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Scenic overlooks provide magnificent views of the Allegheny Highlands.

It’s quiet in Pocahontas County, W.Va., but quiet can be a precious commodity for noise-jaded residents of the Mid-Atlantic. In Pocahontas County, home to the Monongahela National Forest, Cranberry Glades Wilderness, seven state parks and forests, and miles of highland trails, the sounds of nature are more obvious than those of humans.

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Located in east central West Virginia, Pocahontas County has ample justification for calling itself “Nature’s Mountain Playground.” Perched in the Allegheny Highlands with elevations reaching 5,000 feet, the county offers four seasons of outdoor recreational activities, scenic vistas and a network of country roads perfect for exploring.

Nearly two-thirds of the county is public land and much of it is protected or preserved. The native forests and associated wildlands make an ideal venue for the annual Wild Edibles Festival at Watoga State Park, May 3 and 4. Wild foods aficionados, herbalists and neo-foragers have the opportunity to learn about the wild plants, herbs, and fungi that flourish in the Appalachian forests and the medicinal benefits they hold. Festival activities will include naturalist exhibits and discussions, speakers, vendors, live music and guided hikes.

Attendance is free, and workshops and nature walks will focus on food preparations and the medicinal properties of Pocahontas County’s wild spring plants. Participants can learn to forage and prepare tasty dishes and teas, how to use hardy flowers from home gardens, or even invasive plants.

Full schedule of activities

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The event begins Friday afternoon with “Hiking Around the Edibles,” a hike around the lake at Watoga, followed by an evening presentation by keynote speaker Georganne Derick, a registered clinical herbalist and founding owner, practitioner and formulator of Geos Joy.

“Geo” Derick formulates custom medicines that taste good and are therapeutic. As an avid organic gardener, cook, and educator, she agrees with Hippocrates: “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” Ms. Derick is a professional member of the American Herbalists Guild (AHG) that promotes the highest level of professionalism and ethical practice of herbal therapeutics. She has been trained to work in partnership with modern medicine as an advocate for clients’ health goals.

Saturday’s festivities at Watoga will include various vendors, demonstrations, live music and hikes. Start with a breakfast of bake sale goodies, coffee and herbal teas for sale during registration. Schedule a nature walk to forage for a salad lunch or treat yourself to a delicious and unique “wild edibles.” Demonstrations and vendors will include local culinary specialties, wild herbs and plants, field guides, cookbooks and other references.

But Pocahontas County is not all wilderness and backcountry. The world’s largest maneuverable radio telescope, the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope at the Green Bank Observatory searches deep space for faint natural radio signals. Visitors enjoy discovering the free Science Center and eight mountain biking trails covering 12 miles in beginner, intermediate and difficult levels.

Driving the highlands

The Highlands Scenic Highway climbs above 4,500 feet into an impressive stretch of mountain scenery. The 43 mile National Scenic Byway has four developed scenic overlooks that provide spectacular views of the Allegheny Highlands.

Route 39 — the Appalachian Waters Scenic Byway — traverses the southern part of the county, writhing and wriggling across parallel mountain ridges and, for a good portion of its length, national forest land. It’s a “driver’s road,” well-surfaced and maintained, but coiling through looping switchbacks, steep inclines and sharply banked multiple tight curves. The frequent pull-offs enable drivers to enjoy the panoramas without having to stay focused on the road ahead.

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The Highlands Scenic Highway joins the Appalachian Waters Scenic Byway at the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center. The center presents a variety of exhibits and programs on the area’s unique ecosystem, wildlife and history. The Cranberry Glades Botanical Area protects the largest area of bogs in West Virginia. The ground in a bog is spongy and consists largely of partially-decayed plant material known as peat. Because of its unique conditions, some unusual plants grow in bogs, including carnivorous or insect-eating plants. The Botanical Area encompasses 750 acres and a half-mile boardwalk enables visitors to view the bog without disturbing the fragile flora.

Visit Pocahontas County’s Wild Edibles Festival for a true “taste of the wild.” Beginners and veteran foragers alike will find much that entertains, educates and excites. For more information about the festival, contact Christopher Bartley at Watoga State Park at (304) 799-4087, or via email at mailto:Chris.R.Bartley@wv.gov festival.

Reed Hellman is a professional writer living in Alberton, Maryland. Visit his website at reedhellmanwordsmith.com, or email your questions and comments to mailto:RHWay2Go@yahoo.com

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