W. Va. mine tour draws interest

Operator plans more trips to coal country

March 23, 2011|By Michelle Deal-Zimmerman, The Baltimore Sun

A new company offering tours of West Virginia's coalfields has added a second trip for the fall as well as two railroad tours that trace the development of mining and logging in the state.

Adventurous travelers and history buffs alike have signed up to explore the region's mine wars through trips organized by Coal Country Tours LLC.

The West Virginia Mine War Tour has received tremendous support, said owner Doug Estepp, adding that the inaugural trip in June is almost sold out. Nearly half of the travelers who made reservations for the first tour are from Maryland, he said.

"One of the reasons I thought these tours would succeed is because there are folks with connections to the Southern coal fields all over the East Coast," said Estepp, a West Virginia native.

"During hard times, many families left for Columbus, Ohio and Richmond, Virginia, for factory jobs," he said. "Likewise, many ended up in the shipyards of Norfolk and Baltimore."

The second mine wars tour is set for Sept. 25-27. The trip includes visits to the Tamarack Cultural Center, an exhibition coal mine and the Whipple Company Store, all in the vicinity of Beckley, W.Va. The tour will also visit the site of the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, an armed uprising between unionizing miners and mine operators. The three-day tour costs $499 per person, based on double occupancy, and includes two nights' accommodations, meals, admissions, taxes and gratuities.

The Southern Appalachian Coal Railroad Tour, Sept. 13-16, will trace the history and development of the Appalachian coal carriers, including the Chesapeake & Ohio, Norfolk & Western, and Virginian railroads.

Stops on the four-day trip include the Virginia Transportation Museum, the C&O Railway Heritage Center and the Pocahontas Exhibition Coal Mine. Tourists will also take a nearly five-hour ride along the route of the C&O from Montgomery, W.Va., down the New River Gorge and across the mountains to Staunton, Va. The four-day tour is $599 per person, based on double occupancy, and includes lodging, most meals, admissions, taxes and gratuities.

In October, the tour company will offer a fall foliage tour on the Cass Scenic Railroad with visits to the turn-of-the-century logging town of Cass, W. Va.

Most tours start and end in Charles Town, W.Va. The Cass Tour will start and end in Martinsburg, W.Va.

For details on the tours, go to coalcountrytours.com.

michelle.deal@baltsun.com

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