Winter has a funny way of bringing things into focus. The cold vacates all manner of bird and drives summer’s cicadas below ground. The snow mutes all save the low and rumbling wind. I personally like the cold and silence. It slows things down. It lets you think.
I wasn’t sure how best to tackle an article on West Virginia’s Canaan Valley, as one cannot take in the breadth of one of the state’s most sublime regions in a single trip. The landscape reinvents itself every few months, offering everything from January’s pristine snow to June’s rhododendron blooms. The autumn veils the valley in gold, orange and deep red while spring births new greenery, including the uniquely Appalachian ramp which itself is celebrated across the state.
An article on winter in Canaan Valley would be remiss to not discuss the region’s nationally recognized Timberline and Canaan Valley resorts, both of which are well-acclaimed and established for their skiing and winter sports; however, as much as I respect those who find joy in sliding down mountains at forty miles per hour, that is not a hobby for me. Skiing is fast. I like things slow. Besides, there are a million and one articles on West Virginia winter sports, and there is much, much more to the area. Perhaps it is best to start at the beginning.
The Canaan Valley owes its ecology to the Pleistocene, which is the scientific name for what we all know as the “Ice Age”, which lasted from approximately 2.5 million years ago until approximately 11,700 years ago. Canaan Valley, due to its proximity to advancing glaciation, developed flora much more akin to that which can be found in the Canadian tundra than the lowland regions of Appalachia. That unique ecology with its windswept fields, boggy wetlands, and boreal forests is best observed in The Dolly Sods Wilderness Area; although one can easily observe those landscapes across the area. Immense hemlock and red spruce, some reportedly as tall as sequoias once presided over the land before the industrial revolution and the growth of the logging industry. None of the old growth remains, unfortunately.
European settlers discovered the region sometime in the 1740s. Most sources I looked at list 1746, others differ by a year or two. The area was named “Canaan” after the promised land of the Old Testament. Over the next several decades, generations of settlers and homesteaders moved into the area and made use of its abundant hunting and fishing. The lumber industry erupted in the 1800s and allowed small settlements, including Elkins and Davis, to prosper; unfortunately, without progressive environment regulations which came about in the 20th century, industrial wealth came with a dire ecological cost. Deforestation stripped the once dense woodland to unsustainable scarcity.
The absence of a shielding canopy exposed underbrush which dried and served as kindling to wildfires which further ravaged the area. The 1920s saw the valley added to the Monongahela National Forest. The federal protection allowed new growth to develop, although practically none of the original forest survived. The United States Army used part of the Monongahela Forest, including Canaan Valley, for live round mortar training during World War Two. Munitions and relics from those training exercises have been found in the area as recently as 2006. The 1950s saw the development of recreational skiing and in 1971 the Canaan Valley Resort opens its doors.
The Canaan Valley has become synonymous with winter sports since the 1970s. It is a paradise for skiers, snowboarders, and tubers. For those that are less gravity-inclined (like yours truly), rustic cabins, snowy trails, and picturesque landscapes offer a calmer source of entertainment. Deer and plentiful in all seasons, and in warmer months one can observe several species of migratory bird and butterflies. Mere miles down from Davis, WV, one can find the mighty Blackwater Falls, a nearly sixty-foot deluge of water tinted dark from tannic acid found in the area’s plentiful groves of spruce and hemlock. Here one will find even more hiking trails and scenic overlooks. Let it never be said that the West Virginian highlands skimp on natural beauty.
The entire Canaan Valley region is family friendly and offers a plethora of activities to tire out even the most rambunctious kid. Its halcyon scenery provides a great backdrop for couples in need of a romantic getaway. Heck, a trip to Canaan would even make for a great work retreat. Perhaps none of the above apply – one doesn’t need a reason to find enjoyment in the area. The next time you’re looking at options for a long weekend or just want to get away, keep Canaan Valley in mind. It is a sight to behold in all seasons.