If Davis is a portrait of a mountain town in the early stages of renewal and change, Fayetteville offers a glimpse of what’s to come. Several hours to the south, the town is built around a natural wonder: the New River Gorge.
Despite the name, the New River is thought to be among the oldest rivers in the world. Over hundreds of millions of years, the river has carved a yawning path through the Appalachians, creating tall cliffs and wide, wandering turns. These features put Fayetteville alongside world-class white-water rafting and kayaking sites, and there are also over 1,400 rock-climbing routes. A dozen or so hiking trails cut right to the rim of the gorge, providing striking, panoramic views of the river valley.
With a population of just under 3,000, Fayetteville has the character of a mature town. While Davis never grew much beyond its beginnings as a modest coal processing and logging town, Fayetteville enjoyed a much longer period of prosperity, driven by large-scale mining along the gorge. In 1977, the town also benefited from the construction of the New River Gorge Bridge, a mammoth, federally funded project that gave Fayetteville easy access to the other side of the river.
Besides becoming one of the most recognizable landmarks in the state (the bridge was chosen as the symbol of West Virginia on the state’s quarter), it is now a magnet for another breed of outdoor thrill seeker. On the third Saturday in October, hundreds of BASE jumpers flock to Fayetteville for Bridge Day, the one time each year that jumpers are allowed to fling themselves from the bridge and parachute more than 800 feet down to the riverbed below. The sanctioned jumping on Bridge Day is among the only exceptions ever made to a strictly enforced ban on BASE jumping in national parks.
For visitors, there are a host of charming amenities. Just outside town, Rick Arnt and his wife, Lois Amos, operate their delightfully offbeat bed-and-breakfast, the Country River Inn, housed in the old Fayetteville schoolhouse. Former class rooms have been repurposed as large, well-lit guest rooms, and the couple added a back deck with a pool and hot tub. Downtown, just feet from the site of a Civil War skirmish, artisan deli fare is served at the Secret Sandwich Society and a rotating seasonal menu of American home-style cooking at The Station.