Autumn days are wonder days With colors red and gold, Summer is gone; fall is here And the year is growing old.
And often do I like to think That God, with mystic hand, Has reached down from heaven And painted all the land." --Jennings Randolph
I wrote those words as a student at Salem College, and recall them each fall as I travel over and through the mountains of West Virginia.
Regardless of the season, The Mountain State's lush forests and beautiful scenery have long been known to visitors. Only recently, however, have sections of the Allegheny Highlands been opened to travelers with completion of a network of modern highways.
Looking ahead, October is the prime month for fall colors, with the higher elevations ablaze with reds and golds.
Certainly the most spectacular section of mountain highway (and my favorite place) for viewing the seasonal changes of autumn is the little-known Highland Scenic Highway, a 44-mile stretch of mountaintop highway less than 250 miles west of Washington. Opened in October of 1980, the Highland Scenic Highway stretches from Richwood on the west to U.S. 219, seven miles north of Marlinton in Pocahontas County. Approximately half of the highway follows West Virginia Rte. 39 eastward to the Cranberry Mountain Visitors Center. The remaining parkway is under the supervision of the U.S. Forest Service.
This scenic highway reaches upward to 4,544 feet on the top of Black Mountain, and nearly 60 percent of the parkway is above 4,000 feet. In the cool autumn months, auto travelers experience the thrilling sensation of actually driving through low-lying clouds and seeing mountain peaks below resembling scattered islands in a sea of white foam.
The Highland Scenic Highway was conceived in the early 1960s, to provide a recreational access for camping, picnicking, hunting and fishing, hiking and backpacking. The parkway was completed with federal funds, with design and construction by the West Virginia Department of Highways. The final seven-mile segment was completedthree years ago, after Congress accepted my proposal in 1973 to make the parkway eligible for financing under the highway trust fund. There is no charge for driving the parkway.
Aside from magnificent mountain views, visitors will wish to take advantage of the many recreational facilities within the Monongahela National Forest to the north and west, where the Cranberry Back Country offers unlimited hiking opportunities.
Cranberry Glades, with an almost endless variety of flora and fauna, is a favorite of nature study groups.
Forest Service officials say the Highland Scenic Highway, which in my opinion far surpasses the neighboring Blue Ridge Parkway of Virginia, is underutilized because of its relative newness. Traffic checks show that 39,040 vehicles traveled the highway in 1982, with an estimated visitor count of 87,000 persons. The scenic highway is usually closed around Dec. 1 through February, because snow makes it impossible to clear the higher elevations.
Come to West Virginia and enjoy my favorite place, the Highland Scenic Highway.