Make two lists: one of the top outdoor recreation destinations in Appalachia and a second of the natural wonders surrounding the town of Elkins, West Virginia, and you’ll notice the two lists have a lot in common. Within an short drive of Elkins, you’ll find many of the most treasured wild places in Appalachia, places with names that evoke fond memories for generations of outdoor enthusiasts: Cranberry Wilderness, Canaan Valley, Seneca Rocks, Snowshoe Mountain, Blackwater Falls Canyon, Otter Creek Wilderness, Dolly Sods Wilderness, and much more.
Elkins is more than just the gateway to West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest. It’s also a town of 10,000 people that was ranked as one of the Best Small Towns in America and the 100 Best Small Arts Towns in America. Home to Davis and Elkins College, a thriving downtown business district, and the biggest festival in West Virginia, Elkins is a mountain community whose economy and future are intimately tied to the natural beauty of the Appalachian Mountains.
“The area has everything you want in wild Appalachia,” says Sara Maze, owner of Good Energy Foods, an Elkins natural foods store that is a member of the Appalachian Voices Business League. Good Energy Foods has been in business for twenty-eight years, and Maze has found that the natural beauty of the area is attracting an increasing number of new residents who are regular customers at her store.
“People who care about the environment flock to places like this,” Maze says. And with good reason – Elkins offers every imaginable type of outdoor recreation to residents and visitors alike, including hiking, birdwatching, kayaking, whitewater rafting, fly fishing, cross-country and downhill skiing, mountain biking, and rock climbing.
Elkins is also a community that celebrates its Appalachian heritage. The annual Ramp Festival, to be held this year on Saturday, April 24, attracts 3,000 people who come together to honor Appalachia’s famous, pungent wild leek with a ramp cook-off and entertainment. One visitor to a past Elkins Ramp Festival remembers sipping on a clandestine West Virginia cocktail – moonshine with a ramp garnish.
The Ramp Festival is one of a dozen fairs held in Elkins every year, and it’s just a warm-up to the big one, the Mountain State Forest Festival. Held in Elkins every October, it’s the oldest and largest festival in West Virginia, attracting 100,000 people and filling every hotel room within an hour’s drive of the small town. The nine-day festival highlights West Virginia’s forest heritage, featuring a dizzying array of events, including country music concerts, craft fairs, talent shows, pageants, and natural history exhibits.
Visitors also converge on Elkins every summer for the Augusta Heritage Arts Workshops, hosted by the Augusta Heritage Center at Davis and Elkins College. Beginning in July, the Center offers seven weeks of workshops and concerts that highlight American folk culture, crafts, music, and dance.
The local chamber of commerce reports an annual influx of new residents after these workshops, as tourists discover the area’s natural beauty and high quality of life. Community leaders know that a healthy environment is the key to the economic future of Elkins.
“If we maintain our environmental treasures, that’s what brings people here and pushes the economy,” says Sandy Marshall, owner of Bittersweet Books & Antiques and a member of the Appalachian Voices Business League. Marshall’s downtown store features used and antiquarian books, including a large selection of regional books, and other assorted antiques.
Chamber of Commerce executive director Brenda Pritt sees the natural beauty of the area as Elkin’s most valuable asset. As she puts it, “That’s who we are. We have to protect our environment, because that’s what makes us the outdoor place to be.”
To plan your trip to Elkins, contact the Randolph County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau at www.randolphcountywv.com, or 800-422-3304.