Sometimes you just don’t know what’s in your backyard unless you get out and ramble.
That’s exactly what team members from five local Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVB) discovered while talking about what collaborative project they might work on this summer. The result, introduced on Instagram in June, is “Rt. 60 Ramble” (@wvmetrovalley).
Instagram is a popular social media platform for sharing photos and videos. You can sign up for a free account at instagram.com, or download the free smartphone app. Once there, typing “wvmetrovalley” in the search bar takes you to the Rt. 60 Ramble page.
Working together, the team posts daily messages and encourages people to ramble from Charleston through Huntington to enjoy more of the outdoor recreation facilities and sites in their Kanawha Valley backyard — marketed as “Metro Valley” by area CVBs.
“We built a great collaboration over the past few years as we worked together on the youth soccer tournaments,” said Tim Brady, president and CEO of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “When the COVID-19 pandemic caused cancellations of tournaments and other large events in the Metro Valley, we got together to develop a strategic plan for how to market our region and promote activities that people could enjoy outdoors while keeping social distancing in mind.”
“On one of my walks through Little Creek Park, I saw a dad and his son enjoying an afternoon picnic on a blanket and I thought there must be many more families who are getting outside this summer,” said Vicki Vaughan, executive director for the South Charleston CVB. “When we first started talking about the idea of Rt. 60 Ramble, we all agreed that we were seeing more locals out enjoying the parks in our towns and we realized we had a great opportunity to expand their horizons just a short drive from home.”
Together, the Charleston CVB, South Charleston CVB, Putnam County CVB, Village of Barboursville CVB and Huntington Area CVB are posting photos and information every day that provide tips on parks and recreation facilities from Charleston to Wayne County. The Instagram account even includes “fun fact” posts that let viewers know more about what makes the area unique.
“We hope that people who check in to our posts see that we really do want them to ramble,” said Kelli Steele, executive director for the Putnam County CVB and the artist who designed the Rt. 60 Ramble logo. “There is so much to do if you just take a short drive from Rt. 60.” In Putnam County, for instance, she encourages visitors to cross the river to take advantage of all there is to do at Eleanor Park with its biking and hiking trails and disc golf courses.
“I think one of the most exciting things about this collaboration is just how much we are all learning about our valley,” said Anna Adkins, sales manager for the Huntington Area CVB. “As we plan each round of posts, one of us always seems to say ‘Hey! I didn’t know about that!.’”
Adkins said people who visit the Instagram site are engaging with the CVB staffs with comments and questions about what they are doing on their rambles. She is especially excited about how the ramble concept allows for exploration beyond Rt. 60. “In the past couple of years, we have been representing tourism attractions in Wayne County and this gives us a perfect opportunity to share recommendations for sites like Rustic Ravines, an outdoor recreation site in Genoa.”
Lexy Kessel, sports and events manager for the Charleston CVB, said the team members are promoting the Rt. 60 Ramble on their own Instagram and website pages. That is helping to give the event more traction.
“We have more than 15,000 followers on our individual Charleston page and we share the Ramble on that page, as the other team members do on theirs, which gives the Ramble even more exposure,” said Kessel. “The ramble idea really works right now because people want to get out with their families while taking social distancing and safety into consideration. By offering our residents and visitors ideas about the parks and paths that they can easily access for free, we are helping them to get out and see a bit more of the valley without a lot of travel.”
Like the others, she sees opportunities to introduce people to new attractions like the Elk River Trail, as well as to remind them about well-known parks like Coonskin and Kanawha State Forest.
The Rt. 60 Ramble team connects on a regular basis to plan its upcoming posts and to make sure that all areas are being covered on a rotating schedule.
“We started initially with posts about parks and lakes with trails and recreation activities that families and small groups could enjoy safely,” said Kessel. “We will continue to do that as we go forward and we are beginning to include historic sites and places of interest as well.”
Brandi Beasley, executive director of the Barboursville CVB, is pleased with the number of comments she has seen about the 750-acre Barboursville City Park. “I have received messages from people who didn’t realize that there are 42 hiking and biking trails, disc golf courses, fishing and horseback riding opportunities here at the park,” she said. “It’s really exciting that our casual conversation about this idea has had a bigger reception than we initially expected it would.”
Beasley said she looks forward to the daily posts and is developing a personal list of parks and places she wants to visit herself. “People don’t always think about the Metro Valley as a place for recreation and this ramble project is changing their thinking.”
Along with places to hike and bike, picnic and play, there are plenty of other options for outdoor activities along Rt. 60. In the coming weeks, the Instagram page will feature historic and cultural sites, including suggestions on where to see public art along the route.
Charleston will encourage people to learn more about its public art by visiting the City of Charleston’s web site where they can find a driving tour for public art in the city. It is broken down by neighborhoods.
People interested in the area’s history and culture can learn more about the people, events and heritage of the area by taking self-guided historic district walking tours and visiting historic sites.
Along Rt.60, there are several historic districts. Cabell County is home to the Barboursville Historic District, the Hawthorne Historic District, Huntington Downtown Historic District and Ritter Park Historic District. Putnam County features the Buffalo Town Square Historic District. Kanawha County’s historic districts include Downtown Charleston Historic District, East End Historic District, Edgewood Historic District, Elk River Historic District, South Charleston Mound (Criel Mound), and St. Albans Main Street Historic District.
Railroad and industrial sites, as well as cemeteries, churches and individual commercial and residential sites can be found along the route. Information about these historic sites and many others can be found at www.wvculture.org. The listings are organized by counties.
Additional ideas for walking tours and heritage trails can be found at Clio, an educational website and mobile app that features thousands of historical and cultural sites throughout the United States. Along Rt. 60, the guide includes tours in Huntington, Barboursville, Charleston, and Putnam County, and includes summaries and other information about historical sites, museums and landmarks. “Time capsule” entries with the sites in the guide allow users to learn about historic events that occurred around them and links to other information.
“We love these because they allow visitors and locals alike to explore on their own at their leisure, and it’s a great social distancing activity,” said Adkins.
Another opportunity to learn fun facts about West Virginia and Kanawha Valley communities is to watch for West Virginia Historical Highway Markers. More than 1,000 highway markers have been erected through a joint effort of the West Virginia State Archives and the West Virginia Department of Transportation. Markers offer brief historic facts about people, places, events and industry. More information about markers and about “Marking Our Past,” the historical highway marker book, can be found at wvculture.org/history/markers/markers.html.
Many locally owned restaurants are open along and near the Rt. 60 Ramble. Some of them are open and offering safe curbside carryout.
“This makes these local businesses ideal places to stop and pick up lunch or snacks while you are enjoying your ramble,” said Kessel, who also noted that this is a great time to visit local farmers’ markets like Capitol Market in downtown Charleston and the Wild Ramp in Huntington.
In South Charleston, Café Appalachia is hosting an Artisan Market and produce stand on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon, according to Vaughan.
“Visitors to South Charleston will find plenty of outdoor seating near the Criel Mound and can place pick-up orders with a diverse selection of local restaurants on or near D Street,” she said.
The Rt. 60 Ramble team is looking down the road to imagine how the Instagram page can continue to offer travel tips for residents and visitors.
“There are many opportunities for us to keep the collaboration going and provide people with news about travel options, activities and events along the route even after the issue of safe social distancing is behind us,” said Steele. “We believe people can have fun rambling through the Metro Valley in every season.”