www.wvgazettemail.com Travel http://www.wvgazettemail.com Gazette archive feed en-us Copyright 2015, Charleston Newspapers, Charleston, WV Newspapers Hashers mix running, drinking http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150802/ARTICLE/150809956 ARTICLE http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150802/ARTICLE/150809956 Sun, 2 Aug 2015 23:28:00 -0400 By Marcus Constantino Think of them as "drinkers with a running problem."

That's how Chris Alford describes the Hash House Harriers of Charleston - a running group whose members love drinking just as much as they do running.

Alford, 35, of Charleston, South Carolina, was one of about 30 runners who came out for the group's superhero-themed run on July 28. Runners gathered at Tony the Tailor for the first drinks, donning costumes that included the Joker, Superman and even the likeness of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

Courtney Crabtree, 38, impersonated Blankenship with a white, button-up shirt, the words "MSHA did it" emblazoned on the back. She said Charleston's Hash House Harriers group, or "kennel," has various themed runs throughout the year, including runs where participants wear Christmas attire or red dresses.

"It's a way to have fun and exercise," Crabtree said. "It's basically social running - social being more key than running."

The Charleston-area "kennel" of the Hash House Harriers runs about once every two weeks in Charleston, Huntington or anywhere in-between. Alford said the running groups have been as small as seven people, and as large as 125 in Huntington, when Marshall University students are on campus.

Runners are given "Hashing names" once they've been in the group for a while, although many of them aren't fit for print.

"Usually, you get named after five or six runs, but if you do something exceptionally stupid or silly or memorable, you'll get named quickly," Crabtree said.

There are thousands more of these quirky running groups across the world. It was all started by ex-pat British workers in Malaysia in 1938, according to a hashing website, as a club based on the old English game of hounds and hares. The "hares" leave a trail along their tracks as they run ahead of the "hounds," then end the trail for a bit, leaving the "hounds" sniffing and searching for the trail.

Today, "hares" mark the path with sidewalk chalk, and the "hounds," who follow a few minutes behind, must find their way to the next bar or restaurant the hares have gone to.

The game involves lots of shouting and running around as "hounds" try to find and follow the path. Alford said it's set up so that slower runners, or even walkers, don't have to rush if they don't want to.

"It's structured as a game," Alford said. "You can have really fast runners, you can have slow walkers and joggers, and there's no pressure to run really fast or keep up. You just have a good time."

Participants in the July 28 run went to Sam's Uptown Café, Recovery Sports Grill and the Copper Pint, having drinks all along the way. Alford said the Charleston group usually doesn't get too heavy on the drinks, though - he described it more as social running and drinking.

"It's moderation, right?" Alford said. "There's water. There's some beer. It's good exercise. Most of us that are runners - runners that are training for events like the Marshall Marathon or the Charleston Distance Run, we wouldn't consider this actual exercise and training. It's just having fun with your social group."

Crabtree said each kennel has its own quirks - some drink more and run less, while some may run as many as nine miles. She said the Charleston group usually runs around two or three miles, with a few stops along the way.

It's also open to nondrinkers, Crabtree said - several members push their children in strollers during the group outings, and there is water and Gatorade available at each stop, as well.

"If you can run a 5k, you can join our group, and if you can walk a 5k, you can join our group," Crabtree said. "We have a lot of people that are walkers, so we want to make it inclusive for everybody."

Tracy Belcher, 28, of South Charleston, learned about the group after participating in a Tough Mudder run several years ago. She said it has helped her train for a marathon and has helped her make new friends she never would have met before.

"It's a misfit of people that are just really fun to hang out with," Belcher said. "I got my husband to do it and my best guy friend is in the group. It's kind of a family. Crazy enough, if you ask any of these people for help, they'll show up. It's a family of random people that would never really get put together, but you have the common thing of running and drinking."

Runners said their outings often draw lots of attention from those who are unfamiliar with the group's shouting and chalk-drawing. Alford said people sometimes call the police on them - it happened at a recent Huntington run, he said - but police often know what's going on based on the reports they receive.

"An officer texted them and they cleared it up," Alford said, laughing.

The international club also gives participants the opportunity to "travel-hash," or run with other Hashers in other cities. Crabtree said a man from New England joined the Charleston group for a run recently, and that researching other groups is often one of the first things fellow Hashers do when they travel.

"You can go anywhere and find people to do this, and it's all the same idea," Crabtree said. "Maybe different symbols will be used in different places, and some are more running focused than drinking focused and some are more drinking focused than running focused."

The group's next run is slated for Wednesday, beginning at 6 p.m. at FireSide Grille, in Teays Valley. Anyone is welcome to join.

Reach Marcus Constantino at marcus.c@dailymailwv.com, 304-348-1796 or follow @amtino on Twitter.

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Blackberry Farm offers space for parties, retreats http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150802/ARTICLE/150809970 ARTICLE http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150802/ARTICLE/150809970 Sun, 2 Aug 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Charlotte Ferrell Smith Whether craving a quiet getaway or seeking a spot for a large gathering, Blackberry Farm of West Virginia would be the perfect pick.

Located just 10 minutes from downtown Charleston, at 22 Blackberry Lane, the new business is ready to take reservations for reunions, parties, family retreats and corporate events.

After raising five children, Dawn Atkinson decided to go into business, and this one seemed like a good fit.

"I've always liked to entertain and have people around," she said. "I wanted something like this, to be available for people to gather."

While dropping off brochures to area businesses, she was told that people had been asking about available facilities for rent in the area.

"Especially at flower shops, brides have been asking if they know of anyplace like this," she said.

While traveling with her own family or attending the weddings of her children, she often wished there could be a nice spacious house for rent.

She and her husband, attorney Mark Atkinson, bought a house six years ago on land off the Mink Shoals exit of Interstate 79. More than a year ago, adjoining property was available for sale that included land, as well as a house, a child's tree house and a large red barn.

They now own about 52 acres that are rich with picturesque landscapes, wildlife and serenity.

Dawn decided to call the rental property Blackberry Farm of West Virginia because of the blackberry bushes along the road, as well as childhood memories of picking berries with her grandmother.

On a recent day, she baked fresh bread made with wild blackberries picked off the land.

While she refers to the rental house as a cottage, it is spacious with four bedrooms that can sleep 12, plus a baby cradle and full-size crib. The more than 2,000-square-foot house has three baths, a fully-equipped kitchen, living room and family room. Upstairs bedrooms have interesting shapes, with beds built into alcoves in one area.

The inside is cozy and carefully decorated with pieces selected from antique shops and thrift stores, as well as pieces built by Dawn's grandfather.

Her friends, Diane Pennington and Vicki Casto, have helped with creative ideas and decorative touches.

A long, inviting kitchen table is surrounded by a variety of chairs, while small tables are placed in the living room and family room with stacks of games nearby. The facility has Internet but no cable. However, that might be part of the charm as an inviting gathering spot away from hustle and noise.

Aside from the comfortable interior, sitting areas abound outdoors, with a screened porch, covered porch, large deck and courtyard. Plans are in the works for an outdoor fire pit.

The tree house is nearby, where the kids may play. A big red building that looks like a barn is spacious inside, with an impressive loft built in the span of four hours by the Amish. She said the 55-by-30 industrial building could accommodate parties, receptions, art exhibits, artisan workshops, concerts, plays, dances and any number of gatherings.

And there is plenty of space for those who like hiking and enjoying the outdoors. Rewards include breathtaking views and glimpses of wildlife, such as deer.

Aside from renting to the public, the house will come in handy when the Atkinson family can all be together. They have five grown children and seven grandchildren.

Daughter Alexandra Losser, of Washington, D.C., recently married, and a reception was held at Blackberry Farm. Another daughter, Micah Atkinson, is serving as a Mormon missionary in Australia. Brittany Leavitt lives in D.C. with her husband and their four children. Ashley Swenson lives in Sacramento, California, with her husband and their three children. John-Mark works as an attorney in Charleston with his father.

Rates vary according to what is needed. For example, the red building is $100 an hour on a weekend or $75 on a weekday. The cottage is $225 a night for two adults and two children under 17, with each additional child at $10 a night. Weekly and monthly rates are available, as well as corporate rates. Smoking is not permitted and pets are not allowed.

Go to blackberryfarmofwv.com or email blackberryfarmofwv@gmail.com for more information.

Reach Charlotte Ferrell Smith at charlotte@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1246.

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WV Travel Team: Buckhannon - a shining image of small-town America http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150802/GZ05/150809999 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150802/GZ05/150809999 Sun, 2 Aug 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Jeanne Mozier WV Travel Team BUCKHANNON, W.Va. - Whether you are a recently departing high school junior from the West Virginia Governor's School for the Arts or a Canadian traveler driving south on Interstate 79, Buckhannon is a picture-perfect town in a natural bowl ringed by wooded mountains and outdoor adventure.

On our visit, we started with the outdoors and Audra State Park, situated along the boulder-strewn Middle Fork River. Middle Fork is part of the complicated Monongahela River family that includes the Tygart, Buckhannon and Right Fork of the Middle Fork rivers all in the Upshur County neighborhood. The water eventually ends up in the Ohio. Most of the area's river miles boast modest whitewater rapids. Kayaks and canoes can be rented for folks who don't bring their own.

Audra is what can be labeled a "rustic" park, less manicured and overseen than most. The campground has nearly 70 sites mere inches from the wooded riverbank. The bathing beach is unsupervised. The bonus feature that earned Audra state park status is Alum Cave, a long overhang of chiseled rock with a boardwalk.

Next we headed for the West Virginia State Wildlife Center. Arriving in midafternoon, we could barely distinguish sleeping mountain lions, floating otters, curled-up bears and bison from their perches, pools or fields. Our hot tip: Go early in the morning while the animals are fresh and alert. Kids will love the more than two dozen species of native critters, birds and snakes. (Someday I'll discover why anyone would think a groundhog is worth watching - let alone name it French Creek Freddie.) Walking paths at the center are well maintained.

Eating is always at the top of our list. I had yearnings for the famous ground-meat pepperoni rolls of The Donut Shop. Their drive-through had an impressive line midafternoon when we stopped soon after arriving in town. I also sampled the doughnuts they claim are the best in the state. Not to start an intercity war, but I am skeptical, especially after my recent discovery of JR's Donut Castle in Parkersburg.

The hot-spot restaurant and center of the downtown entrepreneurial arts empire is C.J. Maggie's, open daily on Main Street and specializing in American comfort food ranging from hand-cut steaks and barbecue to salads and pizza. Another favorite dining and nightspot is 88 Restaurant and Lounge, where dinner is served daily and sandwiches all day long. The Market Bistro uses locally grown ingredients and unique combinations prepared fresh; it's open every day but Sunday.

One of the notable pilgrimage points of the farm-to-table movement in West Virginia is chef Dale Hawkins' Fish Hawk Acres, a family of farms where many regional chefs come to kibitz and buy supplies. Monthly Hawkins farm dinners include a tour of the property. Floral Acres is the largest pick-your-own blueberry operation in West Virginia, with 3,200 bushes. Fans mark the opening date with a red circle since the blueberries generally sell out the first day.

Art is becoming a force for energizing life in Buckhannon, particularly downtown, where several blocks are being developed by art entrepreneurs into performance, studio and retail spaces.

Festival Fridays take place downtown in Jawbone Park from the end of May through early September, highlighting local art and music in an epic weekly art party. A volunteer-developed venture, Jawbone is home to the Upshur Farmers Market and special events. It is also site of the county's first public art. Local sculptor Ross Straight enlisted the help of other sculptors and a foundry to complete a 650-pound bronze of noted Delaware Chief Buckongahelas. Legend holds the town was named for him. The poignant work shows a grief-stricken Buckongahelas cradling his murdered son Mahonegon in his arms.

Extending from Jawbone two blocks to Main Street is one of the newest arts clusters, branded Traders Alley and evolving into designation as an arts district. Architect Bryson Van Nostrand's labor of art love, the area is already home to Van Nostrand's Lascaux Micro-Theater, a movie parlor with a weekend bill of foreign, art and documentary movies.

Recently opened in the next-door basement of a more than century-old building is 3/4 Café with an artisan menu of food and drinks and the Deliciux Candy Machine, a vending machine specifically refurbished for the café and filled with exotic candies from Thailand, Japan, Italy and Finland, among others. The next space in the line of basements that open onto their own ground-level micro alley is sunken to provide surround seating for local music and performances.

Art shopping has a wide range. Ron Hinkle Glass is a special art treat - a combination factory tour/art gallery featuring one-of-a-kind hand-blown glass. The Stitching House has fabric art made with long-arm machine quilting as well as a full selection of quilting materials. There are also supplies at Dough Re Mi - musician supplies along with the specialty baked goods. The shop's specialty feature is "puffins," a delicious cross between popovers and muffins. Most days there are musicians trying out their new strings by serenading customers of the bakery. A block away from West Virginia Wesleyan College, it's a popular stop for faculty and students alike.

Artistry on Main is a regional artist co-op with a full array of media from wood-turned items and furniture to jewelry and iron sculpture. My treasure was a pen made from Upshur County wood. I was distressed to look at the list of counties represented by pens and not see Morgan. When I returned home, I set aside a foot-long chunk of dogwood from a favorite tree and began considering how I could get it back to Buckhannon and wood artist Greg Cartwright.

Antiquers and fans of collectibles have two major destinations: Buckhannon Antique Mall, just out of town, and, in town, the Shops at 46 Main.

We passed up Pringle Tree Park where a third-generation hollow sycamore commemorates the three-year living quarters of a pair of mid-18th-century siblings. Deserters from Fort Pitt then, they are revered today as the area's first permanent settlers.

Instead, we had the pleasure of staying at the newly reopened Governor's Inn B&B, where the ambiance is a 19th-century sanctuary with a kitchen staff of 20 (there really are only two). Guest and public rooms are gracious and comfortable.

Inn owner Charla Reger says, "I live to serve. I want to anticipate what people want and provide it." Every inch of the Inn and every bite of food proves she does what she says.

Breakfast was a multicourse affair that would delight foodies of all stripes. Everything is made from scratch in-house, including the sorbet and various sauces. Beginning with a creamy panna cotta with pineapple cherry sauce, the meal also included a potato and bacon casserole, sausage mini pies and the B&B's signature blueberry vanilla pancakes.

When Charla asked what our favorite dish was, my husband replied, "the fresh cantaloupe" as he stuffed a couple of sausage pies into his pocket. I reported the raspberry sorbet that came with the grilled peaches; it satisfied my childhood fantasy about ice cream for breakfast.

Charla's taste treats never stop - a plate of homemade cookies is always available on a side table, plus coffee makings and a small refrigerator supplied with drinks. An easy couple block walk from downtown, the Governor's Inn is soon opening an outdoor café.

For more information on the Buckhannon area, visit VisitBuckhannon.org or call 304-473-1400.

Jeanne Mozier, of Berkeley Springs, is the author of "Way Out in West Virginia," a must-have guide to the wonders and oddities of the Mountain State. She and noted photographer Steve Shaluta recently released the second printing of the coffee-table photo book "West Virginia Beauty, Familiar and Rare." Both books are available around West Virginia and from WVBookCo.com.

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West Virginians find home away from home at Myrtle Beach bar http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150731/GZ05/150739997 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150731/GZ05/150739997 Fri, 31 Jul 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Erin Beck NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - The marquee reads "West Virginia Rest Stop," but the location is South Carolina.

At the ClubHouse, the curtains are West Virginia University and Marshall themed, the shutters are blue and gold, and the walls feature West Virginia college sports posters, as well as photos of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. WVU and Marshall games play on the big screens every time one of the teams plays.

"You can't get in the place on Saturdays if they're playing," said Don Causby, a local regular.

The bar is known for attracting West Virginia tourists, as well as a steady stream of locals who have gotten to know the longtime employees and appreciate the prices. A can of Pabst Blue Ribbon is $1.26, after taxes.

Wayne Whitmore, a retired physical education teacher originally from Charles Town, recently moved to Myrtle Beach from Naples, Florida. He passes the time perusing through the sign-in book, looking for familiar names from back home.

"When you first come into town, when you run into people, they say, 'Have you been to the West Virginia bar?'" he said.

The ClubHouse is located along a busy stretch of highway, at 77 U.S. 17. According to employees, Dunbar native Mike Swanson opened the business in 1992. The West Virginia theme was the plan from the beginning.

Swanson died in 2003 of bone cancer, according to friends and employees. His ashes are stored in an urn on a shelf by the bar, below his photo and above a plaque in his memory.

David Scott, a regular for decades, remembers Swanson well.

"He was a great guy. He was in here a lot," Scott said. "He kept a close eye on his business. He was real attentive and he done real well with it."

Scott points to a framed photo in the bar of a Vietnam veteran and Tomblin on the Capitol steps.

"That's me with him," he said. "It was September of 2012. We had a Vietnam reunion up there. He kept coming out there and wanting to have his picture taken with me."

Sarah Maple has worked as a bartender there for 16 years. Swanson was a close friend of hers.

"He was very funny," she said. "He was not afraid of anything - not afraid to say anything."

Previously, Maple worked at two paint shops. She didn't have any bartending experience when she started.

"Because the bartender walked out the door, and because we were good friends, I said, 'if you need help let me know,' " she said.

She found out she enjoyed the work.

"I wouldn't be here this long if I didn't," she said.

She has gotten to know many repeat customers over the years. The West Virginians always announce themselves right away.

"They come in and they say, 'We're from West Virginia' when I first walk up to the table," she said. "They want to know if they get a discount and I say, 'No, we charge double.'"

Daniel Becker, the bar's manager, estimated that about 20 percent of customers are from West Virginia during the summer months.

"They definitely love their football," he said. "They were telling me this during basketball season. They said they couldn't wait for that."

The bar's menu used to feature delicacies like the "West Virginia filet" (a grilled cheese sandwich) and the "West Virginia tube steak" (a hot dog), but employees said a new owner recently changed that.

Becker said there is talk about revising the menu again. He has heard several suggestions from West Virginians.

"No matter what we have on the menu there's always something else we could do," he said.

He vaguely remembered one suggestion in particular.

"It was kind of like, I wanna say like a cheese log they say something about," he said, "because we have a fried mozzarella block and somebody had mentioned to me about rolling a hot dog - I mean, not a hot dog, like mozzarella cheese and meat and deep frying it. That was something big up there. This was during the tournament. This was late March. I can't really think of it off the top of my head."

Maybe someone said something about pepperoni rolls?

"That was it!" Becker exclaimed. "It was pepperoni rolls."

Reach Erin Beck at erin.beck@wvgazette.com, 304-348-5163 or follow @erinbeckwv on Twitter.

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WV native chef nearly survives getting 'Chopped' http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150726/GZ05/150729710 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150726/GZ05/150729710 Sun, 26 Jul 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Bill Lynch CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Mary Brent Galyean made it to the final round of Tuesday's "Chopped Grill Masters" competition before she was "chopped" from the popular Food Network show.

The Charleston native's "harvest soufflé" - cobbled together from slices of acorn squash, some eggs, bananas and a few frosted cupcakes processed through a blender - failed to win over the judges in the last round of the show.

But she made it to the final round, and the competition seemed close.

The slender, almost manic, expedition chef had survived the first round of the competition, the appetizer round, even after her bacon granola stuffed hot dogs came out a little burnt.

Galyean did better with the main course in the second round. Her elk chops with blueberry brown sugar au jus earned some real praise, but when the silver tray lid came up during the dessert round, the judges went with Stan Hays and his backyard sundaes.

Watching the show on a television at Charleston's Bar 101, Galyean exclaimed, "I thought that it would be different this time."

It was a good laugh.

Galyean had known for months that she hadn't won the competition, but it hardly mattered. Being on the show was just another in a long line of adventures. This one, however, she was able to share with the crowd of old friends who'd come out to see her television debut.

"It's all friends here," Galyean said.

Through much of the evening, she'd worked for her friends, rolling and cutting sushi next door at Ichiban.

"We were slammed," said Ichiban hostess Jesse McClanahan. "It was a crazy Tuesday night, but the food has been incredible."

Taking a moment before washing up and changing clothes to watch the show, Galyean pointed out all the people who'd come out to support her. Some had come from as far as Fayetteville. Others had some part in her journey from alcoholic to clean-and-sober river guide and excursion chef.

"That's the family whose girls I drove," she said, lowering her voice and pointing to a table near the back of the restaurant.

In the last days of her drinking, Galyean secretly had a few drinks and got behind the wheel of a car with a pair of young girls in the back seat. While nothing happened on that drive, the realization of what could have happened was a turning point in her sobriety.

Throughout most of the evening, Galyean balanced preparing food and chatting with the people who'd come out to see her. She was glad to be here, she said. It felt safe and welcoming.

"There's no place I'd rather be," she explained. "My other option was to be curled up naked under a blanket, sweating, crying and eating Twizzlers." Galyean said she has sometimes suffered from anxiety attacks.

The crowd that filtered in from Ichiban to Bar 101 cheered, booed and groaned over the endless commercials as they sipped drinks and watched the show.

At the end, after Hays was named the winner, hugs were exchanged around the bar and people said their goodbyes. Galyean wouldn't be sticking around much longer. She had a plane to catch the next day back to California, presumably returning to Yosemite National Park, where she's been working over the summer.

Evan Wilson, Ichiban manager and the sushi chef who succeeded Galyean after she left the restaurant several years ago, said he had mixed feelings about watching his friend on the show.

"Oh, I'm jealous," he laughed. "But I'm also so proud. It kind of gives me hope too."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com, 304-348-5195 or follow @LostHwys on Twitter.

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Wild, wonderful and … OK, a little bit weird http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150726/GZ05/150729736 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150726/GZ05/150729736 Sun, 26 Jul 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Amy Orndorff The Washington Post I was thrilled when my husband told me he had bought us a lake house. Less so when he set it up in our living room. The six-person tent, he argued, could be erected by a lake and - ta-da! But wait, he said, there's more! (There's always more) ... It doubles as a beach house!

Once I came around to accepting the freedom of our movable house as a kind of blessing, I set out to christen it near the most amazing lake I could find. Ace Adventure Resort, in Minden, fit the bill, boasting a 5-acre lake-turned-water park with inflatable jungle gyms, giant slide and zip line that ends with a splash, as well as an expansive campground.

Our trip to West Virginia would be a quintessential (albeit abbreviated) American summer road trip. We'd splash around in a souped-up swimmin' hole. We'd visit the kitschiest wonders of the world.

We'd explore the wildest mountains and gape at the New River Gorge Bridge, a feat of engineering that saves folks from driving all the way down a mountain only to go back up again. Did I mention it's taller than the Washington Monument with two Statues of Liberty stacked on top? 'Murica!

After five hours of driving up, down and around mountains, we arrived at the resort well after nightfall and found our way to the Lost Paddle Lounge, where Bob Marley was playing through the speakers and a handful of young folks were relaxing and shooting pool. The dining room had closed for the night, so we each ordered a beer and headed outside where a tent sheltered picnic tables, a small stage and cornhole sets.

Beers downed, we made our way to our campsite. The resort has a dozen cabins, as well as sites that fall on the nicer side of "roughing it" - think tents on wooden platforms. But we were there to spend a night in our new house, so we were bedding down in the rustic neighborhood.

The scene was humble: grassy area, picnic table, small fire pit and a trash can. Nearby, a communal bathhouse (with individual shower/sink/toilet rooms!) provided a bit of light. By the glow of the bathhouse and our car headlights, we pitched our "lake house" and settled in for the night.

The quiet hours are midnight to 8 a.m., which is considerably liberal by campground standards. Neighbors pushed that curfew, singing off-key renditions of "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" late into the night.

The sun came up shortly after our neighbors went to sleep, and we finally had our first look at the lake. A 15-foot-tall iceberg climbing wall lorded over the other inflatables, including jungle gyms, trampolines and wobbly-looking Saturns. But the big three - a 40-foot-tall water slide, zip line and blob trampoline - were the ones I was eyeing.

After donning my mandatory personal flotation device, I chose to enter the water via the slide. What followed was a couple hours of what I imagine the ideal childhood summer is like. I climbed to the top of the iceberg, bounced on the trampolines and glided down the zip line. The water was the perfect cool temperature, and the air perfectly warm. With every ear-popping elevation change, we had left Washington's hazy, hot and humid climate behind.

While there were plenty of splashing families in the water, more than once I took a minute to just float calmly and appreciate the steep mountains that surrounded the lake and the blue sky spotted with cotton-candy clouds.

Getting out was a struggle, but I follow two philosophies of travel: Schedule what you really want to see and leave plenty of time for unexpected detours. The other thing I had on the itinerary for the weekend was a stop at the New River Gorge Bridge, which is minutes from the resort. The longest steel span in the Western hemisphere beat out about 1,800 entries (including one for the legendary figure Mothman) to be showcased on the back of West Virginia's quarter.

The bridge towers 876 feet over the National River, a playground for whitewater enthusiasts. In addition to being a pretty thing to look at, it has a catwalk under the bridge that visitors can strap onto for a walking tour and, for the more adventurous, B.A.S.E. jumping (it stands for Building, Antenna, Span and Earth) once a year. We chose to view the mammoth structure from the safety of the overlook near the Canyon Rim Visitor Center.

After a morning of swimming and bridge gawking, we chose to eat at the first place we could find - Mackie's Biergarten. Across the road from the visitor center entrance, the food-truck-size stand has a bar and picnic tables. The limited menu includes local brews, brats, fries and (a top seller) Korean BBQ sliders. After filling up, we had to politely decline the invitation to return for live music later that night - we had wanderlusting to do.

The art of wanderlusting is something passed down to me from my dad. By his definition, it means driving around aimlessly and, when you see something worth stopping at, making it your "destination." We had picked up two brochures at the campground and, with a vague understanding of where we were going, headed to see what is claimed to be West Virginia's only working lighthouse.

Erected in 2012, the white tower does sit near a body of water (Summersville Lake) and is an aid to navigation (planes, not boats). Mostly I saw it as something built to get $7 from tourists. Still, I gave up my cash willingly to have a guide lead me up the 122 steps to the top and tell me a little more about the landmark.

But it wasn't the gimmick I had gleefully anticipated. The busted windmill was repurposed, students from the nearby Fayette Institute of Technology built the spiral staircase inside and a nearby airport donated a vintage Fresnel lens. It was more a story of a small town coming together to build something iconic, and from the top I could appreciate the vision.

Our next brochure-inspired stop was the Mystery Hole. If UNESCO World Heritage Sites honored kitschiness, the Mystery Hole would be a top destination. The brochure lured us in with all the skill of a carnival barker: "UNBELIEVABLE - an experience that will intrigue you the rest of your life."

The building that houses the spot where "the laws of nature are defied" features a gorilla on the roof, a vintage VW Bug crashed into the side and an eerie-looking clown over the entrance. It was enough to hook me, as well as about a dozen or so other people who lined up for one of the 15-minute tours.

Inside, as the brochure promised, we felt our balance upset. The "hole" is really a room under the building that seemed tilted at a 45-degree angle, but some of the tricks (if that's what they were) were still difficult to explain. I tried not to overthink it: Just enjoy the feeling of vertigo.

The next morning, we headed for another brochure-driven outing, to the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine. As the great-great-granddaughter of a coal miner, I was eager to see the museum dedicated to the men who have done this dirty job. The tour includes a ride through a now-closed mine. Even though the ceiling has been raised from what the miners would have worked in, and lighting has been added throughout, the cool, damp and dark passage felt claustrophobic as the train carrying me and 35 or so other visitors trundled along.

Two guides shared tales of what life was like miles underground. From the funny (putting Grandma's false teeth in your water pail to ward off thirsty thieves) to the cringe-worthy (rats were harbingers; if they started running, miners followed and tried to get out fast), they gave a comprehensive look at life in the mines. It felt good to feel the sun on my cheeks as the tram pulled out of the tunnel.

Also among the brochures I had collected was a cave that claimed to have been the home of Bat Boy. If you didn't go to a grocery store in 1992, you might have missed Bat Boy's coverage in the now online-only black-and-white tabloid the Weekly World News. The story went that the government had found and captured a boy who was raised by bats and had taken on odd features, including oversize pointy ears, razor-sharp teeth and ghoulishly big eyes. The tabloid followed his escape, exploits and eventual military service; a younger me believed every bit of it, and was terrified.

I decided to face my fear of the creature by visiting his turf, Lost World Caverns in Lewisburg. Flashlights in hand, my husband and I headed down a tunnel for a self-guided tour around what turned out to be home to magnificent stalactites, stalagmites and other intricate formations.

Upon exiting, I understood why Bat Boy would want to call West Virginia home. It is a very wild, very wonderful and very, very weird place.

If you go

n Where to stay

Ace Adventure Resort

1 Concho Rd., Minden

800-787-3982

www.aceraft.com

The resort has multiple lodging options from the highest-end deluxe cabins (hot tub, kitchen, heating) starting at $569 to tent sites starting at $13 per adult per night. The resort is also home to a five-acre lake with inflatables, a zip line and other offerings. You do not need to stay at the resort to enjoy the lake.

n Where to eat

Mackie's Biergarten

57 Fayette Mine Rd., Lansing

304-877-1897

www.mackiesbiergarten.com

Sliders, brats and local brews make up this small beer garden that offers plenty of shady outdoor seating and occasional live music. Sliders are $4 for one or $6 for two. Bratwurst $4. Beers $1-$5.

n What to do

Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine

513 Ewart Ave., Beckley

304-256-1747

www.beckley.org/exhibition_coal_mine

Admission ($20, $15 seniors, $12 ages 4 to 17) includes the mine tour, as well as entrance to the re-created town buildings, Youth Museum and Mountain Homestead.

Bridge Walk

57 Fayette Mine Rd., Lansing

304-574-1300

www.bridgewalk.com

Tours are offered daily and the 1.25-mile walk takes about two to three hours. $69.

Lost World Caverns

HC 34 Box 308, Lewisburg

866-228-3778 or 304-645-6677

www.lostworldcaverns.com

Tours are self-guided and it takes most people about an hour to walk the loop. $12, $6 ages 6 to 12, younger free.

Mystery Hole

16724 Midland Trail, Ansted

304-658-9101

www.mysteryhole.com

The attraction delivers hard-to-explain, gravity-defying feats. Tours last 15 to 20 minutes and cost $6.50, $5.50 age 11 and younger.

New River Gorge Bridge

162 Visitor Center Rd., Lansing

304-574-2115

www.nps.gov/neri

The bridge is part of the vast 70,000-acre/53-mile-long New River Gorge National River. The park has several camping areas and visitor centers so be sure to put the Canyon Rim Visitor Center address in your GPS otherwise you might get lost, like we did.

Lighthouse at Summersville Lake Retreat

278 Summersville Lake Rd., Mount Nebo

888-872-5580 or 304-872-5975

www.summersvillelakeretreat.com

The 104-foot-tall lighthouse sits on grounds that includes cabins, tent and RV sites. Climbing the 122 steps costs $7, $5 seniors and children ages 3 to 11.

Information:

www.gotowv.com

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Frostop Drive-In offers 21st-century WV diners a trip to the past http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150721/GZ05/150729900 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150721/GZ05/150729900 Wed, 22 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400 By Lexi Browning HUNTINGTON — In an era where drive-thrus have replaced drive-ins, Marilyn McGinnis Murdock, owner of the Frostop Drive-In, said it’s rewarding to bring something so unique to the table — or window.

What began as the drive-in chain restaurant in 1926 in Springfield, Ohio, soon grew to inhabit every state in America, becoming a popular hangout for families and teenage sweethearts.

Although times have certainly changed since its founding, Frostop has become an icon of its age and a vintage staple for a modern city.

As the drive-in fad began to fade, business in Huntington was just getting started: In 1959, owners Rupert McGinnis and Bill Warnock were investing in the chain and developing custom recipes for the diner’s menu.

“My father and uncle were looking in some way to invest in the community, and they heard about it and decided to give it a try,” said McGinnis’ daughter, Marilyn Murdock.

The Huntington Frostop is now one of 15 Frostops left in the United States since the chain dissolved, Murdock said.

“One of the franchise’s [assets] is the root beer, but the hot-dog sauce recipe was my mother and my aunt’s,” Murdock said. “They cooked hot-dog sauce while I was growing up, and they always had it cooking until they got it just the way they wanted it.”

The renowned sauce has changed some with the decades, but Murdock said it still adheres closely to her mother’s recipe.

“We have different cooks who’ve tweaked it over the years, but we try to keep it authentic as possible,” she said.

After McGinnis’ death in 1980, Murdock’s mother purchased Warnock’s interest and operated the business until her death in 1996. Soon, Murdock and her sister, Bing Murphy, took ownership of the family business.

“I didn’t know squat about hot dogs; I just washed mugs in the back. We learned, and we have wonderful staff. They make me look good,” Murdock said, laughing.

Although the business has certainly become intertwined into the McGinnis legacy, Murdock said her family’s trade has affected countless Huntington natives, many of whom still return to their beloved drive-in.

“People come from different parts of the country, and it’s part of their heritage and childhood — seeing them grow up in Huntington and then having them stop by and tell us their stories, it’s nice,” Murdock said.

Huntington resident Mitchell Smith, 87, has been a regular for 25 years.

“I like just about everything here,” Smith said while feasting on a pair of hot dogs. “We don’t eat here as much as a lot of other customers, but we get hamburgers, cheeseburgers and barbecue, and it’s all good.”

Smith said the staff certainly added to the atmosphere.

“They’re great; I kid ’em all the time,” Smith laughed.

Addison Hall, assistant manager, agreed with him.

“It’s a good place to work and it’s pretty laid-back,” Hall said. “Everyone’s been here for years, and really noticed that business is up recently, and I think it might have to do with the good staff. They’re really cheery.”

Hall, who’s worked at Frostop for six years, said the business is consistently packed at least once per day year-round.

“These past couple of weeks, we’ve had church vans full of kids stopping by for ice cream,” Hall said. “And any time we have visitors come by that used to live here, they pick up a gallon of root beer. The hot dogs are great, too; they’re the best in town.”

The restaurant, which was once named an icon of the state, is certainly on the map for new and old visitors.

“Travelers have never been somewhere where they eat in their car, and it’s very 1950s,” Murdock said. “Growing up, we had those restaurants, and Sonic is here now, along with Stewarts and Midway, but it’s very unique in this day and age.”

For Cabell Huntington Hospital employee Kristal Whiler, venturing across Hal Greer Boulevard to Frostop is a weekly treat.

“I like the food, it’s convenient and I don’t even have to leave my parking spot,” Whiler said. “But the food is really good.”

Cady Gilmore, a nursing student, trekked with Whiler for her first visit on Monday.

“Oh yeah, I like it,” Gilmore said, noting that she’d be returning soon.

For Murdock and her husband, Bill, managing the restaurant has supplied a busy and enjoyable start to her retirement from teaching.

“We’re really happy and thrilled that we can keep it open and going,” Murdock said. “We’re blessed with all the business that we’ve had and the people that work with us and for us.”

Although she typically sticks to behind-the-scenes labor, Murdock said she enjoys having the flexibility of entering and departing the business as she pleases.

“All the advertisement goes through us, along with bill-paying, invoicing; we’re busy all the time getting ready for events,” she said. “The day-to-day operation is run by the manager and assistant manager, but we handle promotions, marketing, managing personnel matters and oversee maintenance and other big projects.”

Murdock said the only major maintenance incident she could recall had occurred during the frigid winter of 2013, when the arctic temperatures took a toll on the iconic rotating mug mounted on the roof.

“It was around negative-14 degrees, and the metal on the mug shrunk and the paint just blew off,” Murdock said. “Much of the graphics had to be reproduced by hand, and there was nothing to pattern it after.”

With the help of a gifted artist, though, the mug was restored to a pristine condition.

“We’ve had so many compliments on it now,” Murdock said. “I touched base with some girlfriends in Starbucks recently, and two people mentioned how great the mug looks now.”

In addition to the new graphics, a kiosk displaying pamphlets and a map of Huntington and state attractions has been installed at their business, Murdock said.

“We keep that stocked for points of interest for customers from out of town,” Murdock said. “We have an outdoor dining section, and they sit and peruse a brochure, and it helps them plan.”

Assistant Manager Bobby Dean said he has obtained life and communication skills by working as part of the Frostop legacy.

“My uncle worked here when he was my age, and he worked his way up,” Dean said. “I wanted to follow in his footsteps, and it’s been a learning experience for me.”

Dean leans in to take a customer’s order before returning with a scribbled yellow ticket.

“You just can’t replicate this overall experience,” he said. “It’s everyone’s childhood memory, even mine, and I’m only 20.”

There’s the honk of a horn and a subtle wave. And with that, one vehicle heads back to the 21st century as another pulls into this place from the past.

Reach Lexi Browning at 304-348-7917, lexi.browning@dailymailwv.com or follow @galexi on Twitter.

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WV native to appear on Food Network competition http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150719/GZ05/150719431 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150719/GZ05/150719431 Sun, 19 Jul 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Bill Lynch CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Life can be pretty good, if you know when to get out of your own way.

It took expedition chef Mary Brent Galyean a long time to learn that.

"There was a lot of years when I didn't," the 34-year-old Charleston native said.

That's just one of many lessons Galyean picked up, along with knowing when to say "yes."

Almost a year ago, while Galyean was cooking a meal for another group of rafters who'd come to Adventures on the Gorge to go whitewater rafting, one of them asked, "What do you do on your off time?"

She told him, "I cook in crazy places in exchange for room and board. So, if you and your family are going someplace interesting and want a cook, let me know."

The rafter turned out to be an employee of Scripps Networks, the company that owns HGTV, Great American Country, Food Network and several other cable channels.

He told Galyean, "I'd love to tell my bosses about you."

So, Galyean made a video of her cooking out in the wild and sent it along. The video ended up on the desk of the vice president of Food Network, who invited her to New York to have coffee and talk television.

They met, had coffee and he got her cast on the Food Network show "Chopped Grill Masters."

"We shot it in Queens in April," Galyean said. "It's a tournament-style competition with four different episodes, with the winner going to the finals."

The run of "Chopped Grill Masters" begins Tuesday at 10 p.m.

To celebrate and kick off the second season of the miniseries, Galyean will be back in Charleston Tuesday night doing a turn as a guest chef at Ichiban on Capitol Street, where she began her cooking career.

"I can't wait to be back in West Virginia," she said. "It really is home."

After her shift, Galyean will be the special guest at a viewing party next door at Bar 101.

"Laura and Scott Miller [the owners of Bar 101] are just great friends," she said.

The show is a contest with a cash prize, but whether Galyean wins, loses or gets picked up for some other program, it hardly matters. Coming back to Charleston to cook and share her television debut isn't about coming full circle.

It's a victory lap.

"I tell people I was so great at drinking, everybody made me quit," she joked.

It's funny because it's really not. For 20 years, Galyean was an alcoholic.

"I started as a young child," she said. "I would just steal sips of this and that off the table."

It only got worse as she got older.

Galyean grew up in Charleston. Her father, Brent Galyean, a car dealer, died in a traffic accident while loading office furniture into his car when she was 5 years old.

Her mother raised her and her two sisters and took the family on lots of foreign adventures. It's where she got her taste for travel.

"I've been on five continents and all but two states," Galyean said. "I've been to Antarctica, Ireland, Africa - we went down the Amazon River for Christmas one year on a little fishing boat."

She grew up loving the outdoors. Through her teens, she took course after course through the National Outdoor Leadership School, where, among other things, she learned how to cook in the wild.

Galyean said, "As long as I can bring a rubber spatula and something to spark a fire with, I'm pretty good."

She graduated from George Washington High School in 1999, then studied mathematics at Rollins College in Florida.

Mathematics work was in short supply in Charleston in 2004, but the restaurants were hiring.

"I started working in restaurants to just make some quick money and to keep my hands busy," she said.

One of the people she met when she returned to Charleston was Shelly James. James is now an assistant vice president at BB&T, but in 2004, they were both two young women working three jobs trying to make ends meet.

James said she wasn't surprised that the Food Network would spot Galyean.

"Mary Brent is just so talented when it comes to food and really fun to watch," she said. "I knew her before she started cooking professionally and she just had ­- has - this boundless energy."

The energy attracted attention and opportunity. The sushi chef at Ichiban offered a job and the opportunity to learn how to roll sushi.

"Ichiban was the first place to ever pay me to cook," Galyean said.

In 2008, her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given 30 months to live. Galyean gave up cooking to take care of her.

It was while taking care of her mother that Galyean decided she needed to quit drinking. So, in 2011, she checked herself into rehab for 78 days, but sobriety didn't catch at first.

"I fell off and on the wagon for about a year," Galyean said.

She finally quit after she sneaked a couple of drinks and got behind the wheel of a car. The nieces of a couple of friends were in the back seat.

"I was not drunk," she said. "But they were under the impression that I hadn't had a drink at all."

Nothing happened on that drive, but a ball of fear and guilt hit her in the gut the next morning. She could have been drunk. She might be drunk next time.

"I couldn't live with that," she said. "If anything had happened to those little girls, I'd never be able to look at myself again."

That was June 17, 2012. She said she hasn't had a drink since.

Galyean's mother passed away in September of 2012, nearly double the length of time the doctors initially gave her. Galyean wasn't sure what she wanted to do exactly, but she wanted to work. She just didn't want to work in a kitchen.

She reached out to an old family friend, Dave Arnold, one of the founders of Adventures on the Gorge, and asked for a job.

"I told him I want to be outdoors. I'll wash wetsuits, whatever you want," Galyean said.

Arnold wasn't so sure it was such a good idea.

"I've known M.B. since she was 8," he said. "I knew her father and her mother. Her mother raised her, and when I'd visit, with all those girls, I used to call it the House of the High Hair Dryers."

But he also knew about her alcohol problem.

"The hospitality business isn't necessarily a great place to be if you've got trouble with alcohol," he said.

There can be a lot of it around.

So, he asked her, "Are you sure?"

Arnold said Galyean told him she was done with drinking, but then he wasn't sure. He called some of the references on Galyean's résumé, including former Gov. Gaston Caperton.

Caperton, Arnold recalls, was blunt, and told him, "Dave, if I were you, I'd go ahead and get her resignation letter and give it to her."

The former governor didn't remember saying that. He recalled telling Arnold and Galyean that the restaurant business was difficult because of the availability of alcohol, which made it very different from an office environment.

He said, "I told him that I hoped that she'd made up her mind that's what she wanted to do."

Galyean promised Arnold she could stay sober.

Arnold said he and Larry Poli, head of food and beverage, talked it over and decided to give her a shot, but they wanted her to cook.

Galyean said "never."

But Arnold had just the job for her.

"With a business like ours, you need a deep bench," he said. "You need someone around who can do just about anything. M.B. could do that. Not only could she do killer sushi, but she can also do pepperoni rolls."

Where she excelled, however, was working on the banks of the river, cooking over campfires.

She applied her outdoors NOLS skills with what she'd learned cooking in Charleston.

It opened up a whole new world.

Almost three years later, Galyean has an amazing life.

"I live half my life in a tent in the woods," she said. "At the moment, I'm living in a double-wide in California with no air conditioning.

"It's a 115 degrees in there."

She laughed. She doesn't mind.

Galyean joins groups on adventures and cooks for them. Sometimes money changes hands, but always she gets to take part in whatever it is the rest of the expedition is doing.

"If I'm not allowed to do it too, I don't go," she said.

She ekes out a living by taking seasonal jobs at places like Adventures on the Gorge and by keeping her costs low.

Galyean has a phone bill and health insurance.

"But I don't have a mortgage, I don't pay rent," she said. "I'm homeless."

Every now and then she'll stay with a friend or visit one of her sisters, her aunt in New York, or her uncle in Long Beach, California.

She laughed and said, "He's kind of taken me on."

But the work drives her.

"I have to be looking for the next adventure," Galyean said. "It's my next shelter, the next place I pitch my tent."

Cooking in the wild, she said, takes a particular set of skills and some creativity. When she's on a cooking job, she packs according to how long the trip will be and how many people are coming out.

She bragged that she can carry a 70-pound pack on her back, filled with cooking gear.

"I can take more stuff if somebody else wants to carry it for me," she said. "Or, if I have a horse or a yak."

Aside from the indispensable rubber spatula, Galyean said it's important to bring a good selection of spices.

"I take those stackable pill bottles you get at Walmart and fill them with little pinches of things," she said. "If you've got the right spices, you can make things happen."

She also believes in the many virtues of aluminum foil, often brings a small blowtorch, and wouldn't be caught dead on the trail or on television without "killer footwear."

Galyean said, "When they asked me in the phone interview for 'Chopped' if I was competitive, to paraphrase, I answered, 'Not professionally, but I am a competitive dresser.'"

But she doesn't worry too much about cutlery. She'll pack a knife, but can get by without one.

"Somebody always has a switchblade," Galyean added.

And there are always rocks, which can be used for everything from slicing meat to mashing bread to turn into a powder to make a roux.

The menus she can construct on the trail sound impossible.

"I like to do prime rib, sushi and all homemade breads," Galyean said. "I do bread puddings and soufflés. I try to do fine dining in places in the world where you expect to eat sawdust and granola."

"We climb like Vikings, but eat like kings," she bragged.

"Chopped Grill Masters" airs Tuesday night on Food Network. If Galyean wants to do more television, she's not really saying, and her friends are already proud of her.

Caperton added, "She's proven herself."

Galyean may have something in mind besides TV stardom.

The chef said, "The plan is to do the Gauley in the fall, then Nepal, Peru, Argentina, Antarctica and then back to Nepal, Russia and then, possibly, New Zealand. Those are the trips on the books, but I never buy tickets until it's three weeks out because you never know."

People change their minds. Adventurers and explorers get hurt, sometimes lose limbs and have to cancel excursions. It's nothing to get too uptight about. You just move on to the next trip.

"It's all kind of like skydiving," she said. "You stay loose and just say yes."

Friends and fans of Mary Brent Galyean can vote for her in the "Chopped Grill Masters" fan poll at www.foodnetwork.com/shows/chopped/chopped-grill-masters-fan-poll.html.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com, 304-348-5195 or follow @LostHwys on Twitter.

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WV Travel Team: Go up … and up … to Toronto http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150719/GZ05/150719452 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150719/GZ05/150719452 Sun, 19 Jul 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Mitzi Harrison WV Travel Team CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Summer vacation doesn't have to mean your family broils in the sun on a cruise ship or in the Florida heat. An international experience with a milder climate is just a little more than 500 miles north of Charleston.

Toronto, Canada, has plenty to offer. You might think of our northern neighbor as a place of cold. But Toronto in July typically has a high of 80 degrees.

Airfare from Yeager Airport will normally cost between $500 and $600 per ticket if you don't mind double connections; otherwise, expect to pay $600 to $900 per ticket. If you're driving from Charleston, your family will be in Toronto in about eight hours.

Now you're there. What to do?

Start with the CN Tower for the bird's-eye view. EdgeWalk features the world's highest full-circle, hands-free walk on a 5-foot-wide ledge encircling the top of the tower. Whether you measure the height the American way - 1,168 feet above ground - or the Canadian way - 356 meters - you'll be sky-high, 116 stories up.

Visitors walk in groups of six, each attached to an overhead safety rail-and-harness system. Guides will dare you to lean back over Toronto with nothing but air and spectacular views beneath you.

The EdgeWalk experience lasts 90 minutes, including 30 minutes outdoors. Tickets are $195 Canadian and include a keepsake video, printed photos and a certificate of achievement. Participants also receive a Tower Experience Ticket, which includes access to LookOut, Glass Floor, SkyPod and other attractions.

After seeing Toronto from the heights, get a little closer to earth - but only a little - and dine at the 360 Restaurant. As you dine 1,151 feet above the ground, you'll enjoy a revolving view of the city. The world's highest wine cellar is just the start. 360 Restaurant offers market-fresh cuisine, featuring regional ingredients. Choose from steak and seafood a la carte or the prix fixe menu, available for lunch and dinner, supplemented by vegetarian and seafood options. A two-course lunch is $55; a three-course lunch is $69. Reservations are recommended.

Near the CN Tower is the Rogers Centre, formerly known as the SkyDome. The home of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team, the Rogers Centre was the first stadium built with a fully retractable roof. The center includes a 348-room hotel - 70 of the rooms overlook the field. From July 10-26, Toronto and the surrounding area are hosting the 2015 Pan American Games. More than 6,000 athletes from more than 40 countries are expected to compete in three-dozen sports.

The opening and closing ceremonies of the Pan American Games will be at the Rogers Centre. Some of the competition venues in the Toronto area are the Direct Energy Center, Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre and BMO Field.

While in Toronto, visit the local castle. Canada is a constitutional monarchy - an independent country, but its head of state is Queen Elizabeth II of England. Although Casa Loma has no direct ties to the British royal family, visitors can get a sense of how it must have been to live in a castle.

Casa Loma, built between 1911 and 1914, was originally the residence of financier Sir Henry Mill Pellatt. Today it is a museum renowned for its decorated suites, secret passages, 800-foot tunnel, towers, stables and 5-acre estate garden. Self-guided multimedia tours are available.

Casa Loma is one of Toronto's largest tourist attractions, with 350,000 visitors every year. The castle has also been a popular location for film and television shoots. Casa Loma has two restaurants and a gift shop.

After the castle, visit Queen's Park, established in 1860, one of the oldest urban parks in Canada. Named in honor of Queen Victoria, the park hosted her son, the Prince of Wales - later King Edward VII - when it was inaugurated. An equestrian statue of Edward VII, the Ontario Veterans' Memorial, the War Memorial of the 48th Highlanders, and the Northwest Rebellion Memorial are among highlights.

Bordered by the University of Toronto (formerly Queens College), Queen's Park is home to the Ontario Legislative Building, the meeting place of Ontario's provincial parliament for more than a century. The sandstone structure, built between 1886 and 1892, has exhibits from museums across Ontario, showcasing the province's history. Guided tours of the building are free.

Toronto Island Park is a chain of three small islands, connected by footbridges, in the western part of Lake Ontario, just offshore from the city of Toronto. The islands are a popular car-free recreation area, with forested pathways and sandy beaches, an ideal place to escape from the city.

The main attraction, especially for young families, is Centre Island. The island is home to Centreville's children's amusement park, which has over 30 rides and attractions; and Far Enough Farm, which houses a variety of domestic animals.

Ward's Island is ideal for secluded walks in parkland and wilderness areas.

Hanlan Island is home to Hanlan's Point Beach, the best beach on Toronto Islands. Heads up, parents: Hanlan's Point Beach includes a nudist area for those who like to bare all.

The only way to reach Toronto Island Park is by a ferry located at the foot of Bay Street. Round-trip fare is $6.50 per person. Although you can walk from one side of Toronto Island Park to the other, it's more fun to hire a bicycle or four-wheel bicycle buggy from Island Bicycle Rental, next to the pier on Centre Island.

Boating and canoeing are popular, with crafts available for rent from the Island Boathouse. The islands also have tennis courts, softball diamonds and volleyball courts. The park has several cafes, food stalls and drinking fountains and plenty of picnic tables throughout.

If you want to get out of the city for a day trip, Niagara Falls is a little more than 80 miles away. Unparalleled in North America, the falls dump 2.4 million liters of water per second. Several bus tours leave Toronto for Niagara every day. The Maid of the Mist, which bills itself North America's oldest tourist attraction, has been taking passengers on boat journeys into the dense mist of the Horseshoe Falls since 1846. Be prepared to get wet! In addition to the natural spectacle, Niagara Falls has helicopter rides, and Skylon Tower, which offers a panoramic view of the falls and the surrounding area.

For outdoor adventure closer to the city, Treetop Trekking at Heart Lake Conservation Area, in Brampton, features six courses, seven zip lines and more than 65 aerial games. Twin 1,000-foot zip lines cross right over Heart Lake, and you can even take a night trek, exploring the forest under the stars.

The Toronto Zoo, sprawling across 710 acres, is one of the largest zoos in the world. It has more than 5,000 animals, representing more than 500 species, and six miles of walking trails. The zoo is divided into seven geographic regions: Indo-Malaya, Africa, the Americas, Australasia, Eurasia, Canadian Domain and the Tundra Trek. Animals are displayed indoors in tropical pavilions and outdoors in natural environments. The zoo's two giant pandas are a big hit, and so is Nneka, a gorilla not yet 2 years old. The Giraffe House is home to 24-year-old Masai giraffe Twiga and her 1-year-old calf Mstari.

It's not summer without an amusement park. Canada's Wonderland has 69 rides, including 16 roller coasters. The newest, Leviathan, is one of the tallest and fastest coasters in the world. Younger children can enjoy Planet Snoopy and KidZville, with kid-size rides and adventures. Splash Works this year introduces Typhoon, a new water slide. Splash Station is an interactive children's play area.

Don't let a rainy day interrupt your fun. Fantasy Fair, in Woodbine Shopping Centre, is Ontario's largest indoor amusement park, with a roller coaster, train, carousel, arcade and midway games. New attractions include Rock'N'Climb Challenge and XD Simulator. Fantasy Fair regularly offers free shows, including puppets, magic and more.

Playdium is an interactive entertainment center for families, with more than 200 video games, rides and simulators. Don't miss the MaxFlight Roller Coaster Simulator and Laser Maze. The 11-acre outdoor park includes go-kart tracks, miniature golf, a bungee trampoline and batting cages. Join in on the ultimate water fight with Water Wars.

The Legoland Discovery Centre is home to more than 3 million LEGO bricks under one roof. Visitors can make their own LEGO bricks on the factory tour. Zap the bad guys and save the princess on the Kingdom Quest Laser Ride. Get in on the action in the new "LEGO Legends of Chima" 4-D movie. Visit Miniland, a collection of mini replicas of Toronto's landmarks; and Star Wars Episode II - Attack of the Clones Miniland.

For fun mixed with learning, be sure to visit the Ontario Science Centre. Now through Sept. 13 the center presents "MythBusters: The Explosive Exhibition," bringing the Discovery Channel's Emmy-nominated series to life. Family-friendly displays, live demonstrations and hands-on activities allow visitors to prove or bust some popular myths. Also new this year is the AstraZeneca Human Edge exhibition hall - a 10,000-square-foot space with more than 50 exhibits exploring the boundaries of the human "machine."

Toronto has so many museums, art galleries, theaters and festivals that you'll have no trouble filling every hour. For an overview, visit seetorontonow.com.

There are also plenty of options for lodging. Popular with AAA members are:

n Best Western Primrose Hotel Downtown, with rates from $119 to $299 a night;

n Cambridge Suites Hotel, from $199 to $699 a night;

n Courtyard By Marriott Downtown, from $139 to $309 a night;

n The Fairmont Royal York, from $299 to $699 a night; and

n Hyatt Regency Toronto on King, from $99 to $499 a night.

Canada and the United States have long been allies, but it's important to remember that they are separate countries, each with its own laws, customs and monetary systems. A U.S. dollar is not the same as a Canadian dollar. A Canadian dollar currently equals about 82 cents in U.S. currency.

Visiting Canada is not the same as, say, visiting Ohio. You must cross an international border each way. Visitors entering Canada must clear customs. Although in some cases a passport is not required, AAA recommends that all travelers who plan to travel outside the United States obtain a passport. Visitors from any country other than the U.S. have always needed a passport to enter Canada.

On the other hand, because of a friendly border crossing agreement between Canada and the United States, Canada Border Services did not require U.S. citizens to present a passport to enter Canada. This friendly border crossing agreement used to be mutual; however, now the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requires that U.S. citizens have a passport to return home. In this way, passport requirements for Canada and U.S. borders are different on paper, but are in practice, the same.

Children 15 years of age and younger are now required to show proof of citizenship (a certified copy of their birth certificate is acceptable). They are not required to show a photo ID. If you are traveling with children, you should carry identification for each child. Divorced parents who share custody of their children should carry copies of the legal custody documents. Adults who are not parents or guardians should have written permission from the parents or guardians to supervise the children.

When traveling with a group of vehicles, parents or guardians should travel in the same vehicle as the children when arriving at the border. Customs officers are looking for missing children and may ask questions about the children who are traveling with you.

Every 30 days, returning U.S. citizens are allowed to bring back $800 (retail value) in merchandise duty-free, provided they have been out of the United States for at least 48 hours. This amount can include:

n 1 carton of cigarettes

n 100 cigars (not Cuban)

n 2 kilograms of smoking tobacco

n 1 liter of liquor, provided the buyer is 21 years of age.

The following items are not permitted into the United States:

n Cuban or Iranian products

n Fruits and vegetables

n Uncooked grains

Mitzi Harrison manages AAA Travel for the Charleston area and divides her time between Cincinnati and West Virginia. For more information on Toronto and other destinations, stop by the AAA Charleston office or call one of the AAA travel professionals - Janice Adkins, Lia Ireland, Amy Sisson, Becky Wallace and Barbara Wing - at 304-925-1136.

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Chorus finds plenty to sing about on colossal trip to Italy http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150719/GZ05/150719526 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150719/GZ05/150719526 Sun, 19 Jul 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Dawn Nolan CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Not everyone can say that they've attended Mass in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City - let alone gotten special permission to perform there with the use of the cathedral's organ and trumpet. But 18-year-old Ivy Hodges and 31 other members of the Appalachian Children's Chorus concert choir can.

St. Peter's was just one of the stops on the group's nine-day performance tour of Italy last month, but it was easily the most memorable - especially for Hodges, who, after seven years, sang her last note as part of the choir at the famed church.

Hodges will start school at West Virginia State University, majoring in music education, in the fall.

"It was really special to have had my last concert there," Hodges said. "It helps to wrap up all the memories that I've had while in this choir.

"I'm very thankful. I doubt that I'd ever get to go [to Italy] again unless I won the lottery."

The choir also performed at other landmarks, including Saint Mark's Basilica in Venice, Montecatini's Terme Tettuccio in Tuscany (with the Ko'olauloa Children's Chorus, hula dancers from the Halau Hula Olana school, and the Polynesian Cultural Center's Fire Dancers) and St. Paul's Within the Walls in Rome during the trip.

ACC founder and artistic director Selina Midkiff said the ACC's concert choir, composed of youths in grades six through 12, many of whom have graduated from ACC's other choirs, try to go on an extensive performance tour like the one to Italy every two years.

"We've been to England, Prague, Austria, Hawaii, New York, Ireland - to name a few," she said.

But the cost of a trip like this isn't cheap - this one totaled over $3,800 per person, and Midkiff said the ACC can provide only limited financial assistance.

"So we offer fundraising opportunities, and then the kids raise the money themselves."

The tours coincide with ACC's mission to "develop artistic excellence, quality music education and extraordinary opportunities for West Virginia's youth."

"It's extraordinary," Midkiff said.

"The opportunities that these kids get to sing and represent West Virginia are remarkable. They're getting a taste of other cultures and the history of these areas. It's stuff that most of them will only see in movies."

Traveling to Italy was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for 13-year-old Emily Ronk. "It was my first time on a plane," she said. "I've really wanted to travel and going outside of the countries was one of the things that I had wanted to do when I got older. It was very neat to see the different aspects of their culture.

"It made me realize there is more to life than just West Virginia, that there is a whole world to explore."

To ensure her return trip to Rome, Ronk even tossed a coin in the Trevi Fountain, a longstanding tradition for visitors.

"Ms. Midkiff told me that she had done it before and gone back," Ronk said.

Twelve-year-old Amelia Allen had traveled domestically with ACC, but Italy was the first international trip she has taken with the group. "It's definitely the farthest I've gone," she said.

While a large part of the trip was spent preparing and performing for scheduled shows, Midkiff said that their itineraries also included time for sightseeing and tours of museums, galleries and historical sites.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa was a majority favorite. "It was insane," 14-year-old Ben Browning said.

"Climbing the stairs to the top is just as nerve-wracking as it looks. You always have this feeling of falling, but it was a lot of fun."

"You have to climb a lot of steps," Allen said. "But the views are amazing. It was one of the coolest things we did."

And who could forget the food?

"The food was really good," Allen said.

"It tastes pretty much the same, but a little bit fresher," said Browning. "The lasagna was so much better, though. It's just one thing I'll miss. I had a lot of fun and so many experiences that I bet no kid from West Virginia has ever had."

For more on the ACC concert choir's trip to Italy, visit www.wvacc.org/articles/accs-concert-choir-italy.

Reach Dawn Nolan at dawn.nolan@wvgazette.com, 304-348-1230 or follow @DawnNolanWV on Twitter.

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Shark attacks leave Outer Banks waters emptier http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150718/GZ01/150719270 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150718/GZ01/150719270 Sat, 18 Jul 2015 20:38:00 -0400 By Jake Jarvis If it weren't for an unusually empty ocean at the Outer Banks, Haley Withrow might not have known about a recent series of incidents which have been taking place in the waters.

While the media has been reporting a string of shark attacks off the North Carolina coast this summer, Withrow, 20, of St. Albans, hadn't heard the bad news.

That quickly changed.

"When we was down there, there was four shark attacks," Withrow said. "I'm not really big on the ocean anyways, so I wasn't going to get in the water, that's for sure."

Withrow and her family already had reservations to stay for a week in a beach house. They didn't want to cancel or change their plans, despite their fears and hesitations.

She could tell people at the beach were nervous, though. She hardly saw anyone in the water except a few surfers.

"It really scared everybody," she said. "You could tell."

The Withrows, like some other West Virginia families, chose the Outer Banks as their vacation spot because they felt it's more family-oriented, it's cooler in the night time and they see fewer tourists.

This March, Withrow's grandparents made reservations for a week-long stay in the Outer Banks town of Duck. Would they have booked the stay if they knew what was to come?

Withrow isn't sure. Her grandparents, who came along for the vacation, watched dutifully over Withrow's four brothers and sisters, warning them, "Don't go out too far in the water."

"The past two years we haven't gone on a family vacation, but every year before that we would always go to the Outer Banks and generally the same city in Duck," Withrow said.

She said her family and others go to this part of North Carolina to fish. Officials in the area warn against swimming near a fishing line because the bait in the water can attract a shark.

And despite the rise in shark attacks, officials don't expect the tourism business to hurt anytime soon.

Lee Nettles is the executive director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau and works to promote tourism in the area. Nettles said the Outer Banks lodging business, which sees about 5 million tourists a year, won't be affected by the shark attacks.

About 80 percent of the Outer Banks' lodging business comes from places that require at least week-long stays, according to Nettles.

Most tourists don't make a spur of the moment decision to vacation in that area like they do other areas along North Carolina's coast.

"To an extent, we're insulated from an immediate dip," Nettles said.

North Carolina State Tourism Director Wil Tuttel said, according to informal surveys with tourism partners in the area, the state has not seen a decline in tourism.

"I think if we see [lodging] cancellations, it'll be later in the summer," Tuttel said. "Because of how expensive it is, it would probably be later in the year after people have time to make alternative plans."

Still, tourism officials like Nettles and Tuttel have received worried calls from people asking about the shark attacks. Officials remind them that shark attacks are isolated incidents and that there are precautions they can take.

Officials suggest beachgoers not swim in the early morning or late night, not swim near a pier or near where someone is fishing, not wear jewelry in the water, and swim in groups rather than alone.

Reach Jake Jarvis at jake.jarvis@wvgazette.com, 304-348-7905 or follow @NewsroomJake on Twitter.

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Tamarack's Best of W.Va. exhibit opens http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150715/GZ05/150719480 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150715/GZ05/150719480 Wed, 15 Jul 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Dawn Nolan More than 80 of the Mountain State's most talented artists have their work on display as part of The Best of West Virginia Open Juried Exhibition, held at Tamarack's David L. Dickirson Fine Arts Gallery.

Gallery manager Molly Baker Halstead said this exhibition is unique because it is not limited to those who have been juried into Tamarack.

"It's the only exhibition that Tamarack hosts that is open to any artists or artisans that are living in West Virginia," Halstead said.

While some of the exhibitors are juried Tamarack artisans, Halstead said, a large number are not, and that's a good thing.

"It allows us to see work that we're not familiar with and meet other artists from around the state," she said. "It also gives them an introduction to the facility."

The Best of West Virginia Open Juried Exhibition runs through Aug. 9. For more information, visit <URL destination="www.tamarackwv.com/fine-art-gallery/best-of-wv-open-juried-exhibition.html ">www.tamarackwv.com/fine-art-gallery/best-of-wv-open-juried-exhibition.html.

</URL>The following artists have been accepted into the 2015 Best of West Virginia Open Juried Exhibition at Tamarack:

Kanawha County

Kathy Boland

John Crede

Joyce Waltz Daniels

Robin Hammer & Chris Dutch

Sharon Harms

Deborah Herndon

Tsukasa Kambara

Staci Leech-Cornell

Herb Miller

Mark Tobin Moore

Janet Parker

Lynn Payne

Morgan Richards

Daniel Riffle

Randy Selbe

Clayton Spangler

Regina Swim

Byron Young (3rd place)

Braxton County

Tiera Floyd

Betty Rivard

Cabell County

Mary Almond

Linda Clifford

Dena Jane Gilchrist

Vernon Howell

Laura Moul

Carter Taylor Seaton

Mary Ellen Shank

Clay County

Keith Lahti

Doddridge County

Martha Reynolds

Fayette County

Paul Corbit Brown

Ginger Danz

Tara Fowler

Kimberly Sexton

Molly Wolff

Grant County

Sandra Wright (Winner David L. Dickirson Best in Show)

Greenbrier County

Alex Brand (Award of Merit)

Jeanne Brenneman

Jorn Mork

John Wesley Williams

Hampshire County

Susan Feller

Hancock County

Stephen Opet

Jackson County

Erin McKown

Asuka Ng

Larry Weese Jr.

Lewis County

Mik Wright

Lincoln County

Kevin King

Ric MacDowell

Charles Ott

Mason County

Jan Haddox

Angie Lambert

Mercer County

Kevin Bennington

Jamey Biggs

John Coffey

Aleta Cortes

Sarah Hampton

Monongalia County

Linda Gribko

Jamie Lester

Monroe County

Kylene Babski

Morgan County

Jane Frenke

Ohio County

Cheryl Ryan Harshman

Robert Villamanga

April Waltz

Pleasants County

Karen Chamblin

Pocahontas County

Laurie Cameron

Putnam County

Pat Cross

Michael Garnes

Todd Williams

Barbara Marsh Wilson

Raleigh County

Jeffrey A. Almond

Brenda Kincaid

Jaime Pettry

Timothy Tilley

Billy Heath III

Tammy McGraw

Nicole Suptic

Jessica Sutphin

Shir Wooton (2nd place)

Randolph County

Mary Ann Honcharick

Upshur County

Pamela Adams

Andrew Thorne

Wayne County

Ann Grimes

Kathy Welch

Webster County

Peter Cornett

Wood County

Lavana Lemley

Akemi Matsumoto

Jeff Morehead & Becky Anderson

Christine Rhodes

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For cool summer travel plans, head to Wisconsin's Northwoods http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150712/GZ05/150719861 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150712/GZ05/150719861 Sun, 12 Jul 2015 14:02:11 -0400 By Terry Robe For the Sunday Gazette-Mail "Yoho!"

For lumberjacks, that four-letter exclamation is what 'Oorah!' is for Marines. At least that's what they tell you in Hayward, Wisconsin, where the 56th annual Lumberjack World Championships - sponsored by Dinty Moore, the beef stew people, naturally - will roll in July 23-25.

The city of Hayward was named for Anthony Judson Hayward, who organized the North Wisconsin Lumber Company in 1881. With about 2,300 residents now, it's the seat of Sawyer County - which got its name not from the leading local occupation but from one Philetus Sawyer.

At the peak of the harvest, in 1890, log drivers (also known as river pigs) used pike poles and peaveys to move 452 million board-feet of white pine down the St. Croix River and through the Gap of the St. Croix Boom Company's sorting works, just north of Stillwater, Minnesota. The last log passed through the Gap 101 years ago.

But this knotty heritage is still celebrated in Wisconsin's Northwoods. Lodges and restaurants hew to the Caribou Coffee esthetic of log posts and beams and varnished-wood walls, accented with mounted beasts and fish. And every summer, dozens of teenagers and adults take birling (log-rolling) lessons with the Namekagon River Rollers, founded in 1964.

The River Rollers do their thing on a former North Wisconsin Lumber Company holding pond, the scenic, grandstand-surrounded centerpiece of Lumberjack Village, the site of the World Championships and, late May through August, Fred Scheer's Lumberjack Shows. In the Scheer shows - something like "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" minus the brides and the dancing - hunky young men in plaid shirts and orange "Stihl" suspenders compete to awe and entertain the family audience.

At the World Championships, about 100 professionals compete for more than $50,000 in prize money and trophies. The events are: standing chop, underhand chop, springboard chop, single bucking, double bucking, hot saw, relay, Jack & Jill sawing, log rolling, speed climbing and boom run. There is also a women's competition (four events) and an amateur log-rolling competition.

Two of the most prominent names, Cogar and Lentz, belong to West Virginians. Mel Lentz of Diana is a nine-time all-around champion. He and his father, Jason, will compete in many events at this year's championships. As for the Cogars, more than 20 members of the family are active in "some facet of timber sports," according to Arden Cogar Jr., known as Jamie, a civil defense trial attorney at MacCorkle Lavender in Charleston. Among the other Cogars competing this year are Paul, his first cousin, from Diana, and Matthew, his first cousin twice removed, from Cross Lanes.

The center of a Wisconsin land of lakes, Hayward is also home to the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum. Just look for the frighteningly lifelike muskellunge (which is indeed lunging), four-and-a-half stories tall, at the center of a seven-acre spread of buildings and gardens. Forty-four steps inside the musky will take you up to its open mouth for a fine view and a photo next to dino-size teeth.

The Hayward-area lakes are known for northern pike, walleye, perch and bass - both largemouth and smallmouth - but the musky is king. Several world-record specimens were landed by legendary anglers such as Louis Spray and Cal Johnson. Hayward's Musky Festival, first held in 1950, takes place in June, the weekend after Father's Day.

Also on view at the museum are fish mounts; lures, rods and reels of every description; antique fishing boats; a Polaris snowmobile from 1952; and hundreds of outboard motors, chronologically displayed. As the designs of outboards changed over time, they evolved in appearance from waffle irons to pressure cookers to robots.

Hayward's Main Street is worth a stroll, with a mix of cafes and small shops selling leathergoods, jewelry, casual apparel, Wisconsin souvenirs, Packers merchandise, wine (made from California and Washington grapes) and candy. Music plays from speakers along the sidewalk.

Slightly farther off are Lynn's Meats, for sandwiches, local foodstuffs and bones for the largest dogs imaginable; Lynne Marie's Candies, where the fudge is worked on a slab and you can find everything from Jolly Ranchers to Kookaburra licorice from Australia; and, if you dare, the pale green Moccasin Bar, with its "wildlife museum" of taxidermied critters.

Swimming, boating, fishing, hunting and golf are the traditional Northwoods pastimes, but some relatively recent additions are now hugely popular.

The Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival, a mountain-bike race, starts in Hayward and ends 16 miles northeast in the town of Cable (pop. 800). This year's race is Sept. 18-20, but the lottery to select the 3,100 riders closed March 15. The first year the race was held, 1983, there were 27 competitors.

In the other direction, from Cable to Hayward, trek the more than 10,000 entrants in the American Birkebeiner, a 51-kilometer cross-country skiing marathon that began in 1973. The date for 2016 is Feb. 20.

The area's extensive trail systems for hiking, mountain biking, ATV-ing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are of course available, in season, for recreational purposes.

"Silent sports drive our business," says Mick Endersbe, co-owner with his wife Beth of Rivers Eatery in Cable, a restaurant in a former potato warehouse that specializes in hand-stretched, wood-fired pizza. During the "Birkie," the restaurant serves 600 pies in 10 hours - one per minute, Endersbe notes.

Also in Cable is Garmisch USA Resort, with Alpine-style guest homes around a lodge built by a wealthy Chicago family in 1927. Its restaurant, overlooking Lake Namakagon, offers Bavarian dishes and Wisconsin beers such as Esser's, Leinenkugel and New Glarus on tap.

A few steins of these, or the many Wisconsin craft beers, and you'll be saying 'Yoho!' in no time.

Hayward is about 900 miles from Charleston. The nearest major airports are Minneapolis-St. Paul (about 150 miles southwest of Hayward) and Duluth (about 75 miles north).

Terry Robe is a freelance writer on travel and the arts. Email Robe at terryrobe1@gmail.com.

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Turnpike holiday traffic up over last year http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150706/GZ01/150709593 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150706/GZ01/150709593 Mon, 6 Jul 2015 16:22:27 -0400 By Phil Kabler Fourth of July holiday traffic on the West Virginia Turnpike was up slightly over last year, but up substantially from the last time the holiday fell on a Saturday, state Parkways General Manager Greg Barr said Monday.

Since the Independence Day holiday can fall on any day of the week, the Parkways Authority compares traffic averages over an 11-day period, from the Thursday of the week prior to the Sunday after the holiday, he said.

Using that comparison, holiday traffic this year was up just 1 percent over 2014, which Barr said was disappointing, since Turnpike traffic was up 3 percent in June, and is up 3.8 percent for the year-to-date.

"There's a trend of a 3 to 4 percent increase in traffic," he said.

However, compared to the last time July 4 fell on a Saturday, in 2009, traffic was up 9 percent for the four-day holiday weekend, Barr noted.

From Thursday through Sunday, the Turnpike handled 553,000 toll transactions, up from 507,000 over the same period in 2009.

"Six years later, we've seen some good increases in traffic," Barr said.

He noted that the country was in the midst of a severe recession in 2009, while 2015 holiday traffic likely got a boost from The Greenbrier Classic PGA golf tournament in nearby White Sulphur Springs.

Barr said that was reflected in Saturday transactions of 98,000, up 11,000 transactions or 14 percent, from July 4, 2009.

Thursday was the busiest travel day, with 156,000 transactions, up 6 percent from 2009, while Sunday saw 150,000 transactions, up 11 percent. Friday had 148,000 transactions, up 8 percent.

Traffic flowed smoothly during the holiday weekend, with the exception of Thursday afternoon, when two accidents involving three tractor-trailer trucks resulted in a total of about three hours of delays for southbound travelers, Barr said.

"That's when it was raining real hard, and inevitably, these tractor trailers get going too fast into curves," he said.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com, 304-348-1220, or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.

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WV Travel Team: Float WV's wild, wonderful water trails http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150705/GZ05/150709822 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150705/GZ05/150709822 Sun, 5 Jul 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Andrea B. Bond WV Travel Team CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The word "trail" evokes images of winding paths through the woods, but not all trails are grounded. For many adventurers, trail navigation requires a paddle, a personal flotation device and a boat, tube or paddle board.

Some of my favorite childhood memories are of canoeing with my dad and brother on the Mud River near where I grew up. As an adult, spending a peaceful day on the river takes me back to simpler times when my biggest concern was how many fireflies I could catch or what we were having for dinner.

I had the opportunity to celebrate National Trails Day this year with a friend from the GoToWV Team. We enjoyed a day on the Upper Cheat River Water Trail as part of the Meet the Cheat Community Paddle, an annual float trip sponsored by Friends of the Cheat to help maintain upkeep of the water trail and its access points.

A motley crew of roughly 40 paddlers, a handful of children and half a dozen dogs converged on Blackwater Outdoor Adventures to begin the festivities. The outfitter rents canoes, sit-on-top kayaks, tubes and SUP boards (stand-up paddle boards) and provides shuttle service to paddlers on the Cheat. Located in Parsons about three hours north of Charleston, BOA is a short drive from Canaan Valley and Blackwater Falls state parks.

The Cheat is perhaps best known for its premier whitewater runs, when spring rains and snowmelt combine to create roaring Class V rapids through the scenic Cheat Canyon from Preston to Monongalia counties. But farther south, the river winds peacefully past farmland and woods, its long stretches of flat water broken into gentle ripples best suited for float trips.

With its headwaters in the Monongahela National Forest, the Cheat's remote beauty is part of its appeal. The southern portion of the river is wide and shallow and surrounded on either side by woods and farmland. The only signs of civilization we spotted as we paddled northward (the Cheat is distinctive in that it runs south to north) were a few vacation cottages peeking through the trees.

While human activity is rare on the Cheat, wildlife is abundant. On any given day one might spy deer, Canada geese, a bald eagle or even a black bear. The Delaware Indians called this river Ach-sin-ha-nac, meaning "stony river" - its rocky riverbed evident through the Cheat's crystal waters.

Sandbars along the river made an easy takeout as we stopped midway for a break to stretch our legs and grab a snack. Average speed for paddlers is about 2 miles per hour - roughly a half-day for an 8-mile section, so we planned accordingly. Potable water and sunscreen are must-haves. Snacks, sunglasses, cameras, binoculars and fishing gear are optional.

Any item that is not waterproof should be stowed in a dry bag. (I don't recall anyone from our group tipping over, but better safe than sorry.)

The float trip concluded with a takeout and picnic on the riverbank. "Meet the Cheat" is an annual event, but rentals and shuttle services can be arranged with BOA during other times of the year, weather permitting. PFDs are provided with boat rentals.

Water trails are a relatively new concept in West Virginia. People have been paddling the rivers for hundreds of years, but now sections of rivers and lakes have been mapped out with access points, resting areas and other points of interest identified for use by nonmotorized watercraft, making it easier than ever to spend a day on the water.

Just outside Charleston, the Elk River and Coal River water trails continue to attract scores of paddlers who come to socialize and bask in the beauty of the area. The Elk River Water Trail begins at the Sutton Dam and continues through Braxton, Clay and Kanawha counties. The trail has 12 primary access points off Interstate 79 exits 1 through 62. The 88-mile-long Walhonde Water Trail covers most of the Big, Little and main Coal rivers and offers 17 access points.

Upcoming events include the 11th annual Tour de Coal on Saturday and the third annual Elk River Canoe and Kayak Float on July 18.

For more information, visit these websites:

Elk River Water Trail: www.braxtonwv.org

Coal River Water Trail: coalrivergroup.com

Upper Cheat River Water Trail: www.cheatriverwatertrail.org

Andrea B. Bond is a public information specialist with the West Virginia Department of Tourism. For more information, call 800-CALL-WVA or visit GoToWV.com. Share your "Real West Virginia" stories on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with #GoToWV and #RealWV.

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West Virginians find 'Common Notes' in exchange visit to Romania http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150701/GZ05/150709996 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150701/GZ05/150709996 Wed, 1 Jul 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Anna Patrick Staff writer When Aubrey Lewis received a call to talk about her recent visit to Romania, she wasn't surprised. "I was just talking about this today, actually," the recent graduate of Wahama High School said.

Relating various parts of her two week educational trip - from a tour of "Dracula's Castle" to accidentally eating liver to visiting the U.S. Embassy - has become a common, enjoyable practice for the Point Pleasant native.

Since returning, she's shared her experience abroad at a handful of elementary and middle schools, incorporated Romanian traditions into her graduation party and now chats with her Romanian friends online - through English and, the occasional Romanian phrase - daily.

The impact of her first authentic experience abroad- she's visited a handful of countries during family cruises - is clear.

"I'm already planning a trip to take my family to Romania," she said.

Lewis was one of three Wahama High School seniors to visit Romania through a partnership between the Clay Center and the Alexandru Stefulescu Gorj County Museum, in Targu Jiu, Romania.

The visit is just one piece of a larger, yearlong educational partnership between the two museums and their participating high schools - Wahama, in Mason County, and the Constantin Brailoiu Music and Arts High School, in Targu Jiu. The program officially concluded at the close of the 2014-15 school year.

By combining the old and the new, the participants learned about each other's cultural heritage and traditional music through the use of technology. They shared stories and examples of cultural practices during Skype calls. They posted digital stories to a shared Google+ site and mixed Romanian traditional music with Appalachian bluegrass tunes using the music-editing software GarageBand. They shared personal stories with distant pen pals via email.

The yearlong program kicked off with an opening ceremony held at the Clay Center in October 2014. Just like the Wahama High students' visit to Romania, participating Romania students, teachers, professional musicians and museum representatives traveled to West Virginia to be on hand for the program's official launch.

The program, "Common Notes: Connecting Folk Traditions through Technology," was made possible by a Museum Connect grant, which is administered by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the American Alliance of Museums.

Out of 60 museums to apply for the grant, the Clay Center and its Romanian counterpart were one of only nine partnerships to be chosen. The project received $78,000.

At the time of the project's launch, Bill Jeffries, who was the director of strategic innovation for the Clay Center, said, "This is the most prestigious grant the Clay Center had ever received."

After the opening ceremonies, the Romanian representatives spent two weeks in the Mountain State. They completed technical training, to learn the software programs that would be used to complete the digital projects. They visited well-known sites, such as the New River Gorge, Tamarack and the Huntington Museum of Art.

The group traveled to Wahama High to observe classes. Professional Romanian folk musicians accompanying the group partnered with Dan and Robin Kessinger, local Appalachian folk musicians, to perform in multiple concerts during their visit. The Kessingers are leading national flat-pick guitarists.

For the Romanian students, this was their first flight on an airplane and their first visit to the United States.

Following the Romanian group's initial visit, 25 students from both schools stayed in contact to complete their virtual projects - audio mash-ups and digital stories.

The stories covered topics related to cultural heritage and the experiences shared between the two classes during their exchange visits.

"It was a combination of looking at traditions - looking at both past and current," said Lewis Ferguson, director of education for the Clay Center. "It's one of those projects where you think you know where it's going to go, and then it sort of follows its own direction."

The audio mash-ups required the students to combine a traditional Romanian folk song with an Appalachian folk song.

"It kind of highlights that music is universal and there are relationships in all cultures of music that blend well with each other," said John Reed, band director at Wahama High. "They got a deeper understanding of how music is a universal language."

Ferguson said the Clay Center hopes to post the completed projects to its website, theclaycenter.org, in the coming months.

In the final leg of the program, Lewis and fellow Wahama High students Jacob Petry and Garret Green, Wahama music teachers Rachel Reynolds and John Reed, the Kessingers and the Clay Center's Ferguson, Melissa Rhodes and Jamie Adamik visited Romania for a similar two-week trip, from March 31 to April 14.

For all of the students and some of the adults, this was the first time they had been outside of the United States.

The group spent more than 24 hours traveling on three flights to reach Bucharest, Romania.

"We took them on a marathon for their very first time [abroad]," said Adamik, Clay Community Arts manager and Performing Arts educator.

"There was a lot of nervousness, especially from the kids," Ferguson said. "[They were] asking a lot of questions - 'What do we do if?' and 'What do we do if?' "

After taking a day and half to settle into their new surroundings and time zone, the group was off to its host city, Targu Jiu, to meet with its partnering school and museum. A news conference, very similar to the Clay Center's October ceremony, was held at the Alexandru Stefulescu Gorj County Museum.

After spending months learning the language, Ferguson delivered the Clay Center's remarks in Romanian.

They spent a similar day at their partnering school. Reynolds and Reed taught music classes - Reynolds led a percussion master class on exploring different rhythms, and Reed taught the hosts how to understand how instruments blend together.

Similar to the October visit to West Virginia, the folk musicians from both countries performed in a number of concerts.

Romania's long history was not lost on the group members as they visited historic and cultural sites - from museums to Bran Castle, commonly known as Dracula's Castle, to several monasteries. They even celebrated an Eastern Orthodox Easter with a Midnight Mass.

"Once we got over there, we realized that we had a lot of things in common with them - from geography and folk traditions," said Rhodes, professional development coordinator and technology education specialist. "Even though we are really far apart, we do have a lot of things that are similar. We have a similar value of folk traditions - we value our traditional music."

Ferguson said that during the Romania visit, some lasting friendships between the students were formed.

"I know from our students, I just saw all the nervousness from the first day just melt immediately as they started talking to the students," he said. "They were pretty inseparable."

In addition to the digital stories and the audio mash-ups, Rhodes said there are immeasurable outcomes of the project.

"It's not only just the physical product but also with the fact that we have increased cultural awareness and understanding between both groups of kids," she said. "That's not something that you can easily see or measure, but that absolutely has definitely happened."

Adding to her point, Ferguson said, "People can come to your school and give you a lesson on anything or you can read it out of a book, but once you are actually there learning about it, it's just eye opening. It's made me want to study abroad."

"We think, as Americans, that our history is awesome and we think back to the 1800s and think that is so old," said Petry, who is preparing to leave for U.S. Army basic training. "Their history dated back to the 14th century. We went to a monastery that was so old, the natural wood floor we stood on was from the 1300s. The history was so amazing. The newest building in the town we were in was built in 1970. That's older than my parents."

"That's an experience that they are going to carry with them for the rest of their lives," Rhodes said. "I think that's going to give them a lot of confidence, especially since they are leaving home and going to college."

The Clay Center representatives said they are hopeful they can set up a similar program with another West Virginia school next year, and are seeking educational grants to support that project.

Reach Anna Patrick at anna.patrick@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4881.

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Community Notes http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150701/GZ05/150709997 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150701/GZ05/150709997 Wed, 1 Jul 2015 00:01:00 -0400 Stonewall Fourth of July

WESTON, W.Va. - Stonewall Resort will host a Fourth of July celebration, with fireworks, music and recreational activities for the whole family, beginning with a performance by Shane Meade at 3 p.m. Friday, followed by Dustin McCray at 5:30 p.m., at Lightburn's Restaurant, overlooking the entire resort.

A fireworks display visible from anywhere on the property will begin around 9:45 p.m.

Music begins at 2 p.m. Saturday. Guests are encouraged to bring lawn chairs.

Food and beverages will be available for purchase.

Those not staying overnight are welcome to enjoy the music and fireworks for a $5-per-car park entrance fee.

The resort will host "flag golf," "fling golf" and a "putting into the darkness" tournament, for everyone at the Palmer Signature Golf Course on Saturday. The flag golf tournament runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and special pricing applies. The fling golf tournament offers tee times from 4-5 p.m. and 6-7 p.m. Saturday. The cost is $15 per person and prizes will be awarded.

Tee times are required, and can be made by calling the Golf Shop, at 304-269-8885.

Beginning at 7:30 p.m., guests can participate in the putting into the darkness tournament. Participants should meet at the patio of the golf clubhouse.

Additionally, Little Sorrel, the resort's excursion boat, will offer tours of Stonewall Jackson Lake throughout the weekend. Canoes, kayaks and other watercraft are available and offer a great way to explore the lake or to do some fishing.

For additional information or room reservations, call Stonewall Resort, at 304-269-7400, or visit the website, at www.StonewallResort.com.

Ripley patriotic week

RIPLEY, W.Va. - The town of Ripley is in the midst of a full week of activities leading to the Fourth of July, including the 52nd-annual Mountain State Art & Craft Fair from Thursday through Saturday at nearby Cedar Lakes Conference Center.

The annual carnival will be located on the downtown parking lot through Saturday, and an antique and flea market returns to the Jackson County Livestock Market, also through Saturday.

Unity in the Community Family Fun Night is scheduled from 7-9 p.m. Wednesday on the courthouse lawn.

New additions to the lineup are the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame Traveling Museum, on Thursday and Friday evenings in downtown Ripley. Minnie Pearl will be portrayed by Denise Giardina, at 7 p.m. Thursday, in the historic Alpine Theatre through the WV Humanities Council's History Alive!

Friday activities include the first Fourth Fibbin' Contest, at 7 p.m. in the Alpine. The liar's contest will be hosted by award-winning comedian Jacob Hall. Class Act, a Ripley High all-class reunion, with bluegrass music, is planned on the courthouse lawn beginning at 6:30 p.m.

July Fourth highlights include the Firecracker 2-Miler race, at 11:30 a.m.

A full day of free entertainment will feature The Time Machine Band (11 a.m.), Country Showdown Talent Show (2 p.m.), magician Matt Fore (4:30 p.m.), Hogan's Goat (6 p.m.) and DenZon (8:30 p.m.).

For complete details, see Ripley4thofJuly.us, VisitRipleyWV.com or call 304-514-2609.

For the Mountain State Art & Craft Fair schedule of events, see MSACF.com.

'Harold and the Purple Crayon'

LEWISBURG, W.Va. - The Greenbrier Valley Theatre presents a colorful trip through one little boy's imagination in this year's Smucker's PB&J Café production of "Harold and the Purple Crayon," Wednesday and Thursday, as well as July 6-8, at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets are $14 for general admission, $12 for seniors and $10 for children/students. Child tickets include a meal.

For more information, call the GVT Box Office, at 304-645-3838, or visit www.gvtheatre.org.

Entrepreneurs sought

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The West Virginia Regional Technology Park will offer FastTrac® TechVenture™ through Kauffman FastTrac® on Saturdays from Aug. 1 through Sept. 19.

The course is four hours per week for eight weeks.

Applications for aspiring entrepreneurs in the early stages of developing a technology- or science-based business are available at www.wvable.com.

The program will teach entrepreneurs how to identify and meet market needs, access human, business, and financial resources and navigate intellectual property protection, fundraising and legal processes.

The course also facilitates networking between entrepreneurs and professionals.

The cost is $400 and scholarships are available.

The program will be held in Building 740 at the WVRTP, located at 1740 Union Carbide Drive, South Charleston.

Those interested should contact Kelsey Clough, communications manager at the WVRTP, at kelsey.clough@wvrtp.com or 304-881-0433. Visit www.wvable.com for more information.

Ice Cream Social

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Heritage Farm Museum and Village, located at 3300 Harvey Road, Huntington, will host an Ice Cream Social Way Back Weekend on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Visitors can learn from farm workers about the ingredients that go into making the ice cream and see how technology of yesteryear made ice cream possible.

In addition to the ice cream, visitors can tour museums, take a wagon ride, play in the Pioneer Games, enjoy the sights and sounds of cannon fire, watch glassmakers and hear a special reading of the Declaration of Independence, at 1 p.m. At 1:30 p.m., there will be a special Heritage Dance, for parents and their children.

Museums include Progress, Doll, Country Store, Children's, Transportation, Industry and the petting zoo.

There also will be artisans demonstrating their skills and selling items.

Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for children ages 3-12.

For more information, call 304-522-1244 or visit the museum's website, at www.heritagefarmmuseum.com.

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WV Travel Team: Blennerhassetts left lasting imprint on Parkersburg http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150628/GZ05/150629448 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150628/GZ05/150629448 Sun, 28 Jun 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Jeanne Mozier WV Travel Team PARKERSBURG, W.Va. - Countless thousands of contemporary visitors to Parkersburg have the Blennerhassett name on their lips as they tour Blennerhassett Island and the downtown Blennerhassett Museum as well as stay in the richly elegant historic Blennerhassett Hotel.

It is a strange form of immortality for a tragic Irish couple who spent less than a decade in the area. Their greatest contribution - an elaborate Georgian-style mansion built on the private Ohio River island that now bears their name - was destroyed by fire in 1811 only a few years after they fled.

Who were Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett and why are they central to any visit to Parkersburg?

Once he inherited the family fortune, Harman Blennerhassett fled to frontier America with his niece, Margaret, who was also his wife, a shocking connection for 18th-century Ireland. He was also driven by fear of involvement in treason, not so shocking for that time and place.

By 1800, the couple had purchased the upper section of the nearly four-mile island in the Ohio River, built their curved-wing mansion, and were wealthy darlings of frontier society. Treason once again attached itself to the Blennerhassetts as they became involved in one of the great political mysteries of American history - the alleged conspiracy by former Vice President Aaron Burr to establish a separate nation in the West. Arrested along with Burr, the Blennerhassetts desperately fled the island, never to return. Continued tragedy dogged the couple, their children and grandchildren, resulting in the line dying out in 1862.

The Blennerhassett name, however, is golden in Parkersburg, and a 1985 replica of their vanished mansion is the centerpiece of a popular state park with regular tours and a flock of well-trained docents telling the Blennerhassett story.

Brunch with Margaret Blennerhassett, a special Thursday treat at the mansion monthly from June through October, is replete with gossip about Burr and his relentless rival, Thomas Jefferson, who plays the villain in sympathetic versions of the historic conspiracy story. Many claim to see Margaret's ghost walking along the shore in a white dress reportedly searching for the elusive grave of her 2-year-old daughter.

The trip to and from the island is the highlight of any visit to Blennerhassett State Park. The state-owned sternwheeler leaves historic Point Park in downtown Parkersburg and takes passengers on the 15-minute ride downstream across the Ohio River.

The day we were there, rains had pushed the river to levels that threatened to close down the boat ride. The return trip upstream against a rapid current took nearly an hour and required the captain to skillfully dodge floating trees and other debris.

We took the first boat of the day and rode over with costumed docents ready to take up their stations. "Without their more than 15,000 volunteer hours, we couldn't open the park," said one state tourism official about their invaluable contribution.

Maybe it's actually Parkersburg's fate to be branded by fleeting residents. Alexander Parker, for whom the town is named, owned the land but never lived there at all.

The folks who did inhabit the area for thousands of years were native tribes. It's a mystery why the famed Delaware chief, Nemacolin, does not have his name emblazoned on the island where he lived and died in the 1760s.

The extensive American Indian story is now permanently displayed at the Blennerhassett Museum in possibly the single most impressive exhibit in West Virginia.

Seventy handcrafted display units lining more than 60 feet of the brick walls are filled with thousands of artifacts intelligently excavated, classified and interpreted by the collector, Henry Stahl, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His scholarly career included teaching penmanship, a skill highlighted in the hand-lettered exhibit narratives.

Stahl's assemblages range from the expected arrowheads and spear points to copper needles, necklaces and one titled "The Development of Ornamentation."

W.N. Chancellor, a mayor of the city, built the distinctively turreted, brick Blennerhassett Hotel in 1889. A featured player in seasonal ghost tours, Chancellor's ghost still roams the property, complete with cigar smoke. The hotel's latest restoration a decade ago guaranteed contemporary business and recreational travelers both the patina and architecture of a rich history and the convenience of modern amenities.

Rooms are furnished in elegant fabrics and antiques. Beds are marked with the comfort signature of feeling like pillows are taking over your life. Service is so attentive that I kept waiting to hear the snap as staff come alert when any guest even approaches. Most surprising in a historic hotel, the Blennerhassett is aggressively pet-friendly, even offering a silver bowl filled with dog biscuits on an antique table in the lobby.

There is a welcome emphasis on quality food plus inviting dining spaces at the Blennerhassett. The dinner offerings include inventive "small plates" and artisan desserts listed on the extensive wine menu. Special events like monthly "Wine and Dine" paired wine dinners and weekend culinary classes underline the commitment to good food.

The history magnet that draws visitors to Parkersburg goes beyond the Blennerhassett name.

The splendid and extensive Julia-Ann Historic District is largest such district in the state, and at least six historic cemeteries are filled with alluring art and juicy stories like public hangings. Riverview Cemetery bumps up against the mansion-lined streets and provides the final resting place for two governors and West Virginia's first U.S. senator, Peter Van Winkle. John F. Kennedy was a fan of Van Winkle's including him in his Pulitzer Prize-winning account "Profiles in Courage" and visiting the grave in 1960 while campaigning in the state. Van Winkle earned his badge of courage - and ended his political career - by casting the deciding vote against conviction on the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson.

River towns are, by definition, dominated by their river, but none more so than those along the broad, beautiful and oh-so-useful Ohio. Parkersburg, like other fortunate 18th-century frontier towns, exists because of not just one river - the Ohio - but also its tributary the Little Kanawha.

Dominating rivers also mean bridges and floods. The original center of Parkerbsurg is the Point, where the two rivers converge. Today, its perimeter is lined with a huge floodwall.

The river side of the wall has been developed as Point Park with a major outdoor amphitheater, fishing access and the docking area for the sternwheeler to Blennerhassett Island.

Just inside the wall through Gate 10 is the Point Park Market Place, a weekend indoor home for local farmers market vendors, prepared food including an exceptional bakery, and artisans.

The rivers and the history are obvious; the special food treats require a little more exploring but are well worth the effort.

Tasty meals at Mango, a Latin bistro, are available only to those insiders who visit downtown during the week but well worth the planning for arepas, jabritos, criollo sauce and various uses of plantains. Cham's is another family-owned treasure, offering authentic Lebanese cuisine. Just down the block from the Blennerhassett is the Crystal Café, a traditional diner with homemade cinnamon buns on Saturdays and an abandoned Turkish bathhouse in the basement.

It took some explaining for me to "get" NET at the brewpub - North End Tavern is the oldest bar in the state, and a century later became one of West Virginia's first local micro brews. The atmosphere remains that of a local family tavern that happens to grow its own hops.

The founding Roedersheimer family keeps traditional German favorites like smoked liverwurst and bratwurst on the menu, along with vegan and veggie burgers for the health-conscious set. The tank room area is open only on weekends, although the six brews are available all the time by the glass and in growlers.

Searching out NET was the mission that drew us to the north area of Parkersburg. In what we later identified as the "fat-cluster," we also unearthed other local favorites: JR's Donut Castle, where glaze is on everything but the pepperoni rolls; Rubin's Deli; and a couple of the ubiquitous "West Virginia original" City Perks.

Short drives into the countryside expose other attractions. If the Oil and Gas Museum downtown left you wanting more, visit Burning Springs Park, site of the oldest producing oil well in the world. Five nearby motorcycle loop trails cover more than 700 miles of small towns, rivers, mountains, bridges and tunnels.

The most exciting new riding adventure is found at Mountainwood Park, boasting both mountain biking trails and an all new ATV park with camping, primitive cabin and fully equipped beach house options. There are even ATV mud pits on site. The venerable North Bend Rail Trail runs through 13 tunnels and over more than 45 bridges and trestles on its 72-mile route from Parkersburg to Wolf Summit.

Our dinner at Spats in the Blennerhassett Hotel was notable not only for the food - which included an excellent lobster and linguine special and tart cherry crumble - but also for the intriguing company. My husband, Jack, and I were joined by one of today's most famous city residents. Susan Sheppard titles herself a storyteller and historian, parapsychology researcher and psychic. She is sought after by visitors and a legion of national media for her authentic ghost tours, rated among the top 10 in the country, which begin from the hotel seasonally on September and October weekends.

We experienced no hauntings during dinner but enjoyed a scholarly discussion on the variety of observable spirits from imprints to shadows. A "sixth level" West Virginian, Sheppard recently traced her roots back to original settler Morgan Morgan and claims that generations of her "aunties" read cards and consulted spirits.

For more information, contact the Greater Parkersburg Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-752-4982 or online at greaterparkersburg.com.

Jeanne Mozier, of Berkeley Springs, is the author of "Way Out in West Virginia," considered a must-have guide to the wonders and oddities of the Mountain State. She and noted photographer Steve Shaluta recently released the second printing of the coffee table photo book "West Virginia Beauty, Familiar and Rare." Both are available in bookstores throughout the state and from wvbookco.com.

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Dive in! The Cayman Islands are all about the ocean http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150621/GZ05/150629971 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150621/GZ05/150629971 Sun, 21 Jun 2015 00:01:00 -0400 By Eric Douglas For the Sunday Gazette-Mail CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Rising from the sea floor thousands of feet below, Grand Cayman, along with the sister islands of Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, makes an improbable Caribbean paradise.

The islands are small, without much soil or freshwater, and at the most only rise about 60 feet above the sea level. What they do have is incredible warm blue water with a gentle breeze and year-round warm air temperatures.

And scuba diving. The Cayman Islands have lots of scuba diving.

I've been there four times over the last 10 years. The first three times were while conducting safety training for local dive instructors and to do research for my latest novel, "Return to Cayman," which is based on the island.

On my last trip, my "reason" for visiting was to hold a release party and book signing, with all proceeds from book sales benefiting a volunteer effort to restore a coral reef damaged when a cruise ship dropped anchor on a reef.

My real reason for traveling to Grand Cayman, of course, was the legendary diving.

For the avid diver, one of the best places to stay on the island is Sunset House. Sunset House and My Bar are featured prominently in "Return to Cayman" as well. The resort bills itself as "a hotel for divers, by divers" and it does not disappoint. The entire resort is oriented toward making it convenient to scuba dive, either off one of their boats or in unlimited shore diving for guests.

It's easy to get there from Charleston. I generally leave out of Yeager Airport on the 7 a.m. flight to Atlanta and get to Grand Cayman in time for lunch at My Bar. It's a small island, so the commute from the airport literally just takes a few minutes after you clear customs.

Situated about 200 miles south of Cuba, the Cayman Islands are located in the Western Caribbean just south of the Tropic of Cancer. Air and water temperatures hover around 80 degrees with very little variation. The rainy season runs from May through October, roughly corresponding with hurricane season.

The last major storm to hit the island was Ivan in 2004. It tore the island up, tearing roofs off of houses, but since then the island has only suffered on glancing blow from a storm.

The Cayman Islands are a British Overseas Territory, with a mix of about 55,000 Caymanians and expatriates from all over the world. Expats primarily work in the diving, tourism and banking industries. Grand Cayman boasts 600 international banks.

The bigger draw to the island, in terms of sheer numbers of people, is tourism. Nearly every day at least one cruise ship, and often as many as three or four, drops anchor in George Town harbor.

Grand Cayman is regularly voted among the top scuba diving destinations in the world. Divers know Grand Cayman for its wall diving. Coral walls are sheer drop-offs that lead down to abyssal depths. Nutrient-rich water rising from the sea floor feeds colorful, fantastically shaped corals and brings in the large oceanic animals that divers love to see.

In the shallower areas around the island, there are innumerable dive sites, including several intentionally sunk ships that serve as artificial reefs, as well as a 9-foot-tall bronze statue of a mermaid named Amphitrite.

Visitors can easily reach numerous shallow reefs that are perfect for snorkeling or diving with opportunities to see marine life like tarpon, grouper, lobster and moray eels.

For many divers, seeing a sea turtle on a dive is a treat. On my most recent trip to Grand Cayman, I saw at least one sea turtle every day. Primarily you'll find Green and Kemp's Ridley turtles, ranging anywhere from 2 feet long to more than 4 or 5 feet long, moving slowly and finning around without a care in the world.

My first children's book, written for my daughters, is "Sea Turtle Rescue," and we still have a special bond over turtles because of it. For years, hunting took a toll on the turtle population, but now they are protected in Caymanian waters, and the Cayman Turtle Farm is helping bring back the resident population. The turtle farm is open to tours and for experiences where visitors and swim with and touch turtles.

For nondivers, Grand Cayman still has a lot to offer. The Seven Mile Beach area, just west of George Town, has full-service resorts with white sand beaches, parasailing and personal watercraft rentals along with snorkeling and scuba diving charters.

Some of the more notable resorts include the Wyndham Reef Resort, the Westin Seven Mile Beach Resort and Spa and La Cazetta Beach House and Spa.

Probably the most famous attraction on Grand Cayman is Stingray City. Years ago, fishermen would stop in the shallows to clean their catch. The stingray population quickly learned that this was a great opportunity for an easy meal. Daily charters take snorkelers and divers to the area for an up-close encounter.

Whether you want to dive your entire vacation, or if spending time in the water is only part of your idea of a real vacation, Grand Cayman can meet your expectations for a Caribbean getaway.

Most major carriers offer flights to Grand Cayman through Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami, Dallas and New York. To get to Little Cayman or Cayman Brac, you will need to fly to Owen Roberts International Airport on Grand Cayman and then take an island hopper flight with Cayman Airways.

Some of these smaller planes have baggage and weight restrictions, so plan accordingly.

The Cayman Islands accepts both U.S. and the Cayman Island currency, referred to locally as "C.I." In general, prices are listed in C.I., but shops and restaurants will provide the exchange conversion for you. The exchange rate is fixed at $1.25 U.S. to 1 C.I.

Rental cars are widely available on Grand Cayman. Remember: This is a British island, so they drive on the left side. If you don't want to risk it, cabs are available in George Town or at any of the resorts to take you where you want to go for $10 to $20 U.S., depending on your destination.

Freshwater is provided by a saltwater desalination plant and is safe for visitors to drink. Electricity is provided through American-style plugs and is 110 volts, so your chargers and hairdryer are safe to use without an adapter.

Even with an international calling plan, your cellphone probably will not work without a local SIM card. If you have to have your phone, cards and local calling plans are available. Most of the hotels and restaurants do offer free Wi-Fi, making it easy to connect.

Eric Douglas is a Charleston native and author. His latest novel, "Return to Cayman," is a techno-thriller set on Grand Cayman. It is available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon. Find out more at booksbyeric.com.

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Some like it hot! Chili Cookoff brings heat to Charleston's streets http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150616/GZ05/150619472 GZ05 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150616/GZ05/150619472 Tue, 16 Jun 2015 16:10:36 -0400 By Marta Tankersley Hays With late spring temperatures soaring into the 90s, many may be looking to escape the heat - that is, unless they are planning to attend this weekend's 17th annual Smoke on the Water Chill Cookoff.

More than 70 chili cooks will compete to raise funds for HospiceCare (hospicecarewv.org) - bringing more heat to the streets along the Kanawha River at Charleston's Haddad Riverfront Park.

The annual event has also turned into a fierce competition between a number of local law firms vying for a win outside of the courtroom.

Last year, the chili entered by the Jackson Kelly team won the battle of the law firms and the People's Choice Award. But if Lou Ann Cyrus of Shuman, McCuskey & Slicer has anything to do with it, Jackson Kelly won't take home the trophy or the bragging rights again this year.

"We're pretty sure we have an all-new recipe that is going to top theirs," she said.

Thomas Hurney Jr., of Jackson Kelly, agrees they are "the team to beat this year," but has full confidence in his firm's odds to pull out another win.

He credits William "Bill" Powell - from the Martinsburg office - for coming up with the prize-winning secret recipe.

"The Powell chili has a deep, resounding flavor with just the right kick of heat that makes folks want to give us their beads, which we, of course, are glad to accept," he said.

Firms select recipes well in advance of the event.

"To get everyone excited and involved, a couple weeks before, we have an in-house taste-off, where employee volunteers make chili for everyone to taste-test and vote on. The winning chili is the recipe we use," Cyrus said. "We gather the night before to make the chili and have jobs for everyone - from opening cans to chopping veggies to stirring pots. It's a huge social event."

That strategy has paid off in the past. The Shuman, McCuskey & Slicer team won with its Stand-Up Chili a few years ago.

"It was so thick a spoon could stand up in it," Cyrus said.

There is a friendly rivalry that goes along with the contest, too.

"We make jabs at one another, accusing other firms of using dog food in their chili," Cyrus said.

Hurney said he "can only confirm the presence of meat, onions, garlic and spices" - not a can of dog food in sight.

All kidding aside, both lawyers agree that the money raised goes to a very worthy cause.

A strand of Mardi Gras beads is issued with each $1 ticket purchase. Tasters give their beads to the law firm whose chili they like best, and the team with the most beads will win the People's Choice Award.

"While we encourage people to vote for the best-tasting chili, our lawyers also compete with each other and tend to buy us out of beads to be named favorite Law Firm Chili, which helps raise more money for HospiceCare," said Jeff Sikorovsky, marketing director at HospiceCare and a SOTW Committee volunteer.

Attracting regional contestants from seven states annually, the cookoff promises

prize packages of $7,200 in four categories: Homestyle, $500; Salsa, $200; Green, $1,500; and Red, $5,000.

It also offers prizes for the culinary-challenged in the frozen T-shirt contest, $50 - sure to cool things down a bit, and the hot-pepper-eating contest, $100 - sure to heat things back up to a smoldering, red-faced, teary-eyed, off-the-charts hot.

Cooks, who register through the International Chili Society website (chilicookoff.com), begin set-up as early as 7 a.m. on event day. In addition to their equipment and ingredients for the chili to be judged, they bring a gallon of their best to sell as samples.

Crowds who gather at the event should go to one of the three HospiceCare tents on site, to purchase tasting tickets beginning at 11 a.m. While there's not an option to buy a bowl of chili, there will be food trucks on standby to keep participants from going hungry.

"HospiceCare is selling two chili samples for $1; water for $1 and pop for $2," Sikorovsky said. "There will also be beer, wine and several other vendors serving food and drinks - Huskey's of Cross Lanes, Ms. Groovy's Kitchen, Bridge Road Bistro and Ridge View BBQ."

The SOTW Chili Cookoff, which takes about $30,000 to pull off, according to its chairwoman, Darlene Carnochan, aims to raise about $10,000 for HospiceCare. The money will go toward operation expenses for inpatients, as well as out-patients, including both local Hubbard Hospice Houses, Sikorovsky said.

"HospiceCare serves about 350 patients each day and more than 2,500 patients and their families each year throughout 16 counties across south-central West Virginia," he said.

A supporter for many years, Hurney said that when his mother died in 2011, it became personal.

"We asked Hospice in Maryland to help us," he said. "I cannot put into words what their help meant, both by making Mom comfortable and guiding my family through the process."

Jennifer Piercy, one of a family of about 10 volunteers who make up the SOTW Committee and work throughout the year to organize the event, said having fun with the Chili Cookoff is a way to balance the sorrow many associate with Hospice, a provider of palliative and end-of-life care.

"Sometimes it's very sad, but this is a fun thing to do," she said.

Sikorovsky said the cookoff builds awareness and "is a way for our staff and volunteers to let off some steam and have fun while interacting with the public in a social setting."

Thanks to volunteers and sponsors, every "dollar spent on sample tickets and drink sales goes directly to Hospice," Carnochan said.

"The event is a wonderful fund raiser to benefit HospiceCare, and we are always grateful for people's generous donations," Sikorovsky added, "but the greater benefit is that it helps raise awareness about Hospice programs and services, to help people better understand that Hospice is about living and that we can help sooner than people think."

Cyrus said HospiceCare has provided services to many within her firm's extended family and getting everyone involved with the Chili Cookoff helps build awareness and empathy.

"My 14-year-old and 7-year-old sons can't remember a time when we didn't participate," she said. "Each year, they and the other children in the firm look forward to dressing up in our theme and selling brownies made by one of our lawyers, and another lawyer's daughter does a lemonade stand.

"I can't think of a better way to teach our children how to have fun while raising money for a great cause."

Reach Marta Tankersley Hays at marta.hays@wvgazette.com, 304-348-1249 or follow @MartaRee on Twitter.

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