50in50by50 State #13: West Virginia
50K in 50 States by 50 Years Old
West Virginia — 51.41Km, June 2022
- June 12–15, 2022: 50.61Km around Martinsburg (day 1 photos, day 2 and 3 photos)
- June 18, 2022: 0.8Km in Harper’s Ferry from the C&O Canal towpath (photos)
Walking in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia
We got into Martinsburg in the late afternoon on a Sunday, and I had an unusually busy work week lined up. One of the biggest lessons learned on this trip is that if I can’t spend at least one full day off to really explore, I’m short-changing my stay and the place I’m visiting.
So while I’ve technically completed this state, I sincerely hope to come back and roam more of its beautiful outdoor spaces. When I do, I’ll write about where to get some distance.
But for now I want to focus on why I chose to spend my short 3 1/2 day stay using Citystrides to ensure I saw as much of one single town as I possibly could.
If you spend time with open eyes and an open mind in any town, you’ll probably find it’s really hard to stereotype people whose lives you’ve gotten just that tiny little glimpse into. People just like you, playing with their kids in a park or a yard; venturing out into the unseasonable heat to get their daily walking in; pulling into their driveways tired and grumpy from a bad day at work. Someone whose quirky home features giant skeletons well past Halloween. Someone else who repurposed a mannequin as a planter. Neighbors gathered on a porch, cooking out, drinking beer. Random people being random people — mostly super nice, a tiny handful of jerks, just like everywhere on earth.
Every town has a different feel, a different pace and vibe. It is subtle and hard to put words to, but it’s real. It’s part history, part culture, part architecture, and a million other things all wrapped up and made visible in what the residents choose to share with other people in their neighborhoods. They are sharing a small part of real lives with the world.
I am grateful to have been able to see so much of this one town in this complex state that is far too often reduced to simplistic and hurtful stereotypes. If I’d spent my whole time here out in the woods absorbing all the natural beauty West Virginia has to offer, I would have missed so much.
Celebrating West Virginia’s Indigenous Voices
The Appalachian region has been inhabited for at least ten thousand years, and is the traditional homeland of many nations. West Virginia isn’t the only example of aggressive erasure of this fact, but its history on the subject offers a glimpse into why so many people think that Indigenous people are not part of modern American society. The state’s official stance has long been that West Virginia was, essentially, unpopulated when it was settled. It doesn’t get more erased than that.
I couldn’t get a clear answer on the status of the bills that were under consideration as long ago as 2014 that seek to acknowledge West Virginia’s true Indigenous population and history. I also couldn’t find much about West Virginia’s Indigenous voices beyond a PBS documentary snippet and several mentions of the Appalachian American Indian Association, which doesn’t seem to have a web site.
Despite West Virginia’s legacy of denying its original inhabitants, and despite the lack of any federally or state recognized tribes, fully 2.1% of its population identifies as Native American in whole or part on the 2020 census.
I have set myself a goal of completing at least 50Km in all 50 states by the time I’m 50. To acknowledge that I’m traveling on land that was stolen from others, I am donating $500 to the First Nations Development Institute for each state I complete.
Thank you for reading and supporting me on this journey. If you’re able to chip in — for your state, or for all 50 states — you’ll help me double the impact I’m able to make on my own.
If you’re from West Virginia or living there right now, please consider supporting a local Indigenous-led organization.