Boats, Birds, and Family Bonding

March 17, 2016
Kayaking on a lake

Outdoor family fun in Greater Parkersburg, West Virginia

By Tracy Antonioli


As seven-year-old Bryce stood at the edge of the park, he shielded his eyes from the sun, straining to see the sternwheeler approaching in the distance. “Is that it, Mom?” he asked. “Is that the boat we’re going to ride today?”

“That’s one of the boats we are going to ride today, yes,” I replied, winking at my husband, Tom, as I did so.

An island that’s also a state park

The Island Belle sternwheeler pulled up to the dock and Bryce dashed aboard as soon as we were given permission. He claimed seats on the upper deck—the perfect spot to enjoy the early morning sunshine on the Ohio River. The 20-minute ride was a fantastic way to begin our day in beautiful Parkersburg, West Virginia. We heard the water churning in the paddlewheel at the back of the boat, and we had plenty of time to soak in the beauty of the riverfront. Our destination: Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park, home to the Blennerhassett Mansion and many scenic nature trails. The park is situated on an island in the middle of a river, which makes it a unique destination—one we were definitely looking forward to exploring.

Yet another treat awaited us when we came ashore on the island: a tour in a horse-drawn covered wagon. “It’s like we traveled back in time!” Bryce exclaimed as he jumped into the wagon, followed by other tour-goers. As we explored the grounds of the island, the wagon driver pointed out various historical points of interest, while Bryce and the other children on-board peppered him with questions. During the tour, we saw an old log cabin, a century-old grove of walnut trees and the ruins of the Neale House, which we learned Walt Whitman had visited in the late 1840s. 

After the wagon ride, we enjoyed an informative tour of the Blennerhassett Mansion, which was led by a lovely woman dressed in period costume. The tour took us around the grounds and through the house, which was set up to appear as it would have in the early 1800s. Bryce loved the food display in the detached summer kitchen. He also very much wanted to slide down the banister on the main grand staircase, but I pointed out that such behavior was not acceptable for well-behaved boys in any century.

We made our way to the dock and boarded the Island Belle again for the return trip. In no time at all, we were back in Point Park and ready to continue with our day in the great outdoors. But Bryce had other plans.

“I wanna do the boat ride again,” Bryce announced. “Can we, please?”

“We are going to get on another boat,” I responded. “But not this boat. And this time you’re going to have to pull your own weight,” I waggled my eyebrows at Bryce and led him toward the car.

Further exploration

I hoped to share my love of bird watching with Bryce that day, and Tom hoped to get Bryce hooked on kayaking, as it was a passion of Tom’s since he was a child. North Bend State Park was just the place to do both. Thanks to North Bend Outfitters, a short time later we were all suited up in life vests and paddling on the tranquil waters of North Bend Lake in North Bend State Park. Tom shared a tandem kayak with Bryce and I had my own single kayak. Tom helped Bryce learn to paddle, calling out directions as they went off in a wobbly but mostly straight line. I glided up beside them, laughing.

“Look, Mom, I’m kayaking!” proclaimed Bryce proudly while waving his paddle around in the air, almost throwing Tom off balance.

“Yeah you are!” I encouraged, smiling at my husband who was paddling for the both of them. “And Dad is getting quite the workout, too!”

With a little more encouragement from us, Bryce got the hang of it and all three of us set off to explore North Bend Lake together. The sun shone off the water as the smooth, mirror-like surface reflected the trees above. As we paddled, we waved to other boaters out kayaking, canoeing and paddleboating. Several people cast fishing lines and one family was enjoying a picnic on a spacious pontoon boat. As we paddled around standing timber, I caught a flash of red out of the corner of my eye. Paddling lesson complete, it was now time to do some serious birding.

“Look!” I exclaimed, pointing over Tom’s left shoulder with my paddle. “It’s a red-headed woodpecker!”

We saw many more birds during our time on the lake—cormorants, an osprey and innumerable ducks. Bryce loved the ducks and never failed to point each one out as they swam slowly along. But it was the red-headed woodpecker that I suspected Bryce would remember for years to come. I was proud to share my love of bird watching with my son on that sunny summer day.

After dinner in the North Bend State Park Lodge’s cozy dining room, we retired for the day. Our room at the lodge was cozy and quiet, and Bryce was asleep in no time; Tom and I quickly followed suit. It had been a fun-filled day of outdoor adventures and more good times were in store the following day.

Gears, ghouls and gummy candy

Our bike wheels crunched on the gravel path of the Rail Trail as the breeze rustled the rich, green leaves in the trees above. And while the mid-morning sun blazed brightly above, ahead lay a circle of darkness: the Silver Run Tunnel.

“I don’t know if Bryce is brave enough for this next section.” I said to Tom, loud enough for Bryce to hear me.

“I am so brave enough!” Bryce shouted, leaning into the handlebars and peddling faster toward the tunnel.

“Did you tell him about… the ghost?” I asked, fake-whispering the word “ghost” while huffing and puffing to keep up with my son. Bryce slowed a bit, listening intently.

“They say the girl was on her way to get married,” Tom started, “and that something happened on the train journey, and she disappeared. No one knows exactly what. But ever since, a girl in a long white dress has been seen in this tunnel. And when people approach, she screams and then shoots straight up into the air and vanishes!”

“Ghost stories are for babies, Dad,” Bryce responded. “I’m not a baby and I’m not afraid. I can do it. Let’s go!” Still, he looked warily at the dark tunnel up ahead.

We emerged on the other side of the tunnel, triumphantly. Bryce looked more than a little relieved to have the experience behind him, until we reminded him this was a round-trip journey, and we’d be going back through. Upon hearing this news, Bryce stuck his chin out proudly.

“I did it once and I can do it again,” Bryce declared.

“That’s my boy,” said Tom, smiling.

After our ride, Tom surprised Bryce and me with a trip to Berdine’s Five & Dime, the most quintessential general store I’d ever had the pleasure of exploring. If it’s for sale, you can buy it at Berdine’s: from cuckoo clocks to coloring books, sock monkeys to soap, bobble heads and rubber chickens. Of particular interest to both Tom and Bryce was the penny candy display, which is where they both spent their money.

“Like father, like son,” I chuckled, as they each grasped their own brown paper sack of chocolates and gummy candies.

“Just one more thing before we go,” Tom said, ducking into a corner of the shop. He reappeared a few moments later with a small tin figure—silver with a red head.

“A red-headed woodpecker!” Bryce said with a big smile. “Be careful, it’s not a toy—it’s an antique, and one-of-a-kind.” Tom cautioned. “It’s to help us remember our time here in Parkersburg.”

“I think we will remember our time here for years to come—but this is the perfect way to help us do that,” I beamed.

Plan your own getaway to greater Parkersburg, West Virginia, and enjoy quality family time in the great outdoors! 

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