In some areas they've known it for decades: Whatever you love to do on your vacation, having a rented condo or home to come back to is often better than the usual resort or motel.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the Canaan Valley of West Virginia, according to Pat Herlan at Timberline Resort Realty in Davis. Timberline maintains a broad range of privately owned mountain homes, townhomes, and condominiums, centered on a mountain around the area's ski resorts and radiating out across the valley.
"It's a very outdoors-oriented place here," says Herlan. "It really is a beautiful area... in fact this area is known as 'a little bit of Canada gone awry.'"
The combination of lodging available from Timberline Realty matches the surroundings. "We have houses high up on the mountain," she says. "They generally range from one- to five-acre lots, although they can go up to 24 acres. One property sits on 75 acres... it's pretty remote."
In fact, that remoteness adds to the magic of the entire area. "There are only about 7,000 people who live here year round," says Herlan. "We have one stop light in the whole county." Still, the variety of activities belies the small-village feel. And those activities never slow down, regardless of the time of year.
Location is everything: Timberline's properties are spread throughout the Canaan Valley's 40 wetland and upland plant communities, featuring more than 580 different species of plants. The valley is great for wildlife too; there are 290 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes known or expected to occur there.
Established in 1994, the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge is the 500th refuge in the National Wildlife Refuge System and includes the valley and the Blackwater River drainage basin. Herlan says that spring is an excellent time to visit Blackwater Falls, both for the spring wildflowers and the curious water that's actually black: the result of leached tannic acid from fallen hemlock and red spruce trees.
The area is ideal for mountain horseback riding, and two areas -- one at Timberline Resort -- provides horses. In fact, Timberline offers varied sports, including golf and skiing, through its offices. "Sort of an informal concierge," says Herlar.
Eighteen miles of hiking trails criss-cross the area between the Canaan Valley State Park and the Blackwater Falls State Park. For more experienced hikers, the 10,215-acre Dolly Sods Wilderness Area features primitive, often steep and rocky trails for those who like to carry compasses and topographical maps.
"You can hunt, fish, mountain bike, spelunk," she says. Nearby, the Seneca Rocks offer a 900-foot-high sandstone formation, the best rock-climbing face in the state, and the must-see Seneca Caverns, Virginia's largest and oldest, at more than 300 million years old, underground passageways for cave-lovers.
"The fall leaves are gorgeous," says Herlan. "They start much earlier here than in other areas; last year, our peak was the first weekend in the first week of October." The colors are often accompanied by a lot of wildlife, including white-tailed deer, gray and red fox, wild turkeys, and Canada geese. About an hour and a half away, the Cass Scenic Railroad features restored logging trains pulled by steam-powered Shay Engines; the train takes you to the top of Bald Knob, the state's second-highest point, for spectacular viewing.
Herlan points out that Thanksgiving has become an increasingly popular time for rentals. "Last year it snowed in mid-October," she says, "so we had the snow, and we still had the color from the leaves. It was beautiful, and perfect for people who were looking for something different than the traditional Thanksgiving."
The population of Davis more than doubles during the winter, which Herlan says is the most concentrated period for vacation rentals. Yet she says that it often comes as a surprise to potential guests that the area receives an average of 150 inches of snow, and often up to 250 inches. The Timberline area is home to two downhill ski areas, including a major East Coast cross-country skiing area called Whitegrass. "You can cross-country ski at Whitegrass, or you can do it between the two parks," says Herlan.
Two downhill ski areas have close to 80 slopes and trails. Timberline Ski Resort, rated second in the state, includes 36 slopes including the new TWISTER trail (a real treat for ski lovers), tubing and sledding areas, clubs, specialty shops, and gourmet restaurants. Timberline Resort Realty offers slopeside homes for skiers, which she says are also popular for scenery-watching in warmer months.
Winter brings the highest concentration of outdoors-loversThe Timberline area privately owned properties rented by Timberline Resort Realty are closely interwoven with the history of the Canaan Valley itself. The "Old Timberline" is a 3300-acre estate area, a gated community with two man-made lakes. Herlan says that this community was started before the ski area came into being.
The "New Timberline" is developed land originally sold off by first developer, and is now what Herlan refers to as the Timberline Four Seasons Resort area. "You can get whatever you need here," she says. "You can rent something private, secluded, high on a mountain, or by a stream, river, or lake, with wooded setting and views. You can get something slopeside. These are mainly apre ski luxury single- family homes, and some of them are rustic and secluded in the woods. We have a house that's a seven-bedroom, eight-and-a-half- bath. You can have fireplaces, big, spacious, great rooms, lots of windows -- and people love the decks."
Herlan herself originally came from the Washington, D.C. area, until a 1980 ski trip to the Canaan Valley, when she and her family "fell in love with the area," she says. Now, she has the perfect job. "We handle all of the properties in a four-season vacation mecca, really," says Herlan. "There's something to do all four seasons, all year round."