Difference between revisions of "West Virginia"
Revision as of 19:11, 27 May 2011
West Virginia  is a state in the Southern Region of the United States of America. It's often called the "Mountain State", being the only state in the USA to lie completely within a mountain range (in this case, the Appalachians). West Virginia is bordered by five states, on the south and east by Virginia, Maryland to the north and east, the north by Pennsylvania, the north and west by Ohio and Kentucky to the west.
Originally part of the state of Virginia, the residents of the counties that became West Virginia split from the rest of the state in part due to a disagreement over the issues of slavery and secession. These counties elected to remain with the Union, and the new state was born on June 20, 1863. The population of the state today is around 1.7 million people. The capital city is Charleston, and the state motto is "Mountaineers are always free."
Once considered the southernmost of the North, the northernmost of the South, the easternmost of the West, and the westernmost of the East, West Virginia is nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Ohio River to the west. Rich in natural resources, physical beauty, and traditional culture, West Virginia's charm is that of being "off the beaten path". West Virginia is a destination for white water rafting, kayaking, skiing, climbing, golf, mountain biking, hiking, and off-roading. It is the only state that is entirely contained in Appalachia. Its location between the mid-west and eastern seaboard of the United States means that over 60% of the United States population lives less than 500 miles from West Virginia.
West Virginia is abundant in natural resources, being primarily known as a major producer of coal since the 1800s — in fact, it's the number-two coal producing state in the US . However, it has never been a particularly wealthy state, particularly outside the larger towns; per capita income is quite low, and the poverty levels are some of the highest in the nation. From the point of view of the traveller, this isn't necessarily a negative. The people in rural areas may not have much material wealth, but they're down-to-earth, grateful for what they have, and very friendly and hospitable, and this attitude toward life generally applies to people in the larger cities as well. You'll receive a very warm welcome, as long as you respect their Southern politeness and try to return it in kind (which means: be patient, smile, engage in small talk, and no jokes about hillbillies or inbreeding).
As a visitor, you'll find that West Virginia has a lot to offer. There's beautiful natural scenery, quaint mountain towns, delicious down-home country food, traditional handicrafts, lots of pioneer and Civil War history, outdoor activities of the rollicking and stately varieties, and great cultural opportunities. The pace of life is slow and relaxed, but with so many exciting things to do, West Virginia is a wonderful destination for a quiet getaway or a weekend adventure.
Given its position as a boundary state between the North and the South, your perception of the West Virginia dialect will probably depend on where you're from. People from the North think that West Virginians have a Southern accent, whereas people from the South perceive them as speaking a more Northern dialect. Nevertheless, most West Virginians do have at least a bit of a Southern twang, particularly if you venture into the more remote mountain communities.
There is no single West Virginia dialect. In areas of the state which border Ohio and Pennsylvania, the pronounciations tend to be more northern, with the primary marker being the long "I" sound. Some will voice the dipthong "aye" in the northern style, while others make the "ah" sound. Those in the interior of the state speak in a manner more like people from Kentucky or southern Virginia. In the southern counties particuarly, you will find a very pronounced southern twang.
Variations in dialects can be traced to immigration patterns. The coal fields of the southeastern part of the state were the destination of miners immigrating from Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In the more industrialized areas along the Ohio River, the immigrant population was comprised of large numbers of eastern European immigrants.
In the most southern part of the state, there are communities which are almost entirely African-American. During the mine wars of the late 1800s, mine owners hired former slaves from the southern states to replace striking miners. Because these communities tend to be segregated (by choice), the dialects of the southern slaves live on in their speech.
There are three main interstates in West Virginia: I-64 crosses the lower third of the state from Kentucky into Huntington, through Charleston and Beckley, and then past Lewisburg into Virginia. I-77 moves up the western third of the state, from Virginia into Bluefield, through Charleston and then past Parkersburg into Ohio. I-79 begins in Charleston and continues through Morgantown into Pennsylvania.
The best way to see the state is definitely by driving, as West Virginia is generally lacking in reliable statewide public transportation. Many towns are basically inaccessible except by car, as is some of the best scenery. But be careful — off the main highways, the roads often loop around the mountaintops, which makes for some stunning views but also requires careful driving. Hairpin curves around mountain roads are not to be taken at high speeds, and the smaller country roads don't always have guard rails. Many such turns are also at steep inclines - make sure you engine brake and obey all speed limit signs. Do not follow too closely to coal trucks, lest your windshield be cracked by falling hunks of coal.
Motorcyclists will tell you that the best way to see the state is definitely by motorcycle. The warnings about hairpin curves and smaller country roads do apply, but those roads are motorcycling nirvana - endless curves and elevation changes. The state even encourages motorcycle tourism, offering pamphlets with suggested tour routes.
Although there aren't any statewide bus lines, many of the metropolitan areas have their own inter-area bus systems.
There are several scenic train lines, if you want to view some of West Virginia's picturesque landscapes from the comfort of an excursion train:
Traditional West Virginia cooking is broadly similar to Southern cuisine, but it's technically part of the Appalachian style of cooking, which was mostly subsistence-based, meaning that people ate what they could grow or catch themselves. This style of cooking emphasizes wild or cultivated plants, berries, nuts, wild game and corn. While this does mean that some West Virginians eat opossum, squirrel and raccoon, you won't find them on any restaurant menus (unless you visit the Roadkill Cook-off in Marlinton). Foods like fried chicken, sausage, cornbread, green and pinto beans, greens, squash casserole, mashed potatoes, fresh cucumbers and onions, ripe tomatoes, pickles and berry cobbler are commonly found throughout the state.
One of West Virginia's most famous (or infamous?) foods is the ramp, or wild leek, a wild onion similar to a scallion that is much beloved in the area, even though the flavor is so potent that the garlicky scent will linger on a person for days after consuming them. There are even ramp festivals throughout the state in spring, with the best-known being held in Elkins, Richwood and Helvetia. Usually served family style, typical offerings include ham, fried potatoes, stewed and raw ramps, and soup beans.
Although most people probably think of home-distilled whiskey and moonshine when they think of West Virginia, the state has a burgeoning wine industry these days. Wineries can be found all over the state; some also produce specialty products like mead and fruity melomel, and cooking wine made from ramps. A small selection of wineries is below:
However, if you really want to sample local moonshine, you can still get it at legal distilleries in the state:
West Virginia also has a number of microbreweries, including:
Be careful when driving on mountain roads, especially in the winter. The roads can be very steep, hairpin turns are common, most roads outside main traffic routes are unpaved, and if you're driving in the mountains, you may find yourself on the edge of a very steep drop with at most a guardrail to protect you. In the winter, West Virginia is susceptible to fairly large snowfalls, which can make the roads treacherous if not impassable, particularly if your car doesn't have good traction on the inclines.
As you're driving, you'll also notice road signs at certain locations advising you to be alert for rockfalls in the vicinity. Many of the roads in the state were cut right through the mountains, giving you interesting geological sights as you drive, but bad weather and erosion can lead to rocks coming loose and tumbling down onto traffic below. It's not at all common, but it does occur, so pay attention to the signs and keep alert.
If you're in the state to partake of its outdoor adventures, be sure you follow the usual precautions. During hunting season, wear hunter's blaze orange clothing if you go into the woods. If you're canoeing or whitewater rafting, be sure to keep a lifejacket on. And if you're into extreme sports, don't take unnecessary risks; more than one experienced BASE jumper has perished at the annual Bridge Day festivities, most recently in 2006.
Unleashed dogs are abundant, especially on back roads. Carry a large walking stick and pepper spray when hiking and don't venture uninvited onto posted property.
In the woods, it's also wise to take precautions against insect-borne diseases. Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are both spread by ticks, and West Nile virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, both of which are common in West Virginia forests. Fortunately, the diseases themselves are fairly uncommon in the state, but it never hurts to stay safe. Wear long clothes that cover your skin, use a good insect repellent, and check your body for ticks as soon as you return indoors.
Stay out of abandoned coal mines, which can be full of hazards such as rotten timber supports, unstable ground, rats, snakes, undetonated explosives, blasting caps, explosive methane gas, and pockets of "blackdamp" or air without enough oxygen to support life.
In terms of natural disasters, West Virginia is quite a safe place to be. Earthquakes are practically nonexistent , it's far enough inland that hurricanes are rarely a major problem, and the mountain range seems to discourage tornadoes from forming, although the state does average about two per year.  The most common type of natural disaster in the state is flooding, which can be a serious problem, so pay attention to news bulletins during periods of heavy rain, and stay away from affected areas. 
On the eastern and southern border, Virginia, of which West Virginia was originally a part, has Shenandoah National Park and Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson.
To the west, Kentucky is rich in horse related attractions, including the Kentucky Horse Park and the Kentucky Derby.
Three states are on the northern border. Ohio has the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the only Y-shaped bridge in the world. Pennsylvania is the home to six-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers and to the Gettysburg Battlefield. Maryland is where The Star Spangled Banner was written and is home to the US Naval Academy.