How does a lifelong West Virginian celebrate his home state’s birthday when it falls on the same date as his own?
Longtime Budget Tapes & Records manager John Nelson, of Charleston, makes it a practice to visit a West Virginia state park with his family when June 20 rolls around.
This year, to celebrate his 60th birthday and West Virginia’s 154th, Nelson and members of his family are camping at Audra State Park, along the Middle Fork River about 10 miles west of Belington and astride the Barbour-Upshur county line.
“It’s a beautiful but kind of out-of-the-way park that none of the rest of my family has visited,” Nelson said shortly before departing. “We plan to do some swimming and hiking at the park, exploring the Buckhannon area, and maybe try out a fairly new section of rail-trail near Lost Creek.”
The tradition of celebrating his birthday and West Virginia’s with visits to state parks began about 20 years ago, Nelson said. While he was unable to maintain the tradition every year since then, he frequents state parks and forests at other times of the year, as well.
“I’ve visited probably 90 percent of the state parks, by now,” he said, many of them on multiple occasions. “I just love West Virginia’s great outdoors, and our state parks offer a great way to spend time there, while reconnecting with family and friends.”
Nelson’s connection with state parks began at age 9, “when Mom and Dad and their five kids made our first trip to Watoga,” he said. He and his family have made a number of return trips to that Pocahontas County state park since then, including one memorable visit several years ago when, on a hike to a viewpoint, they encountered a man filming a black bear at the edge of a clearing.
“We watched the bear roam around for about 10 minutes, stopping occasionally to enjoy the view at sunset, like we were,” Nelson said.
Nelson said he considers Babcock State Park to be his favorite and most frequently visited unit of the state parks system, having made countless day trips to the park with the oft-photographed gristmill. One of Nelson’s favorite activities at Babcock is hiking the trail that follows the rim of Manns Creek’s canyon for views of the park’s rugged interior.
Nelson said his most vivid childhood memory involving his shared birthday with his native state took place in 1963, at age 6, when, accompanied by his mother, he attended a speech delivered by President John F. Kennedy on the Statehouse steps to commemorate West Virginia’s 100th year of statehood, and to express gratitude to the state’s voters for their pivotal role in winning him the Democratic presidential primary. Later that day, Nelson took part in a downtown centennial luncheon hosted by Gov. Wally Barron, to which West Virginians born on June 20 were invited.
Nelson said he expects to eventually visit all West Virginia state parks during his birthday celebrations and nonbirthday ramblings.
Lost River State Park, in Hardy County, with its numerous hiking and equestrian trails, mountaintop vistas and cabins with fieldstone fireplaces built by Civilian Conservation Corps workers in the late 1930s, is the so-far unvisited park Nelson most wants to see.
“It’s great to have so much natural beauty available to relax in without having to travel very far,” he said. “You combine that with all the friendly people I’ve met visiting the parks and it helps keep balance in your life.”
Reach Rick Steelhammer at email@example.com, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.