Coopers Rock: Morgantown, West Virginia

I have lost count of how many times I have been here. I started coming to Coopers Rock State Forest in Morgantown, West Virginia, when my family first moved to the town, which was seven years ago. The 12,000-some acres of beautiful hiking trails begin just a couple exits down the highway from my parents’ house. No matter which trail I plan on hiking, I always start off by taking in the view at The Overlook – imagery that simply never gets old. The hills of the Appalachian Mountains fall sharply into the tumultuous Cheat River at the bottom of the country crevice that The Overlook overlooks. Boulders stand in all postures throughout the grounds below and behind me, looking as if they’d been dropped into their place from the sky. The haze of the horizon distracts me in scenic areas like this one. No matter what type of landscape unfolds around me, I return to that indigo blur at the back of the frame every few minutes as if to contextualize that which is before me. I do this at The Overlook of Cooper’s Rock. I do this every time.

%Gallery-190472%I wonder about the man who was the park’s namesake, the fugitive who hid out near this very overlook to escape the police more than 150 years ago. He happened to be a cooper by trade and he continued honing his skill and doing business with the communities surrounding Coopers Rock while hiding out for many years. The story is legend in these parts and it’s said that no one knew the cooper’s name, but if I had to guess, he hid out in this forest somewhere between the years of 1836-1847, since he purportedly survived by trading his handcrafted barrels for food at the worksites of the five furnaces that were on the grounds at the time. The biggest and most famous of those furnaces was the Henry Clay Iron Furnace, which employed around 200 people and, although completed in 1836, stopped operation shortly after in 1847. No one knows where exactly the cooper lived, but legend has it that he lived near The Overlook and many speculate that he lived in the cave right below The Overlook.

But there are countless caves and cracks and crannies throughout this park. That’s part of the reason I keep coming back – I discover something new each time.

The mountain air is fresh and reliably rejuvenating. I swallow it in a hurry with a thirst that can only come from living in a populous concrete city. My 6-year-old niece is with me, as well as my husband and my two dogs. As for my niece, this is her first time ever hiking. She says she wants to climb rocks and so I let her. I carefully explain some of the basic free climbing principles to her and instruct her to apply the focus she’s learned from practicing yoga with me toward this new activity. She does so masterfully, making me smile with pride as I stand beneath her, watching her every flinch and waiting for what I perceive to be the inevitable fall. She never falls. Instead, upon conquering each boulder, she requests a go at a bigger boulder and we move on in a perpetual search of “bigger.”

I return the following day and take the dogs through a portion of the park I’ve never explored on the opposite side of Highway 68. We meander along a stream on the Glade Run Trail until it leads us to a pond wherein one of my dogs spends the next 30 minutes swimming, furiously and fastidiously retrieving flung sticks time and time again.

When I make it back to the car on this second day, on this numberless departure, I am struck with the recognition that it’s a special thing to so deeply treasure a place so close to home, to not be lost in its familiarity but rather stricken continually by its treasures hiding and awaiting my discovery, to always seek and find its newness. I’m grateful for this and promise myself to try to remember this lesson for all places, though not all places were created equal.

West Virginia Gas Plant Explosion

Roadkill cuisine: a guide to why and where you should pick up that possum

roadkill cuisineReduce, reuse, recycle is hardly a new concept. Except when it’s applied to roadkill. Oh, sure, backwoods folk, the itinerant, and gritty survivalist types have been making good use of roadside casualties for years. Slowly but surely however, the benefits of roadkill cuisine have been creeping into the public conscience.

Witness the popularity of The Original Roadkill Cookbook and its ilk, or the new Travel Channel series, “The Wild Within,” in which host/outdoor journalist Steven Rinella travels the world channeling his inner hunter-gatherer (see “San Francisco Roadkill Raccoon” clip at the end of this post). It’s only a matter of time before hipsters get in on this, mark my words.

Lest you think I’m making light of what is essentially a tragic waste of life: I’m an animal lover, grew up on a ranch, and my dad is a large animal veterinarian. I’ve slaughtered livestock, and admittedly have a somewhat utilitarian outlook on the topic of meat. That said, few things upset me more than seeing a dead animal or bird on the road.

The first time I ever thought of roadkill as having a purpose is when I visited Alaska a decade ago. A guide informed me that the state not only permits the use of roadkill for human consumption, but that there’s a waiting list. Think about it: a moose carcass can feed a family for a year. It’s only fairly recently that I learned every state has different regulations that apply to roadkill (more on that in a minute).

If you can overcome your initial disgust at the thought of plucking a carcass from the road and doing the necessary prep to render it casserole-ready, utilizing roadkill makes sense. No, seriously.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Irargerich]roadkill cuisinePros

  • It’s economical.
  • It utilizes a perfectly good (usually) protein source that would otherwise go to waste.
  • It’s giving a purpose to an otherwise wasted life
  • It’s ecologically responsible.
  • It’s a free, nutritious food source that can help sustain anyone, including individuals or families in need.
  • Many roadkill species taste great, and command premium prices when farm-raised and sold retail (elk, venison, boar, certain game birds).
  • It’s free of the hormones and/or antibiotics found in factory farmed meat and poultry.
  • It’s a better, kinder, more responsible alternative to poaching.

Cons

  • Parasites and disease

Obviously, if the meat looks bad, don’t use it. But wild animals can also play host to a wide variety of parasitic and bacterial critters invisible to the naked eye. It’s critical to thoroughly cook meat to kill any pathogens (fortunately, braising is the best method of preparing most roadkill species, as it renders the meat more tender). If you’re freaked out by the thought of ingesting roadkill for this reason, think about how often ground beef recalls are issued due to E. coli. Personally, I’d rather eat roadkill, when I think about what’s in the average fast food burger.

So now that you know roadkill is generally fine to use as long as it’s fresh and not too damaged, what are the rules? Well, it depends upon what state you’re in (for the record, roadkill cuisine isn’t just a U.S. thing, waste not, want not being a global concept). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website has a state-by-state directory of Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Fish and Game/Fish and Wildlife/Division of Wildlife offices; each state has different rules as to which office oversees roadkill regulations. In many states, permits are issued by state troopers or county law enforcement.
roadkill cuisine
Be aware that in many states, collection of roadkill is illegal, although drivers are asked to call and report dead animals so they can be properly disposed of. The most expedient thing to do if you hit an animal/see fresh roadkill is to call local law enforcement.

For your perusal, a sampling of regulations for states that permit collection (or “salvage”) of roadkill:

Western U.S.
Alaska: Sets the bar for philanthropic roadkill rules. All specimens are considered the property of the state, and by law, drivers must alert state troopers if they spot roadkill. If the meat is fresh and in good condition, the carcass is butchered by volunteers, and distributed to the needy. Roadkill wait lists are also available for the general populace living in rural areas.
Wyoming: As long as you have it tagged by a game warden (to deter poaching), it’s yours.
Colorado: Obtain a “donation certificate” or tag issued by the Division of Wildlife, first.

Midwest
Illinois: If you hit it, you can keep it, as long as you’re a resident, not delinquent in child support payments (um, okay…), and don’t have your wildlife privileges suspended in any other state. Deer must be reported to the DNR prior to claiming.
Nebraska: If you hit a deer, antelope, or elk, report it to the Parks and Game Commission to obtain a salvage permit before you butcher the carcass.

Northeast
New Jersey: Get a permit by calling a state trooper, and you can collect deer.
West Virginia: If you report the fatality within 12 hours; it’s legal to remove and consume any and all roadkill. There’s even an annual roadkill cook-off.

Southern U.S.
Georgia: Hit a bear, report it, and it’s yours. Deer don’t have to be reported.

A few states that prohibit collection of roadkill
California
Texas
Wisconsin
Tennessee
Washington
roadkill cuisine
An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of roadkill
Ideally, the goal is to avoid creating roadkill at all. In 2008, the Federal Highway Administration estimated between one and two million vehicular collisions with large wildlife species occur annually in the U.S.. Only a small number of those result in human fatality, but it can certainly wreck or mess up a car. When you also consider smaller animals/birds, collisions can have a devastating impact upon wildlife populations, especially on already threatened species. Many states have instituted wildlife tunnels underneath highways that are considered high impact zones (this could be due to migratory patterns, easy road access, etc.).

Please drive carefully in designated wildlife or rural areas (you know, where you see those glaring yellow, triangular road signs with deer or cows or elk pictured on them), and try to avoid driving at dawn or dusk, which is when large game head out to feed. Night driving should also be avoided if you can avoid it, or undertaken with extreme caution. Trust me, after years of living in the mountains of Colorado, I’ve seen more than my share of wildlife road death (and unfortunately contributed to the early demise of a few prairie dogs and rabbits). I’ve also seen what a run-in with a moose can do to a car, and it’s not pretty.

Obviously, it’s not worth causing a multiple-car accident to avoid an animal in the road, but stay alert, don’t text or use your cell phone without a headset, drive within the speed limit, and odds are, you’ll never have a problem. Worst case scenario, please be a responsible citizen, and pull over to make sure the animal is dead. Regardless of how you feel about animals or eating roadkill, no living creature should be allowed to suffer. Have a heart. Then take it home and cook it.

[Photo credit: bbq, Flickr user The Suss-Man (Mike), deer, Flicker user Eric Bégin]