Folks coming out to Moorefield, W.Va., for the admission-free South Branch Riverfest on May 25th can celebrate the river with activities along, on and under the waters of this Potomac tributary.
Yes, under the water. In this town two and a half hours west of Washington, D.C., forest service officials will be equipping festival-goers of all ages with snorkeling gear so they can experience the magical realm below the surface of the shallow river. Participants will likely glimpse fish of diverse hues flitting among the rocks and aquatic plants undulating in the current. They’ll see the play of light through water and have the sense of being enveloped in a serene environment just inches below their known world. It could be an experience they’ll never forget.
In addition to snorkeling, festival-goers will have the opportunity to sample fly fishing, kayaking, and — depending on their age — West Virginia wine and cider. The scent of barbecue chicken will waft through the grounds to be used in a local favorite marinade recipe. Pork and beef will be cooking in smokers. Adults can enjoy free tastings of West-Whitehill Winery’s dry white or dessert wines. The festival is also the place to purchase Mountain State maple syrup, honey, jams and strawberries.
Riverfest focuses on the river — educational activities teach about ecology, water quality, and aquatic life — but there’s much more. At stations around the park, kids can play cornhole, compete in sack races or have their faces painted — aquatic theme optional. They can also compete in a short foot race.
The festival kicks off at 10:30 a.m. with a fun run. Adults can run a 3K course, while the children take on a 1K around the wooded park. Arts and crafts vendors along the main path include a broom maker, a basket weaver, wood craftsmen, jewelers and others. Regional musicians will take the stage to play a variety of music from country to bluegrass to folk rock.
“We’re calling this the first annual South Branch Riverfest because we expect it will be a yearly event,” said Amanda West, one of the organizers. “We would like to draw others here to see how beautiful our valley is.”
West Virginia’s widest valley, the picturesque Valley of the South Branch draws visitors because of its rural charm and outdoor recreation. with its stunning overlooks is located 10 miles south of town and trails and camping opportunities of the and the lie to the east and southwest.
Visitors who wish to spend an extra day can make a driving tour of the multitude of historic homes in Hardy County (visithardywv.com) or set up a float trip or kayak fishing expedition on the South Branch with local outfitter Keep WV Wild and Wonderful LLC (kwvww.com).
A half hour north, excursions on the Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad focus on the train’s namesake, the American bald eagle. Eagles are sighted on 9 out of 10 trips. The train features several open-top cars for wildlife viewing along the remote “Trough” of the South Branch. The three-hour excursions can be booked on weekends and Memorial Day.
Or folks can stay right in Moorefield and enjoy the historical walking tour or the live music at Mullins 1847 Restaurant, the family-style eatery that looks like a museum. Visitors who lodge at the South Branch Inn get a free movie ticket and a bowling pass with their night’s stay. Comfy Evans Motel also puts up guests in Moorefield.
Farther afield, Lost River State Park cabins, Guesthouse Lost River and the Inn at Lost River are good options. Visitors to the Lost River Artisans Cooperative often find artisans demonstrating their skills in the historic Harper Barn, which also houses a museum on the first floor.
However long your stay, getting to Moorefield is half the fun. The scenic panorama that unfolds as you cross over the Allegheny Mountains on Route 48/55, past towns named “Needmore” and “Bean Settlement,” is worth a dozen Instagrams.
RiverFest will be held at Brighton Park, a riverside park off Moorefield’s Main Street. Free parking is available.