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Karin Fuller: WV is absolutely almost heaven

November 12, 2018

There’s much we encounter that we never give much thought until circumstances dump it in our laps. When Don and I mentioned to an acquaintance in Georgia that we were headed to West Virginia for a week, the man called it a “godforsaken place.”

“Strange term, isn’t it?” Don said later, as we were driving away. ”‘Godforsaken.’ It sounds like a place banished from godliness. That doesn’t seem right. You’d think an area that’s all overbuilt and developed would be described as ‘godforsaken’ rather than someplace that remains close to how it began.”

We batted the topic around for a bit as we traveled from Atlanta to our first stop in Damascus, Virginia, where we rode bikes in the misty cold rain down the Creeper Trail. From there we headed to Holly River State Park near Hacker Valley in Webster County.

Along the way, we succumbed to a few roadside distractions (flea market, antique mall, gravel road not posted with a “no trespassing” sign), so by the time we finally reached the park, it was a good bit later than we’d planned to arrive.

Although we had headed to Holly River with plans to camp in a tent, we had a backup plan of sleeping in our SUV if the weather was too wet. What we hadn’t anticipated was that the rain would be so constant we’d be unable to build a campfire, meaning we’d have no way to cook our dinner.

For those unfamiliar with the Holly River part of the state, dining options are few and far between. Very far. By 8 p.m. Saturday, there wasn’t even a convenience store we could visit.

Before choosing our campsite (or parking place, as the case would’ve been), we decided to stop by the park restaurant to see if it was still open. We found a few staff members cleaning up from their annual Halloween party for the local kids.

“Any chance you’re still open?” Don asked.

Although they were closed, the restaurant’s chef, Debby Schoolcraft, invited us in and offered us our choice of leftover candied apples and other party remains.

While neither of us has issue with being forced to eat cookies for dinner, after Don explained our camping-in-the-rain situation, Debby offered to make us both salads. She said the park would be closing for the season the next day and salad was about all they had left. We happily accepted her kind offer.

“I wish we’d planned better and reserved a cabin,” Don told Debby, “But this trip was sort of impulsive.”

Just a few minutes later, Debby’s friend, Renee Anderson, approached our table.

“I heard you’re looking for a cabin,” she said. “I might be able to help.”

It turns out Renee and her husband, Dusty, own a few nearby rental cabins. Some hunters who had been staying in one had checked out a day early. She offered it to us, and we jumped at the opportunity.

We followed Renee a little over a mile up Route 20 to the bunkhouse, which was set a bit behind a cavernous structure. She invited us to accompany her into the giant building, since she needed to retrieve fresh linens from there. This building turned out to be the Jerry Run Summer Theater, a 199-seat venue that has been hosting both local talent and rising stars for more than 15 years.

Renee told us Dusty is a carpenter who enjoys playing music. Once upon a time, Dusty decided to create a place where he and others could play. It was a musician’s Field of Dreams, so to speak. If you build it, they will come.

For years, Dusty would do carpentry work in exchange for building materials, both new and salvaged. The theater seats, for example, came from West Virginia Wesleyan. The gorgeous front doors were once on a church. But it was the open-truss roof system, constructed using locally cut poplar, that most wowed me. The place is, in my opinion, a clever work of art, and it sounds as though the area has embraced his project, as musical groups have been coming from all over to perform under that super-cool roof. (It’s now closed for the winter.)

So, within the space of an hour, we got to experience some of the extreme kindnesses we love most about West Virginia. Folks who didn’t know us from Adam had invited us in from the rain and fed us; had offered us a place to stay for the night. How can such godly behaviors exist in a place so often called “godforsaken”?

I’m not naive about West Virginia’s problems. I could talk for ages on its many issues, be them drug-related or political and economic. But, I could talk even longer on the beauties — that extend beyond scenic — that I’ve seldom found outside of her borders; the kindnesses I’ve experienced that I doubt I’d have enjoyed had I lived anywhere else.

It’s hardly godforsaken. It’s almost heaven. West by God.

Karin Fuller can be reached via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.

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