Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Call of the Falls

I love waterfalls! West Virginia is blessed with many of them, in a variety of types. There is just something about the sound and scenery of falling water that can hypnotize the soul.

We recently revisited Valley Falls State Park, a hidden gem that is only seven miles from Interstate 79, between Fairmont and Grafton on State Route 310. This small state park is located where the Tygart Valley River goes over a couple of ten-foot drops. This park is categorized as a day-use park—it has no lodge or campground, and closes for the winter months. But it does have nearly 1200 forested acres, 18 miles of hiking/mountain biking trails, a playground and other facilities, as well as the natural beauty of the falls. Anglers are welcome to fish, too.

I think it is fun to scamper about the giant rocks, picking your way to different vantage points along the river. It is also interesting to see the remnants of the grist mill that once operated there. Indeed, in the late 1800s there was a bustling community at Valley Falls, but fire and floods through the narrow gorge have virtually erased its existence.

Although the falls and the rapids are beautiful and melodious, the river can also be dangerous. Swimming is not allowed here, because a number of drownings have occurred. Whitewater kayaking is permissible, but only by signing a waiver in advance. Also, be mindful of the trains that occasionally travel through the park, as their tracks follow that side of the river.

If you drive to Valley Falls from I-79, head south on 310 which takes you through the small community of Quiet Dell. Watch for the park signs telling you to turn right onto a small road that also happens to lead around Rock Lake (not to be confused with Rock Lake Park that thrived in South Charleston as a swimming pool and amusement park). Rock Lake is private lakeside community in Marion County, similar to Lake Floyd in Harrison County or Lake Washington in Wood County. All of these are examples of man-made lakes around which houses were built, forming private communities in the early 20th century that still thrive today. Beyond Rock Lake, the road climbs the ridge, enters the park at the peak, and then descends down the hill to the river. The falls are a short walk from the parking area—just listen for the sound of the rushing water of the Tygart Valley River.

The name of the river is another interesting point. It was named for an early settler in the Beverly area by the name of David Tygart. This river begins near the border between Randolph County and Pocahontas County, and then flows north to Fairmont, running through such towns as Huttonsville, Elkins, Belington, Philippi, and Grafton. Most folks simply refer to it as the Tygart River, however it is officially recognized by the United States Board on Geographic Names as the “Tygart Valley River.”

Regardless of what you call the river, it is worth venturing a few miles off the interstate to experience Valley Falls State Park.

In this view, you can see both "steps" of these falls, with the first one (pictured above) further in the background. By the way, this story appeared in the July issue of "Two-Lane Livin'" magazine.

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