close look at how they play their instruments and really connect with their energy while they are performing. And if you want to talk to them and get to know them or ask them questions, they are right there in the space with you during their break or after the show.”
Rhinehart adds, “We don’t have a stage. You’re on the same eye level with the band, which you don’t see at many places.”
Put it all together, and you have a music scene that is growing in Southern West Virginia. And those that know Rhinehart best are quick to credit him for playing a significant role in the transformation.
“Everyone who knows Lewis knows that he is incredibly passionate about what he does,” says Prather. “When he recognizes the fire in someone, he will be the biggest fan that stokes the flame.”
Drey agrees, “Lewis has such an exhaustive knowledge of music and appreciation for how hard musicians work- how different musicians influence each other and pop culture and how genres have evolved over time. He has a real joy for the ways in which music enriches our lives and elicits an emotional connection that helps people have fun, connect with one another, and remember and share important experiences. His enthusiasm is contagious.”