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KEEP IN TOUCH

Do You Know The New River Gorge? A Nature Nugget From Keith

I’m an avid outdoorsman.

But I don’t limit it to just going outside.  I love to read about the outdoors.  When I was a kid I lived for outdoor magazines. Whenever I got a new one I usually consumed it cover to cover in one sitting.

Aha! There's one!

The white tailed deer was my all-time favorite mammal to read about and see in the wild. Dad had me in the woods as soon as I was old enough, and I shared his passion for the outdoors.  Still do. Dad doesn’t get out hunting anymore, but there is not a time I go to the woods that doesn’t remind me of something we did together.  As I write this, I realize that my daughter Alex will have that same joy.

Gotta say, that makes me tear up a little.

Anyway, not long after moving to West Virginia, I met a man named Max Elkins. Max is, like me, an avid outdoorsman.  As a matter of fact, I often say that when I grow up I want to hunt like Max. If there is an open season Max is hunting. It wasn’t long after we met that he introduced me to grouse hunting.

Now, I’ve hunted grouse as a kid a few times but never like this. Max’s dogs were amazing. I was hooked. A year or so later I had a pup out of a litter from his two dogs, Autumn and Thorn. What great names, huh? My daughter Alex had a part in naming the pup, and since Disney’s Aladin was her favorite movie at the time, well, Jasmine it was.

Max operated a bird hunting preserve and there were plenty of birds to train her on in the off season.  January and February is the time to be in the woods and after the native birds. There were plenty of birds around ten years ago but they have definitely been steadily declining. Contrary to what a lot of people think, hunters are avid conservationists.  We do so much to save habitat and game populations, it’s hard to know where to start.  That’s a post for another day, I guess.  Thinking about it,  I long for the days described by writers like Burton Spiller and George “Bird” Evans, the days when a hunter could have thirty plus flushes in a day.

All of the research done on the Ruffed Grouse says that the bird is cyclic.  Meaning that the populations fluctuate over time. There has always been much debate among grouse hunters everywhere as to whether the numbers will ever be what they used to here in Appalachia. I sure hope so, but right now there seems to be fewer than ever.

Aha! Another one!

The West Virginia Division Of Natural Resources has had a research program in place for a while now in cooperation with several other states to try a find out where all the grouse have gone. According to the reports the main source of grouse mortality is due to avian predation. Mammal predation is second and hunting is responsible for only fifteen percent. Anyone who has ever hunted grouse knows that the odds are heavily in the favor of the fast flying, extremely agile bird.

Grouse hunting for me is not about the bag, but where it takes you. Suddenly you will find yourself high on a ridge overlooking an awe inspiring landscape.  That, and spending time with friends and family.  I think most people like me, who read outdoor magazines, who go outside just to be outside, who love it in their hearts, feel the same way.

Rental Cabins, Beer, and Me: A Love Story

The first beer I ever tasted sucked.  I was 8 or 9 and it was a Michelob.  I still don’t like Michelob.

Everything about brewing beer makes people happy

I didn’t give up, though. I tried other beers (especially if no one was looking), and eventually found some I liked.

Ahh... Local Brew. Lovely.

Fast forward 40 years.  I’m traveling in the Czech republic with my family. We land in Prauge and the first restaurant we go to has been serving food for over 500 years. They just happen to have my favorite beer in the world on tap. Pilsen Urqual. Brewed by monks, the pils uses the same yeast for over 300 years.  And soon I am blessing The Rope Makers Wife.  Amazing food.  Wonderful setting. Great beer.

We soon set out for the countryside. We traveled by train all over for 3 week and tasted dozens of beers, the likes of which I only imagined during my long gone Michelob days. In the Czech Republic, every town has its own brewery.  If there are 500 people within walking distance, there’s a brewery.  It’s mind boggling. At the end of the trip we found ourselves back at the Rope Makers Wife. My son Cameron took a sip of the Pilsen and said “This is the worst beer we’ve had on the whole trip” I hate to admit it but the 8 year old was absolutely right.

In West Virginia, we don’t have a brewery in every town.  But we have one in ours. There are vineyards’ in every direction and a distillery too. But today we’re talking about beer.

The local goods.

There’s a lot to be said for taking on a craft that has been worked for thousands of years. To think that you could bring something new to it, meaning full contribution to the evolution of the process, seems intimidating.

SOOO happy to see this sign.

Well, I suppose you could go a little less philosophical and just make really good beer. Most of the eateries and convenience stores have the local suds, so give ‘em a try.  Break your old Michelob habits-  you’re on vacation.  Live a little, and try some local West Virginia brew.

The First 5 Flowers You’ll See In The New River Gorge

Full disclosure:  One of them’s not even a flower.  Check out the list below if you feel like skipping ahead.

First, a little background…

I can remember the neighborhood gang of kids and I would all get together and escape to the nearest woodlot any chance we could. Being in the suburbs of Philly, there weren’t vast expanses of forest like there are here in Wild Wonderful West Virginia. The gang and I (probably because of me) were always trying to figure out what kind of tree we were looking at or what kind of animal made that hole or… well you get the idea. The point is my curiosity for the things of nature was always there, and has never waned.

After spending a few years with Jim McCormac during the New River Nature and Birding Festival, my curiosity and intrigue was called to a new level. Jim is a botanist and all around nature guy who can spout the genus and species of almost anything you might encounter out there. The great thing about Jim is his child-like enthusiasm. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone who is even slightly interested in the outdoors not being encouraged to learn more when you’re around him.

coltsfoot

Ramps

May Apple

Trillium

Virginia Bluebell

Last year on Jims recommendation I purchased Newcombs guide to Wildflowers. It is a great book once you learn to navigate it. Here are my favorite first five:

Coltsfoot – Tussilago fafara

This one is native to Europe but is considered one of our own. The flower resembles a dandelion.

Ramps – Allium tricoccum (comes from the old anglic word rampion meaning leek)

May Apple – Podophyllum peltatum. Forms fruit in late April early May. That’s probably where the name comes from.

Trillium – grandiflorum. This plant has three leaves and three Sepals. Hence the name.

Virginia Bluebells – Mertensia Virginica. Better catch this one while you can. The whole plant is gone by late spring.

How To Accidently Get Into The Cabin Rental Business

15 years is a long time.  I know, because I am old.

After the first 10 years of building the business and the cabins from the ground up, I started to notice I was not being as good a host as I once was.  Go figure- I was burned out!

The Ruffed Grouse. He just laughs at us.

I’m not complaining. I just noticed it, and it was effecting my interactions with guests. I knew I had to make some changes. Either hire more people to clean and do maintenance, or hire a secretary, or hire a reservationist, or all of the above and go crazy.  (Some say crazier, but that’s another story.)

“Now I’m not a highly metaphysical man but I know that you can bump into someone”… Lyrics by ??? I can’t remember the tune (post a comment if you know it), but it seems appropriate, because that’s how I met Keith.

Sometimes if you are paying attention and open to it, really good things will happen. I had been invited to go grouse hunting with a couple of regulars and a new guy (no grouse were harmed.  Maybe scared, but not harmed).  As the day wore on and we were riding out, I commented that I needed a “Mini Me”, someone who was a Jack of all trades…

And the new guy on the hunt said, “I’ll do it.”   Just like that: “I’ll do it.”

Really?

Sure.

But you don’t know what it involves.

That’s okay I’ll learn.

Really?

Sure.

Really?

We met for lunch a few days later and Keith started shadowing me. Keith saved my sanity and maybe the business. Most of you who have called in the past five years have talked to him and know why I am so grateful. He pretty much runs the place know and I just sit in my office and get fatter.

So when you call and talk to Keith, know that he can help save your sanity too just by making your vacation planning easy and relaxing.  Fun, if you want to know the truth.

It’s been a great five years.  Thanks, Keith, for all you do.

5 Good Reasons To Take A Retreat To The New River Gorge

Whether you’ve been here before or it’s your first trip, the New River Gorge is “that place”- the vacation that you’ll be talking about for.. well, ’till you keel over and die.  Probably.  Just sayin’.

Doesn't Geoff look like the perfect person to rent a cabin from?

How do I know?  I’m a rental cabin expert.  But I haven’t always been one…

My wife Tammi and I met in Florida, where I lived in the late 80’s.  I’m originally from Pennsylvania, and she’s from right here in the New River Gorge area. When she brought me home to meet the folks the area began to woo me. For several years we traveled here to visit friends and family, and every visit made me feel like I was coming home. The folks here are friendly and most will go out of their way to assure your visit is a great one. That’s right- it’s so true, it’s in bold.  Italicized.  And, it happens to be reason #1.

That  works, right?  The 5 reasons are in bold letters and italics?  Cool?  Okay…

On one trip I talked several of my buddies into coming up to run the River for a few days and do some fishing. Tammi hooked us up with a river guide friend to take us on our four day river adventure. I didn’t know it then but from that point on I was hooked. Two years later I was a resident West-by-god-Virginian.

One of the things that never fails to take my breath away is the fact that there are so many great views in one place. Whether you’re at the end of Long-point Trail (my favorite hike in the New River Gorge National Park) or at Hawk’s Nest State Park, there is an amazing sight to see. I’ve been here now for eighteen years and still find new views that thrill my soul. While being at the top of the gorge looking down is what most people consider a view, it’s equally impressive looking up from the bottom.

If you keep your eyes open you’ll get a peek at some of the local fauna that lives here.  They could be hidden anywhere. A word of caution; Beware of the Mad Beaver!  There’s great wildlife for your viewing pleasure all over the place. You may be privileged to see anything from black bear to flying squirrels. The New River Gorge is also a great place to catch a glimpse of the secretive neo tropical flying migrants (wood warblers and such) as they pass through.

Nature at its best – Around here there are tons of opportunity to just get out and explore.  This place is a naturalists dream. There are wildflowers, warblers, fungi and more. Fayette County West Virginia is one of the few places on the state that you will find the Painted Trillium. A beautiful wildflower introduced to me by my botanist friend and naturalist Jim McCormac.

Here I have experienced nature at its best. When I first came here, the friendly folks, wildlife and natural aspects of the area far exceeded my expectations. The outdoor opportunities are unmatched by almost anywhere I’ve ever been. Most of the folks I run in to who are here for the first time seem to have one thing to say: “This place is better than I could have ever imagined.”

How true that is.

Family Trips And Tips- Skiing For Spring Break

Let’s do some word association.  Here’s a list of words, and you say what comes to mind:

Snow
Hot Chocolate
Roaring Fireplace
Snuggly Sweaters
Cabin Lodge
Vacation

Unique Approach by pdbreen

If you said spring break, you’re right.  If you said anything else, you’re not right.  Didn’t know we were grading, did you?  Anyway, we’re not fans of the beach for spring break (obviously).

Here are 5 tips to plan the easiest family ski vacation ever:

-Size your gear online or over the phone so it’s ready when you get there.  You can take all the hassle out of getting fit when you just walk into the rental shop, grab your gear, and walk out.

-Talk to the ski school.  It’s always easy to find, and the folks there are friendly and helpful (usually).  It’s always a good idea to take a ski lesson, at least on day one.

-Brown bag it.  Resort food is overpriced and yucky.  Your food is priced just right and yummy.  Way easier when you stay in a cabin because of the kitchen factor.

-Take it easy.  Sports vacations aren’t about how much you do or how big you go; they’re about how much fun you can have.  The kids will be a lot happier with a ski instructor who tells them what to do so you don’t have to.

-Have an backup plan.  If the weather goes sour, or something out of the ordinary happens, you should be able to pack up and head on to the next activity without skipping a beat.  Here’s a whole rainy day itinerary.

Close to us, WinterPlace Ski Resort has 1 more day of skiing (this Saturday, March 28).  A little further away is Snowshoe, and they’ll be open a few more weeks. Timberline also closes this weekend.  Wherever you go, take your family and get your spring ski on!

How We Accidently Built The Best Cabins In The New River Gorge

Well, I never would have guessed I’d be living here in West Virginia.

Really. I was too cool (obviously!), and West Virginia is, well, ah, let’s see… how do I put this… it has some stigmas attached to it, and some of them are true.

Two decades ago, I wasn’t in the mountain cabin rental business.  I was a guide. I was just stopping by West Virginia for Gauley Season, on my way to guide the Bio Bio in Chile. What happened was, see, I met this woman, and… well, that’s really another story.

But I’ll say this:  after two years of showing her all the cool places someone might want to live like Chile, Costa Rica, Montana, Utah, and Arizona, she wanted to move back to the New River Gorge!

I was a carpenter/odd jobs guy to make ends meet in between raft guiding seasons.  One day, there was an ad in the paper for a house and two acres for $12,000!  It looked like we could fix it up and sell it, or rent it to raft guides. How can you go wrong for $12,000?  Seriously!

My father-in-law, ever willing to see me work harder, gladly put up the money.  Partway through the tear out (we took it down to the studs, pulled out the wiring, and gutted the plumbing too) we saw a brochure for Mill Creek Cabin rentals. I can remember thinking, if we furnish it and fix it up nice we could rent this old farm house to just about anyone!

After talking to the raft companies to see if there was any demand for those types of rentals, we decide to fix it up and rent it nightly to rafters visiting the New River. We knew right away we wanted to do more, and two years later, a house and 20 acres became available just around the corner. The land was laid out perfectly for my vision of providing a secluded little place for people to relax, surrounded by mother nature.

Now, I’m the first to admit that I was never a very good carpenter.  But I was lucky to have some very good ones help me. The one who helped (?!) most was Whitey. Whitey is as close as I’ve ever seen to a “master” carpenter.  He once said to another carpenter working on the job after seeing me up and down a ladder in the same spot for the better part of the day,  “You know, I believe Geoff will keep %$#@ing it up until he gets it right”.

I was too much of a perfectionist, and nowhere near enough skill.  Story of my life, right?  Anyway, I was very happy to have Whitey, and Craig, and lots of lots of others make my ideas take shape. The first two cabins where designed on the proverbial bar napkin over a few beers, and went up with the help of great guys like them.  They were ready to go at the beginning of our third year in the cabin rental biz.

That’s how things started.  But I had no idea what was coming next.

(TO BE CONTINUED…)

The 10 Best Reasons To Go To The Mountains For Spring Break

1.  Cold at the beach blows, but cold in the mountains is pretty awesome (skiing, hiking, snuggling, etc.)

2.  You don’t want to be around a bunch of drunk college kids/be a bunch of drunk college kids.

"Look, I'm just saying you should try snowboarding. Just try!

3.  Beaches are overpriced.  Always.  For everything.

4.  The beach can get freezing cold this time of year.

5.  The views in the mountains are big and amazing when you can see them without the summer foliage.

6.  Sand crack.  ‘Nuff said.

7.  You dare to be different.   Just like, say, a mountaineer.

8.  You can have an entire national park pretty much all to yourselves (it’s our backyard).

9.  Most of you pass the mountains on the way to the beach, or maybe it’s the same distance either way. Total no brainer.

10.  No undertow.

The (Secret) Green Story Of Opossum Creek Retreat

Here in the New River Gorge, our rental cabins were green before green was cool.

Wouldn't it be cool to find out where this goes?

I’ve been called a tree huggin’ Hippy. I don’t know about the hippy part, but, yes, I’ve hugged a tree. Okay, many trees. I have also cut them down. It feels great to see it falling right where you had hoped, to hear the thunder as it hits the ground, the back ache from sawing it into lumber, the smell as it is drying in the kiln. The roar of the planer as the board begins to reveals its character and beauty, all the while hoping that our finished piece will do justice to that tree, and stand for as long as or longer than the tree would have if we had not interfered.

Let me explain.  Back when we got started we didn’t know that we were building green or being eco-friendly or practicing the triple bottom line. We were just trying to be good neighbors, good stewards and good business people.

Giving back to your community, hiring locally, buying locally and using local materials all makes good sense. And for us, building the cabins to last and be efficient cost more up front. (Building a cabin with full grown trees just inches away from every side is much harder than using a bulldozer to clear a flat spot).  If all it takes to make a difference is just a little extra effort, a little extra money, then we’ll continue to do that because it has served us very well so far.

I’ve wondered, though: can you be green while you are soaking in a hot tub, with the A/C on and the Game on the Satellite?  Not totally. I’d like to put a pile of coal on our property to show how much coal it takes to make an average guest happy at Opossum Creek Retreat. It’s a big pile, I bet.

I guess the point is we’re trying to make a smaller foot print and maybe you’ll see that you can do it, to and still have all the comforts of home and then some. So, we’re glad to be a part of this “new movement” and will continue to be good neighbors, good stewards, and hope to make some good friends along the way.

Yes, I hug trees.

How To Play In The New River Gorge (And By Play, I Mean Community Theatre)

As I sit here going over my lines for the play at the Historic Fayette Theatre I ask myself again and again “what was I thinking when I agreed to do this”? “How did this all begin”?

Historic Fayette Theatre

Well, several years ago I was coerced into helping out with the spring musical at the HFT, after all, my daughter Alex was in it and my wife Tammi was doing the costuming. “This would be a great way to spend time with your family” was the song that everyone involved was singing. I started out helping with the set construction then was asked to take a small part on stage. At first I declined. You see one of my biggest phobias was performing or speaking in front of people. The truth is, all my life I have had a terrible case of “stage-fright”. The requests kept coming. Then one day someone said “do it for your daughter, there is an awful lot of quality time you’re missing out on” then one more blast of the puppy dog eyes from Alex and I agreed to take the part. “But I’m not singing and I’m not dancing”! Needless to say I ended up doing both.

One of Alex’s greatest passions is the theatre. She loves to be on stage and it shows! I knew this was something she would be doing for the next several years and when I thought of all the time we could have together I couldn’t say no. Thus was the beginning of a new relationship with the theatre. Some of the shows we have done together here are Lady Pirates of Captain Bree, Doo Wop Wed Widing Hood and OZ. Alex has now gone on to college where she is majoring in musical theatre. She claims that the worst thing about being away at college is that she can’t participate in the HFT productions. Geoff and his daughter Erin even get involved from time to time. Geoff and Erin were in Doo Wop Wed Widing Hood and Erin also did a great job in last years’ show, OZ. It really is great family time.

Historic Fayette Theatre

When someone would ask why I do this my reply has always been the same, “to spend good, quality time with my daughter”.  This year Tammi and I are in the production of “Way out West in a Dress” Tammi is fervently working on the costumes and I am helping with the set build. Alex is away at college and now when I’m asked why we are doing this my daughter can no longer be used as an excuse. Tammi claims that we promised last year in a moment of weakness during the production of OZ. Personally I don’t remember. We really do have a lot of fun preparing for the show. The cast often gets reprimanded for going off task several times during a practice. One of the veteran players used to say that “if it weren’t for the spring show I doubt I’d make it through the winter”.

The HFT puts on several shows over the course of a year. We have only participated in the spring show. A staggering amount of time is required especially when you are doing double duty. Right now is the time that it seems that there is no way that the cast or production will be ready in time for the performance. Somehow it all seems to fall together just in the nick of time. Please check out the HFT website at www.historicfayettetheatre.com so you can plan on catching a show while you’re in the area.