|Montani Semper Liber ... Mountaineers Are Always Free|
These words adorn the state flag of the Great State of
West Virginia. Yes, that state, the one that
continually comes in last in every statistic kept by
the federal government. We're last (or next to last)
in just about every failing of humankind ... obesity,
tobacco use, high school graduation rate, teen
pregnancy. You name it, we're number one - or number
fifty, depending upon your perspective.
West Virginia is one of the poorest states in America.
Our median income wouldn't buy a cheeseburger, fries,
and a coke in New York City. Our elected politicians
are, by and large, good ole boys. We're the butt of
many a joke around the country. The largest employer
in the state IS the state.
The largest single city in West Virginia barely has
50,000 people. We're mostly known for coal mining,
yet the lion's share of dollars from mining leaves the
state, and ends up in the hands of the land barons
living elsewhere. No United States Presidents were
born in West Virginia. I don't even believe any Vice
Presidents were born here; but we are the home of
Senator Robert C. Byrd.
West Virginia doesn't have a professional sports team.
We're not big enough. We don't have any major TV
markets that would be attractive to any owners. We
don't have any national monuments ... no Grand Canyon,
or Mount Rushmore, or even a Disney World; no NASCAR
tracks, no Great Lakes, no international airports, no
Opryland, no sky needles, no eight lane highways, no
beaches, no Ivy League colleges.
We don't have any rodeos, or any skyscrapers, or world
famous vacations spots, or motion picture studios, or
amber waves of grain; no subways, no Emmy Awards, no
Mardi Gras, and no Rose Bowl Parade.
With all of the things West Virginia doesn't have, why
would anyone bother living here, you ask?
Well ... West Virginia has some things that a person
doesn't realize they wanted until they were here.
West Virginia has mountains. The Appalachian
Mountains extend from New York to Georgia, but in no
state are they more majestic, or part of the renown,
than in West Virginia. The highest point in West
Virginia is Spruce Knob, one mile above sea level.
Yes, there are higher points in America, but none more
breathtaking. Because of our mountains, we have
The oldest river in the western hemisphere, the New
River (quite appropriately named, don't you think)
ends in West Virginia. We have the Gauley river which,
along with the New, offers tremendous recreational
opportunities. We have the Kanawha river, formed from
the Gauley and the New rivers in a magnificent
cascade, which flows through the center of the state,
and directly through the capital city of Charleston,
the largest city in West Virginia.
The tallest building in Charleston is barely 25 floors
tall, which, if you think about it, is a plus; how
could you possibly build a skyscraper more beautiful
than a mountain? The capital city stretches throughout
the long river valley, encompassing both hill and
dale. Our airport, the largest in the state, sits on
top of a mountain.
The crime rate in Charleston, including the entire
population of the Kanawha Valley (around 200,000),
reflects that of the entire state ... the lowest in
America. No more than a handful of murders are
committed each year. Charleston has no subway systems,
but, truth be known, you can get from one end of town
to the other, even in rush hour traffic, in less than
There are three major interstate systems going through
Charleston, the smallest city in America to make such
a claim. The entire state has six different interstate
systems, meaning, from Charleston, you can reach
Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh,
Louisville or Charlotte in four hours or less.
Ah, but, once you leave the interstate, the drive
becomes a thing of wonder. Two lane roads, winding up
and down the mountains, offer amazing views and
historic places ... small towns, poor in wealth but
rich in history.
West Virginia is the birthplace of Mother's Day, in
Grafton. We have the oldest covered bridge still in
use. We have walnut festivals and strawberry festivals
and apple festivals and pumpkin festivals and arts and
crafts fairs and stern wheel regattas and ramp
dinners. We have Bridge Day, on the New River Gorge
bridge, over 800 feet above the New river; the only
standing structure in the United States that, one day
a year, allows parachuting and bungee jumping.
We have college basketball, and minor league baseball
and hockey, and, just like all of America, Friday
night high school football. We have white water
rafting, and skiing, and hiking, and caves, and
waterfalls, and camping in every direction. We have
Sundays where a leisurely drive in the car can take
eight hours, and only cover 100 miles.
We have bed and breakfasts, and resorts, and golf
courses, and museums, and the Greenbrier. West
Virginia has more natural beauty and wonder than any
person could ever imagine.
We have all of this, and yet ... our greatest asset is
our people. West Virginians are good people.
We care about each other. We talk to our neighbors
over the backyard fence. We grow tomatoes for the
entire neighborhood. We turn around in each other's
driveways, and yell howdy when we do. We sit on the
porch on warm summer evenings, listening to crickets,
and watching kids catch fireflies.
We loan a hammer, or a cup of sugar. We don't take two
hour lunches, but we do spend a few minutes each day
with a cup of coffee, and our feet up on our desk,
shooting the breeze. We rarely get in a hurry.
We have relatives just down the street. We don't just
loan someone a socket wrench, we help them fix their
car. We share recipes, and gardening tips, and our
last beer. We baby sit each other's kids, we house sit
for each other's dogs while we're on vacation, and we
loan each other our cars if we have to get to the drug
We ask each other if we need anything as we're going
to the market. We celebrate each other's
accomplishments, and we cry over each other's
We are a friendly folk. We are West Virginians.
Mountaineers are always free. Free to take the time
to enjoy life, and hold each moment in our hearts,