BUCKHANNON – As days turn into nights and dusks into dawns, the number of summer days are growing fewer, and the sheer hours of daylight are shortening.
But before the sun sets on summertime and kids have to head back to school or start up their studies virtually from home, there’s still time to squeeze in at least one more sunshine-streaked, fun-filled adventure replete with mountain air here in north-central West Virginia.
Fortunately, Upshur County offers a spate of safe, outdoor diversions that can pan out to be great late August and early September getaways for families looking to get out of dodge – or at least out of doors – for a day or two.
We’ve done some exploring recently ourselves, and here are our top picks for the best daylong or weekend excursions to embark on with school-age kids.
Cache in on the fun of geocaching
Did you know there are 88 geocaching sites within Upshur County alone? All you need is a GPS-enabled mobile device and a pen or pencil to write with, and you’re ready to roll.
Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a GPS or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, often filled with treasures. These containers are called ‘geocaches’ or ‘caches’ and are hidden at specific locations marked by coordinates.
Comparable to a modern-day treasure hunt of sorts, many residents say they’re thrilled with the experiences they’ve had taking their kids on geocaching adventures locally.
Julie Tenney’s children, 10-year-old Gavin and 7-year-old Kiara, say geocaching in Upshur County is both enjoyable and rewarding.
“You get to learn about new locations, and it takes you places you haven’t seen before,” Gavin said. Kiara likes finding trackables – the various objects people who have previously found the ‘cache’ place inside them.
“I like that it gets the kids outside, it’s something safe for us to do while social distancing, and it has already taught me some things I didn’t know,” Julie Tenney said. “For example, we always wondered what the little church was for where you turn onto Sago Road … now, we know.”
Tammy Samples, her sister, Lena, and niece Katie see geocaching as an opportunity to be active together.
“It’s so much fun and an adventure, even though some are hard to find,” Katie said, while her mom Lena noted that geocaching is an ideal way to venture through wild, wonderful West Virginia.
Camp locally at the James W. Curry Park Campground
Speaking of hidden treasures, that’s exactly what the James W. Curry Park Campground is for kids and parents looking to spend a weekend camping locally.
The trek out to the Brooks Hill and Selbyville area is a scenic adventure in and of itself that provides panoramic views of southern Upshur County. Once there, families can choose from 20 campground sites for RVs, campers and rustic tents plus a full-service public library.
In addition to campsites, park amenities include two picnic pavilions with grills, playground equipment and restroom facilities. Electrical hook-ups are available for RVs and campers, and the on-site library is available to campers and visitors to access free WiFi, books, movies and games.
For more information, call 304-924-6724, email email@example.com or visit jameswcurrylibraryandpark/home.
See wild, wonderful animals at the West Virginia Wildlife Center
Possibly Upshur County’s most famous attraction, the West Virginia Wildlife Center, is an open-air zoo where both native and introduced state wildlife – including mountain lions, elk, river otters, owls, black bears, bobcats, owls and other birds – interact with the environment (and sometimes each other) in their natural habitats.
A 1.25-mile path through the forest enables visitors to be immersed in the natural wonders of West Virginia. As you walk along the animal’s spaces, you’ll find interpretive signs to learn more about each animal.
In addition to the loop that winds its way past each animal’s home, the West Virginia Wildlife Center features a well-stocked pond below the picnic area that’s teeming with trout, bass, catfish and bluegill. Visitors looking to log a few more steps may enjoy the Old Oak hiking trail, a 1.5-mile-long loop that covers rolling terrain (sturdy, close-toed shoes are recommended), near the end of the Wildlife Center loop just beyond the coyote enclosure.
Buckhannon resident Callie Cronin Sams has hiked that trail many times.
“It features several wooden bridges, a diverse forest with mixed deciduous and some hemlock/pine, a waterfall, and a medium-to-large pond,” Sams said. “The Old Oak Trail is fun for exercise and exploring nature, as the trail has numerous interpretative signs describing the forest flora and geology.”
Stop by the Wildlife Center’s gift shop to peruse its offerings and grab a scoop of hand-dipped Hershey’s ice cream to cool before you leave.
Call 304-924-6211 or visit www.wvdnr.gov/wildlifecenter.shtm for more information, prices and hours of operation.
Pedal the Riverwalk, and then cool off with an ice cream cone
Grab your bike and cycle around the three-mile stretch of paved walkway that runs along the Buckhannon River. The path is flat, and the flowers lining it are bright and beautiful. A favorite spot for both locals and visitors, the trail also features a boat launch and river access to the Buckhannon River and a new fenced-in dog park.
What’s more, the ADA-accessible trail is dotted with benches if you need a break, and restroom facilities are adjacent to the ample parking areas.
Find the trail at 54 Camden Avenue in Buckhannon, but don’t jet out of town until you stop on Buckhannon’s iconic Main Street for a sweet, creamy treat at our old-fashioned Dairy Queen store, which features classic soft-serve vanilla cones (and much, much more), or Sweet-A-Licious, a locally run ice cream shop specializing in hand-dipped Hershey’s ice cream cones, sundaes, milkshakes and other delectable delicacies.
Explore local waterways
Dust off your kayak or canoe and paddle the flatwater of the Buckhannon River. Alternatively, launch your boat into the pristine waters of Stonecoal Lake, a 550-acre lake that lies within the Stonecoal Wildlife Management area in Lewis and Upshur counties.
The Buckhannon River’s aquamarine-and-green-tinted flatwater is ideal for families to navigate, and a number of soul-soothing day trips are listed online under ‘Boat trips and kayak launches’ on the Upshur County Convention and Visitors Bureau website. Information regarding the five boat launches in the county — including one at the Riverwalk Trail Park in Buckhannon and the popular Hampton Bridge in the historic Sago area — are also mapped out.
With its headwaters in Alexander in southern Upshur County, the Buckhannon River supplies a family-friendly placid paddle along a 36-mile segment from the Sago area, just south of Buckhannon, to Carrollton in Barbour County.
More daring, experienced families with their black belts in whitewater can find isolated Class III and IV rapids — and unblemished natural scenery you won’t soon forget — during a several-miles-long stretch from Ten Mile to Sago.
Paddles along the river are a great way to combat the stress surrounding the hustle-and-bustle of back to school with some aerobic exercise, fresh air and idyllic natural surroundings.
This story produced in partnership with the Upshur County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.