The World Is My Park

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You call it a road, I call it a trail

We all know that things work a little differently here in West Virginia than they do in the rest of the world. Here you can hunt anywhere. Scrap heaps at lumber yards are a great source of free wood. You can attend yard sales and auctions all weekend, every weekend, straight through from April to October. And you would have a hard time finding a city anywhere in the state large enough that you could not get out of on an average length run.

We’ve got the National Forest, the Fernow, Canaan, the Sods, Hawk’s Nest and the New River Gorge, and Mountwood. We’ve got parks and public forest land out the wazoo, but beyond what the maps imply, we each have a park out our front door too. We’ve got a holler here, a ridge-line trail up there, ATV tracks and old lumber roads just around the bend, and Kermit Ware’s old farm on the next hill over that we are welcome to run across.

A photograph of any of the back roads in our area could easily be mistaken for a trail by a runner from anywhere else in the country – narrow, winding, paved with dirt, pocked with pot-holes, and encircled by a tunnel of trees that filter the not so gentle sunshine through their leaves lending a green cast and a muted rustle to the humid air. Since it only takes one hand to count the number of cars that pass one on a 12 mile run, the other hand is left free to brush sweat from the brow.

When we first moved here, almost exactly one year ago now, we excitedly scoped out all the hot running spots in the area.

“Ooh, that looks like a trail there along the top of Laurel Mountain.”

“By this map, we are less than a 30 minute drive to Otter Creek.”

“Maybe on weekends we can check out the Blackwater area.”

“And what about this ‘West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners Race Series’?'”

Even here in WV though, the pace of life picks up: seeds have to be planted, food must be fixed and eaten, jobs sought out, neighbors chatted to and a house populated with furniture. Aside from that, who wants to DRIVE all the time, to RUN? Miserable!

Nothing destroys the beauty of a daily routine of human-powered locomotion like a dependency on decayed-plant-fueled locomotion in order to do it. And since most of West Virginia is not yet part of the DC metro area monster, automotive locomotion should be optional at worst, unnecessary at best.

Excited and interested to learn about our immediate surroundings, exploration commenced, starting at the front door and increasing outwards in an ever broadening radius.

OK, so the Belington City Park can be explored in its entirety in under 100 seconds, and in the nearby metropolis of Elkins, their City Park might take 120. Of note here though is the presence of a drinking fountain, occasionally useful to those of us arcane enough to not run with a water bottle, and the basketball court, for those interested in a mid-run pick-up game of 3 on 3.

Out on the country roads two needs became quickly apparent. 1. The need to learn all the dogs’ names and 2. the ability to tell the difference between a driveway and a road.

The first skill comes only with time and ideal spring weather. Within a few well-timed runs on a sunny April day, one can manage to meet most of the dog owners outside their houses, working on their car, sitting on their porch or mowing the lawn. The dog owner will undoubtedly take notice of you because the dogs will be sure to hit their queue and launch into their usual raucous cacophony. You, as the runner, should take this to mean “Stop running and chat with neighbor until you learn the names of the dogs(, and maybe even the name of the neighbor too).” (Though if you are going to remember only one of them by the end of the run, I strongly suggest remembering the names of the dogs.)

The second skill is more of a trial-and-error type learning experience. Most of your options, it seems, are driveways or gas wells, not roads. When in doubt, proceed with caution, listening for unchained dogs approaching and look for additional mailboxes. If you happen upon additional mailboxes chances are you just scored yourself another new road – a new trail in this, your home park territory.

Sticking to the backroads during the week, we hit the larger highways with gusto on early morning weekend runs. The larger state roads become connector trails between the parks which are criss-crossed by a web of county roads and non-road vehicular by-ways.

When learned thoroughly and navigated properly, your local network of county roads will gladly serve up to you countless runs of park-like quality or better. The next time you are in a big city, and the trails end at the park boundary, you might even be disappointed.

Katie Wolpert
May 6, 2007

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