CIRCLEVILLE, West Virginia — Between mountain ranges and two national forests in West Virginia lies an Appalachian tourism frontier with serene, unspoiled countryside and some of the best rock climbing in the region.
Pendleton County’s remoteness serves as both a selling point and an impediment to several companies that have invested in tourism in recent years. It has helped the area stay beautiful — but also off the beaten path for travelers.
Approaching from the east on U.S. Route 33, drivers pass through a canopy of trees several miles long in the George Washington National Forest and cross the state line atop the Shenandoah Mountain ridge. It’s along here that many travelers will find they’ve lost cell phone reception.
“Sometimes access isn’t all that it’s cut out to be,” said Gail Price, executive director of the county’s Chamber of Commerce. “We’re marketing to those that want to get away: quiet, no city lights. The stars here are unbelievable because there’s no light pollution.”
The county seat, Franklin, lies about an hour from the nearest interstate and a three-hour drive from Washington, D.C.; Richmond, Virginia; and Charleston, West Virginia, as well as about four hours from Pittsburgh.
A recent study commissioned by the Appalachian Regional Commission cites the Nelson Rocks and Seneca Rocks, a formation to the north in the Monongahela National Forest, as keys to the area’s “tremendous potential as a tourism destination.”
The study notes winding, steep roads into the county from east and west, along with limited Internet and cell phone access. The study says a shoe factory had been the county’s largest employer before closing a decade ago.
State figures show direct tourism spending increased from about $6 million in 2004 to $9 million in 2012 for the county. By contrast, the figures show tourists spent several times that in 2012 in Fayette and Raleigh counties surrounding the New River Gorge. Both of those counties are crossed by interstate highways.