Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 5, 2013

Spring breaks spur love of mountains

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — Whoever invented the idea of “spring break” must have been a very intelligent person because I always feel like I need some sort of vacation between the holidays and when the warmth of summer finally rolls in.

Even in school, it seemed spring break offered a great amount of time off between stressful projects in school and the dreaded end-of-the-year state standardized test being administered. It gave us students — and probably our teachers, too — a chance to sit back, relax, take a deep breath and not worry about all of the stress of the end of the school year.

Spring break means beach vacations for most people, whether rowdy college students or families with small children looking to get away. After all, the beaches aren’t as hot in the springtime and early on they weren’t as full during the off season. However, in recent years it seems the beach is becoming an increasingly popular destination spot for many people in the spring.

There were a few years we headed down to the beach as a family in the spring, most often to the town of Pensacola, Fla., where we soaked up the sand, sun and one time even got in on a crowd shot when “The Today Show” was filming there. When the beach got too hot or crowded, we would ride around looking at the interesting beach houses or visit the nearby National Naval Aviation Museum to learn a little bit more about World War I and II history as well as see the home of the legendary Blue Angels.

Still, Pensacola was a bit of a drive, and sometimes Dad’s work schedule meant he couldn’t get off the whole week of spring break. Instead of going on a week-long vacation, we often found ourselves headed to what many people consider the opposite of the beach: the mountains.

Growing up in Tennessee, I knew families who spent every weekend pretty much from March through November in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg. It was only about a four-hour drive from home, so you could wake up early in the morning, spend a couple days there and then head back home without interfering with school or anything else. Several three-day weekends, spring breaks and other mini-vacations were spent in the Smokeys.

And by the Smokeys, I actually mean in the national park itself. My parents didn’t really do the rides or attractions at Pigeon Forge and Dollywood. We would occasionally walk the busy streets of downtown Gatlinburg to buy candy and ice cream, but my parents refused to take us into the “tourist traps” that lined the roadways.

Instead, we spent most of our time hiking or on the motor trails. There was always the customary first-day stop at the Sugarlands Visitor’s Center to look over the exhibits and so Mom and Dad could get the information on which trails were the best and if any bears had been spotted ambling about the park recently.

From there, it was usually on a short hike near the visitor’s center before heading back into town to find something to eat for dinner.

The sunny days were usually filled with outdoor actives far away from the commercialism of “GatVegas,” as me and some of my friends started to call it in later days. Dad always wanted to hike Clingman’s Dome or Mount Le Conte even though our tiny little legs weren’t exactly up for the challenge. Usually, we stayed down while he hiked and then teased us about missing an excellent view at the top when he returned.

Mom kept us quiet on long rides to scenic areas by telling us to keep watch for bears in the woods. From time to time, we did see them the but more often we were lucky to catch glimpses of squirrels, rabbits and the occasional deer. Spring was ideal for flowers and plants, especially the mountain laurel, trillium, azaleas and flowering dogwoods that seem to grow everywhere in the park. The waterfalls, however, were always my favorite part of the hiking adventure. Mom did her best to keep the three of us from playing in creeks, streams and generally getting our clothes wet, but she wasn’t always successful.

If it rained or if we were too tired to climb mountains that day, we would all pile in the car for a scenic drive. Often times we headed down to Cade’s Cove to see the preserved buildings. Most of the time, however, we spent our time on the Roaring Fork motor trail. So much time was spent on that trail during my childhood that when I was a teenager I could almost remember all the names of all the stops and houses.

Living in the mountains for nearly three years now has sort of dimmed the appreciation I had for getting away from the flatter lands during those mountain vacations of my youth. You might say I’m even a little spoiled now. I still carry with me the appreciation for nature and the wild I learned on these spring trips and now, more than ever, I treasure being able to take a good spring break.

Kate Coil is a reporter for the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at