11 Most Unique Events in WV
West Virginia is a little weird, and a lot of wonderful!
We love any reason for a gathering. We celebrate pretty much everything. Here are some of the oddest, most interesting festivals and jubilees you should plan to visit:
1. Watch daredevils dive off the New River Gorge Bridge
Walking across the 876-foot-high bridge spanning the New River is against the law but one day each year. On Bridge Day, the third Saturday in October, thousands of people not only walk across the highest and longest arch span in the Western Hemisphere, but hundreds also jump off of it—intentionally.
Only the most experienced BASE jumpers (you have to have at least 100 skydives first) have the opportunity to walk off a wooden platform perched atop the structure. If that isn’t cutting it in the adrenaline department, jumpers are also welcome to attempt to walk the plank, a 15’ long 4” wide balance beam, or use a mini trampoline to somersault deep into the gorge. Onlookers fill the bridge, watching BASE jumpers glide towards churning rapids nearly 900’ below. Other visitors opt for a ride in a kayak or a guided white water rafting boat, where they can watch a new jumper approach the ground about every 30 seconds.
2. Experiment with a smorgasbord of roadkill delicacies
Upwards of 100,000 curious foodies annually convene on the small Pocahontas County town of Marlinton for the RoadKill Cookoff, ready to try squirrel gravy, teriyaki-marinated bear or deer sausage. Official cookoff rules state all entries must have, as their featured ingredient, any animal commonly found dead on the side of the road – groundhog, opossum, deer, rabbit, bear, crow, squirrel, snake, etc. Appetizers to the big event include a Possum Trot 5k run/walk and a pageant. Yes, that’s right— every year they crown Little Miss RoadKill, Miss RoadKill and the RoadKill Queen.
3. Search for the infamous Mothman monster
The third weekend of every September in Point Pleasant, the legend of Mothman is very much alive. This is when the town celebrates its most infamous resident: a winged birdlike creature with glowing red eyes.
Experts take visitors to the TNT Area, (a WWII era ammunition manufacturing facility) known as the home of Mothman to locals. He was rumored to first be spotted there by a couple in 1966. Festivalgoers interested in details can visit the official Mothman Museum and Research Center for tours and presentations by Mothman eyewitnesses, authors and paranormal investigators.
4. Cheer on lumberjacks and jills as they compete for a championship
Each Memorial Day weekend since 1960, woodchoppers compete for the Southeastern U.S. World Championship Woodchopper title at this festival in Webster Springs. Burly lumberjacks and jills flex their muscles (and saws) in a variety of events including the springboard, Jack & Jill crosscut, axe throw, standing block, hot saw and more. They aren’t the only ones in a fierce competition, though. Beauties are also competing for the chance to be crowned Miss Woodchopper.
This festival also features the West Virginia State Firemen’s Rodeo Championship and the West Virginia State Turkey Calling Championship. How’s that for variety?
5. A Grape Stomping Festival unlike any other
Each September, Kirkwood Winery in Summersville opens its doors (and bottles) so wine-lovers near and far can try as many of its 39 wines as they wish– including unique flavors like “Appalachian Ramp” and “Dandelion.” Kirkwood Winery is also the location of Isaiah Morgan Distillery, which is the smallest licensed distillery in the USA.
After you sample the wine, throw off your shoes and jump in a barrel of grapes. They won’t mind, we promise. In fact, it’s encouraged. And if you’re still feeling gutsy, you can enter the Grape Eating Contest.
6. Learn to create fire from nothing but rocks
Ever wonder how you’d fare on Survivor? Get in touch with your inner caveman or woman at the Mountaincraft and Music Gathering, a three-day festival dedicated to primitive skills, old-time music and community. Stay at a very basic campsite on the 140-acre campus of the North American Bushcraft School or head to a bed and breakfast down the road in Hedgesville.
Attendees get the chance to gather around the fire and learn from savvy outdoor experts from across the country. With newfound knowledge on friction fires, basket weaving and bow and arrow making, you’ll leave ready to survive in the wilderness.
7. Scare winter away in a tiny Swiss mountain village
For one night every year, the quiet, tiny (population of 59, to be exact) Swiss village of Helvetia becomes a party destination.
Wilderness has cocooned Helvetia from outside influence, thus the old Swiss tradition of Fasnacht has remained untouched. The pre-lenten celebration is also an attempt to say goodbye to winter, though its effectiveness is questionable (wind chills are known to dip into the negatives). Festivities begin with a masked parade at dark (homemade masks are encouraged), and lead to the community hall, where festivalgoers square dance and sing to traditional music. At midnight, an effigy of Old Man Winter is ripped from the ceiling rafters and tossed into a bonfire.
The Helvetia Hutte, the only restaurant in town, sees more customers in one day than they see in weeks. With hundreds of revelers competing for spots in the town’s few bed and breakfasts, some travelers (too tired to leave town) stay with local residents, while others crash on cots in the Helvetia Community Hall.
8. Celebrate the end of a famous family feud with real descendents of the Hatfields and McCoys
In June 2003, about a hundred years after the notorious Hatfield and McCoy feud, about 60 descendants of the 2 families gathered in Pikeville, Kentucky, to sign a truce. Though their ancestors quarreled for generations, the Hatfields and McCoys finally decided a tug-of-war is a lot more fun than a real war– and they wanted everyone to join in. The 3-day Hatfield McCoy Reunion takes place in both Matewan and Williamson and features historic tours, games, re-enactments, book signings, arts and crafts and a marathon. Old habits die hard: descendants still show their allegiance by wearing ribbons: red for Hatfields, blue for McCoys.
9. Try out Richwood’s stinkiest delicacy at a giant ramp feed
Thousands of pounds of this pungent plant burst through the soil each spring, and since 1937, Richwood has been celebrating the wild food at its Feast of the Ramson. According to the event’s website, ramps have been such an integral part of the town’s history that one year, former newsman Jim Comstock infused the ink used to print the Richwood News Leader with the smell of ramps. Due to the stink, the post office apparently asked him to refrain from doing so ever again.
10. Meet the original boys from October Sky
Each year, the original Rocket Boys (made popular by Homer Hickam’s memoir Rocket Boys and later, the movie “October Sky”) return home for the Rocket Boys Festival. The festival was first held in the boys’ hometown of Coalwood, and was moved to nearby Beckley in 2012. Attendees have the chance to meet and talk with the original Rocket Boys, as well as participate in a paper airplane contest, a fire hydrant painting contest and a rocket-launching contest.
11. Find out which waters are really best
Every February for the past 25 years, professional water drinkers (various locals and national media) have descended upon the Berkeley Springs Water Festival to judge municipal, bottled, sparkling and purified water. It’s the world’s largest water tasting competition.
As watermaster Arthur von Weisenburger so eloquently puts it, this water tasting is the “grandaddy of them all.” A panel of judges scrutinizes water based on appearance, aroma, taste, mouthfeel and aftertaste. While organizers agree the event can be a little dry– pun intended– audience members come from all over the country to observe and are given incentive to stay until the very end. Deemed the “water rush,” the audience is invited to take home hundreds of bottles of water sent as part of the judging.
And these are just the ones we’ll tell you about! Which weird, wonderful, one-of-a-kind West Virginia festival do you need to see to believe?