- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) | Autumn’s arrival in West Virginia means the leaves and the weather will be changing — and the fun is just getting started.

Celebrations of the legend of Mothman, parachute-jumping, roadkill and leaf-peeping highlight a fall full of free events in the Mountain State. All that’s required is a map to get there.

Some things to consider:

Foliage fix

* Great photo opportunities await as West Virginia’s diverse forests burst in red, orange and gold. The change begins in higher elevations in late September, and runs from mid- to late October in most other sections of the state. A weekly fall foliage map can be found here.

* Recommended drives in late September are from Harman to Spruce Knob, from Webster Springs to Valley Head, the Highland Scenic Highway in Pocahontas County and in the Monongahela National Forest along state Routes 28-55 to the Dolly Sods Wilderness.

Festivals galore

From apples to wine, there are 40 festivals around the state from now until the end of November.

* None are more unique than those held in Point Pleasant, where nearly a half-century after the first reported sighting of a mysterious creature with glowing red eyes, residents embrace the legend of Mothman, and there’s even a statue and a museum about him in the Ohio River town that has seen its profile rise ever since the 2002 film “The Mothman Prophecies.

* Nothing puts the wild in “Wild, Wonderful West Virginia” like the annual Roadkill Cook-off on Sept. 27 in Marlinton. Any wild game is game — as long as it doesn’t come from the side of the road. For those with the stomach for it, there are dishes such as squirrel gravy over biscuits, deer sausage and teriyaki-marinated bear.

Admission to these types of events is usually free, though of course you’ll pay for food, merchandise and guided tours or special activities.

Bridge Day

* Get an upfront view on Oct. 18 as hundreds of parachutists leap off the 876-foot New River Gorge Bridge to the riverbank below. The event in Fayetteville attracts BASE (Building, Antenna, Span and Earth) jumpers from around the world and more than 100,000 tourists every third Saturday of October. It’s the only day of the year that pedestrian traffic is allowed on the third-highest bridge in the United States. For the jumpers, timing is key: The average fall lasts only a nail-biting six seconds before a parachute must be opened.

Helloooo down there

If exploring scenic vistas on foot is an option, then take a hike! West Virginia offers thousands of miles of trails for walking.

* Popular landmarks include the sandstone peaks of Seneca Rocks, located about 160 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. The 1.3-mile trail to the top is steep but manageable by anyone who’s reasonably fit. Other more challenging routes up attract adventurous hikers and rock climbers.
* Less than an hour away are both the five-story-tall Blackwater Falls and Spruce Knob, where an observation towers lets visitors enjoy views from the highest peak in the Allegheny Mountains at 4,863 feet.
* Visitors to the southern part of the state can soak in Grandview with aptly named overlooks of the New River below. The area has six miles of hiking trails, and there are eight campgrounds without hookups within the New River Gorge national park system that are free on a first come, first served basis.
* A short drive from Grandview along Interstate 64-77 in Beckley is Tamarack, a retail center that showcases West Virginia handmade crafts, arts and specialty foods.
* The state also has more than 375 miles of train tracks that have been converted into trails for walking, biking and horseback riding. Among the more popular are the 77-mile Greenbrier River Trail, the 72-mile North Bend Rail Trail and the 24-mile Allegheny Highlands Trail.

Factory tours

* Free tours are offered at the Blenko glass factory in Milton and the Homer Laughlin China Co. factory in Newell. Blenko has been making hand-blown products since 1893, including glass for the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Homer Laughlin, makers of Fiestaware, gives one-hour tours that are scheduled in advance.

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