Thursday, May 1, 2014

Paint Creek—Finally

As a kid, it was always a big event to travel on the West Virginia Turnpike (the real road, not the little cars that kids could drive at Camden Park in Huntington—although that was fun, too!). My turnpike experiences usually happened during our once-a-summer vacation at the beach.

Growing up around two farm ponds and near a couple of creeks, I have always been fascinated with water. I especially enjoy fast flowing streams. I loved watching out my back seat car window while heading south on the Turnpike at Cabin Creek first (famous as the home of basketball legend Jerry West), and then (after passing through the old Memorial Tunnel) eventually Paint Creek. I was enamored with the rapids visible on Paint Creek as it danced downhill alongside the highway.

As a kid, I told myself that someday when I was adult, I was going to get off the turnpike and explore that creek. Later on as a college student, Paint Creek took on a new significance when I learned about the labor struggles in the coalfields, including an infamous incident when a passing train machine-gunned the tents of striking coal miners along Paint Creek. It was also in college that I learned of the colorful character Mother Jones, and she had trudged along this very creek.

Unfortunately, it seemed that (just like my busy father) I never had the luxury of extra time during my adult travels on the Turnpike. However, I recently found myself with the opportunity to finally get a close-up view of at least a small portion of Paint Creek.

I jumped off onto Route 612 at the Mossy Exit, and quickly encountered three historical markers next to the creek. It turns out that there is a Paint Creek Scenic Driving Tour, complete with markers providing historical information. I soon turned off Route 612 onto the small county road that follows the creek upstream to the community of Pax (the next turnpike exit roughly six miles south).

There were a number of pull off areas along this county road, and fishermen were utilizing some of them (I later learned that Paint Creek is one of the waterways that the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources stocks with trout each spring). The creek is even prettier when you are meandering along the little road close by the water instead of flying by at 70 MPH up on the four-lane. There are lots of rocks of all sizes, laurel thickets, deep green pines, and white barked tree trunks, as well as the constant downhill cascades of the water itself.

I learned from the historical markers that long before the Turnpike, Paint Creek was also a major "highway" for American Indians. Its gradual ascent from the Kanawha River at Pratt to the Appalachian highlands near Beckley was widely used by many tribes. They often stripped the bark from trees to provide a background to paint colorful drawings about their trip or their hunting successes. When white men first discovered this creek, they referred to it as "Painted Tree Creek" which later was shortened to Paint Creek (I had always wondered how it got its name).

Although I only had enough extra time to see a small portion of Paint Creek (plus a quick side trip to nearby Plum Orchard Lake), I saw enough to pique my interest. I have since explored the website for the Paint Creek Scenic Trail ( and will definitely be back to see the entire route, from Beckley to the Kanawha River—and I won’t wait near as long to act on that vow this time.

A glimpse of Paint Creek just upstream from the Mossy exit. By the way, this story was also published (with a better picture of Paint Creek) at 4Fayette.

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