My First Impressions of Elkins, West Virginia
Why I moved to Elkins, West Virginia –
I moved to Elkins just a month ago at the end of August. Why would I, a recent college graduate from rural-ish Minnesota, decide to move to Elkins, West Virginia? I was looking at post-graduation opportunities through AmeriCorps and came across positions with Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area that interested me and I applied.
There were multiple factors that led me to decide to move 1,000 miles across the country. I have loved traveling since I was young and have always been excited to see new places. My university sent students home in March and I had been sitting at home since then. Maybe because of this, I was feeling extra adventurous. I liked Elkins because of its size and location. Elkins had what I needed, groceries, gas, and a place to shop for any necessities, as well as what I wanted, great food, lots of outdoor recreation, and multiple regional attractions. Elkins is a gateway to the Monongahela National Forest, offering miles and miles of trails for those interested. I could spend a day of solitude in Dolly Sods or Otter Creek Wilderness Areas, or I could spend some time in and around Randolph County touring local attractions, such as the Beverly Heritage Center, Appalachian Forest Discovery Center, Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, or the Green Bank Observatory (check on Covid-19 facility operations updates). If I wanted to visit a larger city, I could easily get to one from Elkins. Charleston and Morgantown are both within a couple hours and even Washington D.C. is only 4 hours away. While bigger cities are fun to explore, I didn’t want to feel overwhelmed by a city when moving to West Virginia. I knew I would feel comfortable in Elkins. As I learned more about the area, I became curious and decided that I wanted to check it out and experience it for myself.
First impressions –
Beautiful setting and winding roads
Elkins, West Virginia is nestled in the mountains and everywhere you go from Elkins is a scenic drive. I love seeing the wisps of fog coming off the mountain trees. While the tree-covered mountains are beautiful, at first it can feel somewhat closed in for someone accustomed to a landscape of lakes and flat, open farmland. During the few days after arriving when my parents were here with me, we ventured up to the charming town of Helvetia. At one point along the drive, the scenery opened up and we saw cows in a pasture. I never thought cows would bring the comfort of familiarity, but I was strangely happy to see them. The winding roads I expected. Miles aren’t very helpful here, I have learned to ask how long it will take to get somewhere, not how far, then I enjoy the drive.
Busy for a “small” town
I was moving to a town of about half the population of my hometown. While I knew I wasn’t moving to a remote cottage in the middle of the Monongahela National Forest, I also wasn’t expecting the town to feel as busy as it does. In my first couple weeks here, I learned that Elkins is a hub for Randolph county. As the largest town in the county and the county seat, it is full of activity. Elkins is also a perfect “base camp” for taking advantage of the nearby outdoor recreation. Visitors will stay here, then go out and explore the surrounding area.
Speaking of outdoor recreation, I enjoy hiking, canoeing, camping and generally being outside in pretty places. I had been told the area offered a lot in the way of outdoor recreation, but I was still surprised when I arrived by just how much variety exists. The Elkins’ region provides endless opportunities for outdoor activities for all seasons. I have a list almost a full page in length of places people suggested I go, a good number of which are outdoor destinations. Some destinations are very close, such as Stuart Recreation Area, Bickle Knob and Otter Creek Wilderness Area, while others are farther like Cranberry Wilderness Area, about a 1 ½ hour drive. Those I’ve checked off the list include Bickle Knob, Gaudineer Scenic Area, Seneca Rocks and most recently part of Dolly Sods Wilderness Area. There are areas with easy access and less intense trails, such as Stuart Recreation Area. Bickle Knob observation tower in the Monongahela National Forest is accessible by a forest road with a short walk to the tower from the parking area. The boardwalk at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge is accessible for all ages and abilities. For those looking for a challenge, the multiple Wilderness designations within the National Forest offer more intense hiking. Some are heavily forested, such as Gaudineer Scenic Area, while others showcase more open landscapes or overlook the mountains, like parts of Dolly Sods and Spruce Knob. Waterfalls and rivers: check. Hiking isn’t your thing? The area offers bike trails, train excursions, rock climbing, river rafting, skiing, hunting and fishing. If it’s not just outside of Elkins, it’s close. I was impressed and excited by all the places to explore and I’ve learned you can’t go wrong with any of them. It all depends on what type of experience you’re looking for. If you’re here for a visit and can’t hit all the places you’d like, you’ll just have to come back!
“Minnesota Nice” extends to West Virginia, or at the very least to Elkins. One of the first things my parents and I noticed when we arrived in Elkins was the friendliness of the people. People would ask where we were from and what brought us to Elkins. When we said I was moving here, they welcomed me to the area. I have since met more people through my service with the Welcome Center and it’s the same story. Before my parents left, they said multiple times that they felt good about leaving their daughter here. I feel good about being here.