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You so deserve this.


Verb: The act of relaxing in a cozy cabin in the woods.

The New River Gorge National Park

Our back yard


Gorgeous weddings in The New River Gorge

Family Hike

Making memories.

What Niche are You?

bird banding
We hosted a beginner bird banding class last week, limited to 8 people, and sold out early. These folks spent an intensive week learning how to net, identify, band and release birds safely.

Some birds are well-named. This is one. Many have names that have nothing to do with the bird, but that is its own rant I will save till later. This is a yellow-throated vireo. To hear his song, click here.

bird banding organization sticker

When I saw this sticker, I knew it was going to be a good week. This is the organization the oversees and provides the training for banders. Edye Kornegaywas the banding instructor that made it come true. She was amazing.

Bird banding workshop

Keith in the hot seat learning the Tools of the trade. Serious work. Big heavy books not only identify, but collect a lot of information on these tiny little birds.

Opossum Creek Retreat provided lodging, meals and a great family feel for the whole group for the whole week. We love hosting our fellow bird lovers.

Quilting bee? Book club? Yoga? Bible study? Writers’ workshop?

What Niche group do you want to bring?

Spring Flowers? Fall Leaves? Nope. Here’s nature’s REAL Beauty.

Milkweed weed in WV

Milkweed ready to take flight

Gone are the berries. ‘Tis the season. It’s all the rage. All the cool states have ‘em:


The weeds are coming, and we love ‘em. They are inevitable and it’s going to be huge! It is futile to fight it.

Even the names are huge: iron weed, pokeweed, goldenrod, boneseed, Queen Ann’s lace! Chinkapin, sneezeweed, sweet joe-pye weed, black-eyed Susan, sow thistle and king devil, to name a few. Vipers Bugloss, rageweed, fireweed…

But my favorite part about them is that they can be huge! 12 to15 feet tall and beautiful. And strong. Did I say huge already?

WV weeds

Red Admiral sits on a weed.

I think I like this color palate of weed season better than the pinks of spring. Yes, I know there are lots more colors in the spring, and everything is new, but weed season means we now we have purple and gold and yellow and white (so white), and then it will all be gone.

So while you can, get high on some of those weeds! The ones that are much maligned and misunderstood and neglected, or even worse, mowed down before their time.

The briers have borne their fruit, and apples are not ripe yet, but we have the weeds to thank for some awe-inspiring beauty to carry us through ‘till Fall.

Catch the spectacle before it’s gone. Take a long Labor Day weekend here to enjoy the unconventional beauty of the weeds.

Which weed is your favorite?

Learn Beginner Bird Banding in the Gorge!

Birds and Opossum Creek Retreat have a long history.

warbler bird banding

A warbler from the nets at the New River Birding and Nature Festival.

For twelve years now, Opossum Creek has hosted the New River Birding and Nature Festival,which has evolved into an event that has a wonderful “back porch” kind of feel— like a family reunion with a family you would hand pick for yourself.

From the very beginning, bird banding has been a part of the festival. This year, we are taking it to another level: Opossum Creek Retreat and the Institute for Bird Populations are teaming up to offer our first ever “Beginner Bird Banding ClassAug. 18-24 here in The New River Gorge.

Bird banding helps us learn more about the birds we love, understand their behavior and their habitat needs. With the information gleaned from banding, we are able to address environmental issues that have an impact on our feathered friends.

Now, there’s a whole lot more that we learn from the info gathered, but you can read more about that from a more accurate source, like the Institute for Bird Populations.

You too can learn more about our feathered friends! There are still a few spots left. For info on the class, call Keith at 888-488-4836.

Beginner Bird Banding Class details

August 18th- 24th at Opossum Creek Retreat  $1,800.00 per person; includes all class materials, instructors’ fees, lodging and meals.

New River Gorge birding

At Opossum Creek Retreat for the Birding & Nature Festival

The class will begin on the afternoon of Aug. 18 and end after banding Sunday, Aug. 24.

Each day, we will be in the field at sunrise and work the nets for 5-6 hours. Then, we will have lunch (1 hour), and a 2-3 hour classroom session, followed by a break and then dinner.

There will be some “homework.” Information and details of course materials can be found at the IBP website.

Proper field attire is necessary. (Mud boots and rain gear, too). We are in the woods. Mosquito and ticks are present.


Opossum Creek Retreat is nestled uniquely just minutes from theNew River Gorge National River in South-Central West Virginia.

WV bird banding

Interacting with the birds at the festival

Classroom activities will be held in the 1,000 square-foot meeting /great room of the Meadows Cabin. Lodging in the Meadows Cabin is included in the registration fee. Each registrant will have his/her own private room (all linens and towels are provided). There are 3 full bathrooms to share.

There are several other private cabins available at an additional fee if you would like your own cabin.

There is a guest laundry available for your convenience during your stay.

Also included in the registration fee is a continental breakfast, lunch and a home-cooked dinner each day. Please let us know of any dietary needs or issues upon registration.


Class is Limited to 8 people, with a minimum of 6. Full payment is due upon registration. To register, contact Keith at 888-488-4836. Please do not book your flights until the class minimum is met.

The B__________ are coming!

The B__________ are coming! The B__________ are coming!

IMG_0159Well, that is very patriotic of you, and yes, it is that time of year, too. But I am talking BLUEBERRIES!

Yes, it is Blueberry Month! I prefer mine small, tart and wild, like the ones from my youth. (Yes, still talking blueberries.)

I can recall stopping on the side of the road wanting to buy one of those funky rake picker things from the family selling berries. It is a specialty tool used when picking or harvesting wild blueberries. (Did you just salivate? I did.)

They are the real prize, those low, tiny bushes high on a ridge in some wild place. How the berries pack so much into such a small package is one of the wonders of Nature! Alas, completely unattainable for most of us. Don’t despair.

“You pick” farms to the rescue! We have couple in our area, and wow are they Ossum! You really ought to plan a morning while you are here in Blueberry Month to pick, and pick and pick. Take a pick-a-nic: spend some time in blueberry field eating, picking and talking about blueberries

I understand why most of these places grow the big fat juicy sweet ones. Hmm… that kind of describes me, too. We even planted hybrids in our garden. They are great. Big tall bushes, no stooping necessary. You can fill a bucket in no time, and they freeze perfectly, or make great preserves and crumbles, even pies. Well, sort of. I mean, it’s a great pie, but if you ever get the chance to pick those teeny tiny wild berries way up north, high on a ridge, and manage to get enough back to the kitchen, then make a pie!

Have you been blueberry picking? 

Who scheduled June?!?

Whose idea was June anyway? It is crazy hectic. Too hectic. Or maybe that’s what makes us really appreciate summer vacation even more.

Busy in June


Yes, hectic non-stop events and special occasions. Just look at this line up.

First, school is not out yet for some poor unlucky saps. They are strapped down till mid-month while siblings and friends at another school or grade are basking in the glory of SUMMERTIME!

This alone can rip a household apart. I am used to getting everyone out the door by 7 a.m. and having an hour to clean up the kitchen, start some laundry, check emails and the like before I have to get going on writing a blog. Who are all these people in my office? Be quiet, I am working! Better yet, just leave!

Hey, that worked!

Now we add the high-flying act of commencements (Yes, for the one I just kicked out of the house… I mean, my office.) Oh the freedom! Out the door, love you, bye!  AND get a JOB!

Commencement. This is amazing to witness for the first time. I have been at all the big games and never experienced the passion and fervor that was poured upon the graduates of our local high school. Some are the first-ever in their family. Let that sink in for a while.

Some kids got cheers from their clan, some from the other students, some from the band, some from the teachers, and some felt the roar of the whole crowd. It was contagious, exciting and fun. And yes, everyone went wild for the kid who, even in this day and age in the USA, was the first to graduate from high school in his family! Ever! His family was unhinged, tattooed, clad in wife-beaters, cheering and sobbing for joy, and we cheered with them. I could turn this into a rant about our failed education system, but I wont.

Wow, I am glad that is over for a couple of years, and I know what to expect next time.

Next up, the June Bride. This is so cool. We have several weddings each year, some big (like 150 people big) and some small. Or maybe you would say tiny, just 30-40 people. No matter the size, the sentiment is amazing. Always filled with emotions— loving, fun, exciting, hopeful emotions. We get to see some very unique weddings that say a lot about the individuals involved.

And this brings me to the next thing: my anniversary. Yes, I am a traditional June groom. Even wore a suit. Searsucker, thank you.

So let’s not stop there, and drop a couple of really big birthdays in the mix, like my Mom’s AND my wife’s.

SO, with all this going on, the build up, the planning, the scheduling and having many years of practice… how could I forget?

I know, right? Pure you-dumb-shit, smack-to-the-forehead, “Oh nooooo not again!!!”

Yes, it is not the first time, so I know the weight of this mental malfunction. And it can persist for years.

Nothing fixes it, except when your betrothed forgot, too! Yep, we both totally spaced out on our anniversary.

Thank God!

This is what I am talking about. It’s just too much going on all at once. Can’t we give some of this to July or August? The weight is cast off and I can soar for another year. What? It was my mother’s birthday?

Oh boy.

I need June to calm down. There is just too much happening for me to keep up. Now, the 4th of July marks the real beginning of summer. Nothing but fun for the whole month.

Relax, it is finally summer fun family vacation time.

The Secret to Father’s Day

I have a father, I am a father, and I know this to be true.

Dads only want one thing for Father’s Day!

No ties, no tools, no new shirt, no gift certificate, no fishing tackle (well, maybe.)

All your dad wants for Father’s Day is your time. Not a whole weekend at a cabin with him, just some time. Chill with your dad for as long as you can stand it.

Pay it forward, so when your little shits grow up they may have it in their DNA to set aside some time for you. You and yours will all be better for it.

Then come spend some time in a cabin at Opossum Creek Retreat to recover from the trauma of it.

Some of you know this firsthand. We have been told many times by many guests how much better they feel after staying here.

Save yourself.

This was boiled down to this 30 second radio ad:

I am telling you, our facebook fans and blog readers, so you will not miss out on the radio special. Give it a listen so you can be in the loop, too.

Now go call your DAD!

What’s The Big Deal about Graduation?

Although it was not in style, I did graduate from high school. I thought everyone did. Well, almost everyone. And I did not get what the big deal is, until now.

What a great reason to spend the weekend with family and friends. The whole weekend was relatively low-key. We made some of the food, ordered some from local restaurants. There was always a table full of snacks and drinks for whoever and whenever. Mostly we spent a lot of time talking and laughing with loved ones.

The first night everyone was on their own for dinner, and that worked really well, because everyone one was arriving at different times. The next night we made salads, and then ordered ribs from Dirty Ernie’s, and my wife’s favorite dish in town, shrimp & grits from Gumbo’s. It was easy and delicious.

One morning, all the guys went out to breakfast for a “man-date.” Fun stuff, great conversation and fellowship.

Graduation treats

Cupcakes from the graduation celebration.

On Saturday we had the party. We shared decorating and setting up the great room. Cousin Katie made a piñata that weighed as much as she does, and it was the hit of the bash, filled with all manner of stuff (family members thought a college kid might need not just candy.) The A-team of bakers made the requested table full of cupcakes.

Not sure who enjoyed them more: the people who made them, the ones who ate them or the ones who did both.

Pies & Pints

Graduation Pizzas from Pies & Pints!

Those darn kids. Yes, they graced us with their presence for a little while (as long as the pizza lasted.) It was great to see how freely these “kids” mingled with us old folks. Most of them had never met us, “the parents,” let alone the out-of-town relatives, and they really did mingle. These kids have stuff to distract them that we only saw in comic strips, yet they were present and participating in the whole evening, and they made it a lot more fun to be sure. Plus, they taught me how to take selfies. Watch out!

Grad party "groupie."

Group photo at the Graduation Party.

We don’t often use The Meadows for ourselves. It was great to see it first-hand, filled with love and laughter of family and friends. Maybe that is what the big deal is all about.

How is your family celebrating this graduation season? 

I Hate Hiking With My Wife

This post was originally published in the New River Gorge Adventure Guide.

I used to hate hiking with my wife.

Sunset on hike in WV

WV sunset on the trail. Photo by Kyle Heeter

You see, I have come to believe that there are many different styles of hikers, and she and I are two very different kinds.

She is a Strider. She has long legs, which she uses to ruthlessly get herself from Point A to Point B.  She hikes for the exercise. She is an “I will come back and get you if you can’t keep up” kind of hiker. I am a— well, not that kind of hiker. I am an anything but that kind of hiker. I wander off the trail (She hates to follow me when I do this). I stop in midstride and lay down on the ground to get a better look at a flower or insect or at the back of my eyelids. On the trail, she journeys from Point A to Point B and back, and I journey to all the points in between.

There are the Fast Walkers, who are “just out for some exercise” and have to be back in time to get to the store. And there are the Strollers. Strollers have a place they are aiming for. They will stop to look at something wonderful along the way, but they can still be relied on to make their destination. They would really like to see that view from Long Point!

And then there are the Wanderers. If you are a Wanderer, you may not even know where the trail you are on is going. You don’t know this because it doesn’t matter. You are just happy to be outdoors, soaking it in.

Closely related to the Wanderers are the Meanderers. Kids intuitively meander. They drift off the trail and wonder what this is or that is (or was). If you are not in a hurry or dead-set on a destination, kids are the best guides you could ask for. They bring spontaneity, surprise, and joy to a hike. Kids understand that it is a good thing to get sidetracked and forget why you came in the first place.

The woods are a patient place, slow and constant. Kids will understand this if you do not get in their way. “Life is a journey, not a destination.” (This famous remark is over-quoted, and I bet few know who wrote it without first looking it up. Answer: Ralph Waldo Emerson). Kids know this in their souls! The trail means nothing, except that it has a place to park your car. After that, whims are followed. Rules are broken and exploration begins. Ahh, the unknown. You could be the first person to ever put a foot down right here.

This type of adventure comes with a price. Sometimes you get sort of lost. You may have to cross a creek and get muddy and wet.  These hikes always take a lot longer to find your way back to the car, so you are late for dinner with friends and they are worried about you. But when you get there, who has the best story to tell? You do.

Some trails are better for some styles of hikers. I like the wide flat train grades from an old train track, without the tracks or cross ties of course. We have a lot of these in the New River Gorge, and they lead to some amazing places. You don’t have to be on a steep single-track to find your self oohhing and aahhing along the way.

My other preference is an ill-defined deer trail heading off into the wilderness. Often these lead to a dry flat rock with a sunny spot, so I can stretch out and study cloud formations. I also like loop trails. They tend to be longer than the out-and-backs. On the loop, you may have to go all the way around, depending on who you are with and what type of hiker you are that day. The out-and-back type of trail is deceiving. It will look like two different trails each direction you head. And— Fast Walkers with some place to be, take note— you can just head back at any point.

You do not have to be prepared to enjoy a hike. I know my grandfather is squirming in his boy scout uniform as I write this, but let’s face it:  We do not always carry water, first aid, sunblock, matches, flashlight, and map. Sometimes we are just out for some quick exercise down the road from our home. And maybe we did not have a “proper pair of hiking shoes” in the car. Most of the train grades, wide and relatively flat, are okay for tennis shoes. And some hikes are perfectly appropriate for flip-flops. Maybe this is more of the slow, quiet meander with a close friend who needs to talk. Sometimes you have to go with what you’ve got and look where you are stepping. My dress shoes are muddy. However, attention Wanderers and Meanderers: there is a really good reason to wear high-top, lightweight hikers or high-top tennis shoes on many hikes: ankle support. The trail is not the mall. We are in the woods and on sometimes very uneven ground. If you can, boot up.

Which brings me back to my wife, the Point A to B Strider. I have figured out how to slow her down. I found an anchor that she cannot pull, and the best part is she does not even know she is dragging it: a camera. She has always been a great photographer, even made her living doing it. But going for a walk did not mix with taking pictures until she recently began bringing a small camera along. Now she has introduced me to another kind of hiker: the Photographer. She will stop on a dime to gather all her skill and creativity and focus it through the lens. This allows the rest of us Meanderers time to catch up and even pass her at times.

It is possible to change, and really cool stuff happens when you do.

What type of hiker are you? (And what type do you want to be?)


Mother’s Day Neglected.

Mom says:

for a Mother's Day vacation

Of course you don’t have to bring everyone… unless you really want to.

“Oh, it’s okay. Don’t do anything special for me.”

You have heard your Mom say that, haven’t you?

This is tricky, because sometimes she means it; other times, not so much.

The question is: why risk it?

Yes, for some weird reason, Mother’s Day gets neglected, and I don’t know why. Do you?

You can fix this for your Mom, and maybe make up for some of those other Mother’s Days.

The weather is great. Spring is in all its glory. We just finished an amazing week hosting The New River Birding and Nature Festival, and we are all warmed up and ready to go here in the New River Gorge area. Come join us.

Make Mom really happy, and bring her to OCR this weekend.

We will even buy you lunch. Just mention this post.

Where to Find WV’s Best Trout Fishing

Spring in southern West Virginia means different things to different people. For some, it means wildflowers are starting to bloom and the hiking trails are exploding with vibrant color. For others, it’s the chance to paddle the area’s local rivers and creeks at exciting spring flows.

But to one group of outdoor enthusiasts, it simply means “Fish on!!!”

Trout fishing New River Gorge, WV

Keith enjoying the WV fishing

One thing that this area has no shortage of is streams. Big ones. Little ones. And most of them very productive fisheries. Whether it’s bass, walleye, musky or trout that bring you to a fever pitch, there are plenty of opportunities to soothe whatever itch you need to scratch.

At Opossum Creek Retreat, we understand having a passion for fishing. In fact, we embrace it. One of our favorite springtime activities is fishing for trout.

Our place, just so happens, is located mere minutes from some great southern West Virginia trout fishing. In fact, Mill Creek flows less than a mile from our front door, and is stocked by the WVDNR monthly from February through May.

Mill Creek is a sweet little stream that starts near Route 60 and winds its way into Hawk’s Nest Lake on the New River. It starts off fairly flat, meandering along the plateau through deep woods and laurel thickets, but as its journey approaches the New River, it becomes a steep pool-drop creek with large boulders and plunge pools. This diversity in stream hydrology is common among the creeks in this area and makes for some fabulous fishing.

Other local trout streams that are within a short drive of OCR are: Glade Creek, Dunloup Creek, Loop Creek, Piney Creek, Paint Creek and Manns Creek.

All of these streams are stocked throughout the spring by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources with rainbow and brown trout. A nearby chapter of Trout Unlimited also adopts a few of these creeks as special projects, and stock them with fingerling brown trout on an annual basis.

These streams all vary in topography and terrain, and most are fairly accessible over a large percentage of their runs. All of them with the exception of Paint Creek and Loop Creek drain to the New River, and they all definitely have sections of them that are moderately steep. This means lots of big pools that can hold some impressive trout.

Now, we are pretty biased to our local area because there is just so much natural beauty here. And well, hell, it is our stomping grounds, so can you blame us? But as far as trout fishing goes, we will concede that some of the best waters in the state lie just a short drive to the north of us.

There is a small area of the West Virginia, located in the mountains in and around the Pocahontas and Randolph County vicinity, where a great many of the major streams in WV originate. From this region, the Gauley River, the Elk River, the Williams River, the Cheat River, the Tygart River, the Greenbrier River and the Potomac River all begin their sinuous journeys towards different destinations.

All of the headwaters sections of these streams are excellent trout fisheries. What is most enjoyable about them in our eyes is the level of peace and serenity you will find their remoteness. It’s a seclusion that you will only experience in few other places anywhere on the east coast.

There are very few incorporated towns with a population of more than 500 people in these areas, and Randolph County averages 29 people per square mile, while Pocahontas County only averages 9.

Some of the Mountain State’s best trout streams are either in this bunch we just listed, or they are tributaries of them.These streams are around an hour drive from The New River Gorge. They include the Elk River, the Cranberry River, the Williams River and the Cherry river.

The best part about fishing these streams is if the fish aren’t biting, you’re still hanging out in one of the most beautiful places around.

So, if trout fishing happens to be your passion, we hope you find the time to make a trip to our backyard and experience this wonderful area we call home. Perhaps we will see you on one of these streams this spring.

Fish On!!!

Which river in WV is your favorite for trout fishing? 


–guest post by Ashley Thomas