Article by : Rachel Rodgers
There is an allure to West Virginia. Something which pulses from the ground appearing as mist blanketing the mountains, which comes as a breeze through the forest, or which sparkles on the rocks in the river. It appears in several different ways, often catching one off guard. Yet, every time this magic appears you know it. You feel it descend upon you; this familiar feeling. It is a feeling of belonging, of home.
This sensation of home often captivates visitors. And before they know it, they find themselves permanently moving to the area. It is in this way, Chris and Holly Fussell were slowly transformed from frequent visitors to full time residents of Fayetteville and found themselves at home here at Wild Rock.
Their home is situated on a picturesque lot, hidden from the main road by a grove of trees. Seamlessly this modern style home has been built to be a part of the natural beauty around it, transforming the home into a piece of art itself. This inclusion of nature does not stop with the outside of the house. When you enter their home, you walk through the foyer into a large open space which acts as their kitchen, dining room, and living room. Immediately though, your eye is drawn to the west facing wall which acts as one large window. The wall of glass allows natural light into the home while at the same time making it feel as if you are standing in the middle of the woods. It is at the very simplest, beautiful.
With a home placed in an area like this it is easy to understand why someone would want to move here. There is space. There is peace. It is truly charming. Yet, every journey in carving out a piece of West Virginia into your home is unique. For the Fussells this is undeniably true.
Holly greets me with a big smile, and if I didn’t know any better, I would assume she is a native by her warm energy. She leads us to a large dining table along the wall of windows. It is misty outside, but it adds to the cozy atmosphere and beauty of the surrounding woods. She offers me something to drink as she puts away a loaf of sourdough bread on the kitchen counter.
“I started baking sourdough during Covid,” she explains, as she tucks a lock of ash-brown hair behind her ear sitting at the head of the table.
We laugh about the difficulties of keeping the starter alive but how the reward of fresh baked bread makes it all worth it. I pull out a piece of paper and pen as she laughs, “It’s like taking care of another kid.”
She offers to start the interview and explains her husband will join us shortly. I smile and accept her offer, eager to learn how their journey led them to Fayetteville, WV.
So basically, to start out – who are you? We know you, you’re Holly.
Holly: Sure. My husband is Chris. We have two children – Lanier, she is 12, and we have a son named Thorpe, and he is 9. We have lived in DC since 2012, so eight years. Before that, we transitioned out of the military. Chris was active duty, I was not. So, military veteran – joined other folks from the service in a consulting practice. And that’s what Chris continues to do, so part-owner in a consulting practice that does management consulting, leadership consulting, and organizational design. I worked in the nonprofit space in DC, around healthy eating, behaviors, and access to healthy food. And now, I sit on the board of a nonprofit for military families.
We’ve been coming to Fayetteville, to a family house with Chris’s family, for over 15 – no 16 years. Chris started coming to the area back in the 90s – just getting into rock climbing. I’d never been to West Virginia before we came in 2004 and bought the house as a family. Chris’s brother and his wife, found the house. They said hey you should come and look at this, and so we came and bought it as a family. It was funny because it was my first time here. I didn’t have a background in any of the sports of the area, but I have learned to love almost all of them. I still will not go into the river – by myself. I’ll go with other people.
What’s your favorite season in Fayetteville? Have you had a chance to experience all of them yet?
H: Oh, I love fall. I love just the cooler temperatures. And not being hindered by the humidity to climb or to bike or to run. I went for a run this morning for the first time in many months. It’s just nice. I didn’t see anyone but a deer.
You’ve kind of touched on it briefly, like Chris has been here and you bought a family home but what made you decide to permanently transition to Fayetteville?
H: Well, over time we loved it as an escape from DC and sort of the hectic pace and rhythm we had there. We lived right in Capitol Hill. In a row house. We loved it, there was lots of stuff to do, walkability and everything.
Footsteps sound from the open staircase from across the room, and Chris comes down the stairs to join us at the table. He is a tall man with an equally warm smile to match his wife’s. Holly smiles up at him and then continues.
H: So, we’ve been coming for a long time – like I said, when we lived in DC. We loved getting away from DC but at the same time, it was just too far of a drive – and especially with DC traffic – to make it a kind of regular weekend spot. So, it ended up being like more strategic chunks of time and usually a chunk of time in the summer. Which led us to get a little deeper in the community here rather than just popping in-and-out for three days at a time. So, with that our community and sense of connection grew. We had lots of visitors from here come and visit us in DC and then, as well as, a daughter of now friends, who live in DC who became a babysitter for us there and she grew up here. So just a lot of these back and forth kind of ties and connections which deepened our sense of belonging here. And we’d always kind of played around with the idea, “Could we live here? Could it work?” And there was always the restraint, that as long as we were doing the line of business, we’re in, and what Chris is responsible for – it just didn’t make sense. We couldn’t really justify it being that far away from the main office. But then with the possibilities that opened up with Covid in terms of remote working, and really kind of feeling hampered by all the things we loved about DC prior to Covid were not accessible anymore. We stuck it out – we stayed in DC until about May and then we came here. And realized that life here, the options for continuing to live and be out in the world – not in terms in going to restaurants or whatever. But in terms of doing activities that you care about, that are meaningful and life giving, so much of that was still available to us here. So, we made the call late May, early June, to pursue a transaction selling our house in DC. And then the market was really strong for sellers which made it an easy decision to be able to say, “Yeah, we can do this. And it will work well.” And then, we looked around – kind of looking at some properties and some options to buy land. And then this opportunity was presented to us by a friend.
If you guys could add something to Fayetteville, what would it be? What do you think is needed or missing?
Chris: I would like to see continued economic opportunity in Fayetteville, so it can attract and retain future generations.
H: And with that a more robust education system – be it public or private. And then just down to the very practical, I think Fayetteville needs a little bit more bump-into-somebody-else gathering place. Like places where you were not in your car, where you can just be and bump into someone. Like –
C: Third places.
H: More, you know, coffee shops, bookstores. We love Craig at Range Finder. And he’s working on it, creating that kind of gathering spot there.
Where’s your favorite place to eat in town? Or do you prefer to eat at home?
H: We love Pies & Pints, and we get it on a regular basis. But we also really like Wood Iron.
C: Fingers crossed that The Station is going to come back as something awesome. They’ve got plans in the works.
With all the changes, and moving here, how have you guys balanced your work/play? Since now you can work from home, has it been harder to focus on work with all of these opportunities?
C: I don’t think so. I mean we had such a routine up here for so many years. Work is work; it doesn’t go away. I think it just makes it a lot easier. Get out and go for a mountain bike ride and be back in time for morning calls and what not to start. Same thing in the afternoons. We were pretty conveniently located in DC, but I was either traveling or commuting inside the city. An hour-and-a-half a day just gone. But you regain it in a place like this.
Aside from your friend sharing this location, was there another reason why you chose Wild Rock?
H: Sure. I mean, one – it being a beautiful house that was already built, and we weren’t going to have to embark on the building process and design process ourselves. But Wild Rock is really appealing because it focuses on a shared community with like the shared pavilion, the shared trails, the shared fire pits. There are like three little gathering spots along the gorge where you can go and have a little picnic or campfire, an overlook kind of thing. And its proximity to town, but also its alignment with nature. Like the sense of buffering from your neighbors and buffering from the road and the gorge with your natural surroundings.
C: And the accessibility. You know, where you can step right onto the trails anywhere in the community. It’s pretty unique and amazing.
H: Yeah, step onto trails for hiking, biking, running, and climbing. It’s really amazing access.
Since, you’ve already mentioned a lot of outdoor activities you like to do, are there any indoor activities you like to do as a family?
H: We are still developing that. I mean we love just reading and playing games. We used to like to go to the visitors’ center before it was closed. The kids love Escape-A-Torium. I love Ben Franklin’s, I’m a really big fan of popping in there for things I don’t need.
C: We have plenty of little projects around the house to keep us busy for the next few years.
H: Maybe one day we’ll have a climbing gym we can go to. That’s one of the hopes and dreams. Chris and I also go to the gym in town, New River Gorge Fitness.
C: Which is awesome.
H: Chris and I collectively probably go like five times a week.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
H: I think what is great about this community is that it’s so welcoming. There are such high levels of athletic performance in the given sports here, but people are very gracious of pulling you in. They want to share their joy for the sport.
C: Yeah, it’s so low ego when it comes to outdoors.
H: And I think that’s the other, like historically when I look back and think about it, like impressionable moments of our time here. It was one time we came in the spring and we were gathered at Gene and Maura Kistler’s house, and it had been like the first really nice weather day, I guess. And that was the buzz at the event, “What did you get into today? What were you out doing?” And that’s what was most engaging and meaningful as a conversational topic and point of connection for the people there. And I found it really attractive. And we feel really blessed this opportunity opened up.
As we finished our conversation, I glanced out their wall of windows. The mist had cleared slightly and in a gap, between the trees, you could see the bridge. At first it blended into the surroundings, almost appearing as a branch from one of the trees but then the arches could be seen. It’s a stunning view.
Holly walks me to the door and wishes me a safe drive home with another warm smile. In my car, I am once again overwhelmed with that familiar feeling in the mist coming from the gorge as I cross the bridge to go back into town. This is home.