Finding Hidden Treasures in Ritchie County
North Bend State Park’s Quest program leads to adventures throughout the county
By Wendy Pramik
As my husband, Mike, and our daughter, Rosie, walked along a paved trail in North Bend State Park—located in Cairo, West Virginia—they focused on their handheld GPS device. They began to walk faster as the unit indicated we were nearing a hidden treasure.
“It’s around here somewhere,” said Rosie’s younger brother, Max.
We brushed aside leaves inside a hollowed log.
“I found it, I found it!” Rosie said, pointing to a plastic box.
Rosie lifted the lid and found the treasure we had been seeking—a collection of plastic toys, rubber balls, and pretty shells and rocks. It was our first geocaching test in the Appalachian hills of West Virginia.
The box also had a ledger, which Rosie signed. She then added two trinkets of her own to the box before removing a rubber duck for herself and a toy fish for Max.
We embarked on this weekend scavenger adventure as part of North Bend State Park’s Quest program, which allows visitors to customize their park experience with expert guides to learn a new skill. We were looking for something new to try, and thought trading our home in the city for a cabin in the woods would be a fun getaway, so we traveled two-and-a-half hours from Columbus, Ohio, to Ritchie County. Among its forests and a quaint, small town, we found several worthy surprises, and I’m not just talking about trinkets in a hidden box.
North Bend is situated on nearly 2,500 acres in the Appalachian Plateau. The lodge has 29 rooms but we opted for one of the nine roomy, comfortable cabins amid a grove of white pine trees. There also are plenty of primitive campsites for more venturesome souls. While we kept the creature comforts, we spent our first night by a warm fire as the kids played hide and seek.
You can hike, camp, paddle, fish and swim at the park, as well as bike or horseback ride on the 72-mile North Bend Rail Trail that runs from Parkersburg to Wolf Summit. Rosie and Max enjoyed exploring one of several dark, cool tunnels along the trail. But the main event was North Bend’s Quest program, where we designed a customized outdoor experience. You can choose from a number of activities, including rock climbing and rappelling, mountain biking, kayaking, camping and backpacking, all of which are taught and lead by experts. There are even less-strenuous adventures, like yoga and nature interpretation, so every adventure can truly be customized to your family’s interests and skill level.
For our quest, we opted to try geocaching, because it meshed well with our typical family activities. It’s an outdoor-adventure game in which players use a mobile app or global positioning satellite device to find cleverly concealed containers, or geocaches, around the world. It’s the ultimate scavenger hunt, or game of hide and seek. It was also a fun learning opportunity for all of us.
Our expert guide was Ken Zebo, who’s an activities director and naturalist at North Bend. He gave us an introduction to the park and geocaching, including a tutorial on how to read the GPS unit the park provided for our quest. He said it’s a great alternative to a cell phone when you’re out in the woods and don’t have cell service.
After our introduction, it was time to set out into the park. With the GPS as our guide, and Ken on stand-by, we explored the forest for hidden treasures. Along the way, we saw the park’s natural treasures as we walked among the tall trees, through old tunnels and past boulder outcroppings. We soon discovered that geocaching isn’t just about the thrill of the chase; it’s about getting outside and discovering new places in the great outdoors.
Small town adventure
Our successful quest left us wanting to seek and discover more, which led us to the charming small town of Harrisville —only a few minutes away.
Our new quest began at Berdine’s Five and Dime on North Court Street, which has been in continual operation since 1908, making it the oldest five-and-dime in America. The 1,500-square-foot store is packed with 40,000 items, including bins of knickknacks and novelties, tin toys, retro candies, soaps, medicine, yarn, hand-dipped chocolates, wooden backscratchers and pioneer bonnets.
When we stepped inside the small building, I could feel the history. Rows of wooden display cases were lined up on the aged, hardwood floor and an antique display case holding even more bric-a-brac anchored the far wall. It was an old-time playground, and Rosie and Max enjoyed picking out their trip souvenirs, choosing tins of bouncy putty that they played with the rest of our stay.
Also in downtown Harrisville is a unique automobile museum housed in a former car dealership, simply known around there as “The Building.” Among the collection are several vintage cars, dozens of old car parts in their original boxes, antique Coke bottles from West Virginia bottling plants and an impressive collection of about 4,000 West Virginia license plates. It’s open by appointment—or by chance—and is free to explore.
“Don’t have a clue,” Cliff Weese, the owner, said when Mike asked him how many items were in his museum. Mike was impressed by Cliff’s extensive collection of car repair machinery, including an apparatus used to straighten connecting rods and another used to pour Babbitt bearings.
We found more treasures at Arlo’s Antique Flea Market & Flower Barn, set inside a former grocery store. Anita and Lonnie Richards have been collecting antiques for more than 30 years, and some of the curios date back to the 1800s. I marveled at a selection of glassware made in West Virginia by renowned glassmakers Fenton Art Glass and Blenko Glass Company.
Out of all the things we discovered, the greatest treasure was our custom quest, which became more than a geocaching adventure. Our quest united our family in a common goal of seeking out new things together, from exploring North Bend to wandering around Harrisville. The ultimate reward being the time spent together in a hidden gem of a place in the woods of Ritchie County.