CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia State Fair theme is "Feel the Magic." After graduating from WVU, I accepted a job at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. So I know a thing or two about "magic." I discovered that The Most Magical Place on Earth has a lot in common with West Virginia, if you open your heart and believe, as I do.Admittedly, I'm biased. After an amazingly unforgettable journey to a magical kingdom in a land far, far away, I returned to an exceptionally wild and wonderful place I proudly call home.Walt Disney (the man) was a compulsive creator, a flawed genius, some say. Regardless, he envisioned innovations no one believed possible and brought his dreams to life in magical ways that continue to captivate, fascinate and enchant millions of people of every age, around the globe. Still, compared to the Creator of West Virginia, Walt Disney was an amateur.Disney World and West Virginia are both spellbinding, but there are distinguishing and undeniable differences between the destinations. Disney World was built around a premise of make-believe. The attractions in West Virginia are irrefutably and irreplaceably real. The dizzying dips of Space Mountain are not nearly as thrilling to me as exploring the tough terrain of West Virginia in my Jeep with my dog, Maxx.
As a former "Cast Member" (Disney's whimsical term for employees), I'm among a minority who've explored the hush-hush labyrinth of lunacy hidden beneath Cinderella's Castle. Yet it still doesn't surpass the solitary silence and mesmerizing marvels hidden within the Greenbrier River watershed caves. Exploring this wondrous underworld of crystal-covered cave walls beneath Greenbrier County is a highpoint in my life so far.I'll admit, the turkey legs at Disney World are pretty dang tasty, but they don't compare to the bacon-wrapped, deep-fried wild turkey bites my bow-hunting buddy serves up every season. Out of veneration for Bambi, I won't mention how hollers are filled with celebrity chefs all preparing exceptionally delectable venison vittles for friends and family each autumn.Disney World is dedicated to fairy tales. West Virginia has folk tales and legends as incredible as anything you'll hear at the Magic Kingdom. Disney World theme parks, by design, are divided into "lands" or themed environments that tell stories through experiences. Within 47-square miles, visitors at Disney World can journey under the sea, to the Himalayas or even Mars and beyond. By comparison, West Virginia offers 24,231 square miles of activities just as magical, mesmerizing and majestic as anything Walt Disney Imagineers (term for ultra-creative so-and-sos) ever devised.West Virginia's heavenly horizons feature beautiful Main Streets, Adventurlands, Frontierlands, Fantasylands and Tommorrowlands. The only difference: Our lands are real! Maybe too real for some folks, and that's ok. It keeps the riffraff away. Our reality isn't, and never has been, perfect. It's certainly not for everyone. Sure, our paint is peeling in parts. We struggle, a lot, in different ways. Happily ever after doesn't come easily for us. Yet, we endure. In spite of strife, we thrive, forever faithful to our Appalachian heritage.Our family and friends are certainly as colorful and animated as any Disney character conceived, and the moments we enjoy together are in no way metaphorically magical. More than anything, we live lives as authentic and rugged as our surroundings. We care for each other in ways Disney movies have to make up. Our smiles are real. Our waves are legit and our handshakes are as solid as the red clay we plant our tin castles on top of. Of course, we have villains here too, but West Virginia has a way of weedin' them out. We're great gardeners, in that respect.People save a lifetime to visit Walt Disney World to escape reality. I came back to West Virginia to reconnect with the real world. Our world isn't sprinkled with glitter, filled with sappy songs or stitched together by chipper mice. It's flawed, which makes it real and that makes it perfect to me. It's a place I hope to live happily ever after until I die.The West Virginia State Fair provides families an affordable opportunity to experience everything wild and wonderful (and magical) about this great state -- no monorail required. When it comes to making the impossible possible, West Virginia has made a believer out of me. I hope you'll enjoy all she has to offer this week!Shock lives in Lewisburg.