Over the holidays I heard about a program put on by West Virginia's state parks.
It's called the Very Important Parks Person - or VIPP. The whole point of it is to encourage people, whether they are residents, visitors or "expatriots," to travel through West Virginia and see our state parks.
From what I can tell, the entire thing is free. You sign up, have no time limit in which to finish, and they give you a list of different state parks to visit. Once that list is finished, you get a jacket and the chance to continue through their "star" program where you get another list of parks and then a star to put on your jacket.
Apparently, the VIPP program has been in existence in West Virginia since the mid-1980s, but there are probably a lot of people who have never heard of it.
I like the idea though, as I think we should all try to take some time to learn more about our state.
I didn't know, for example, that West Virginia has more than 50 state parks. The northernmost being, of course, Tomlinson Run in Hancock County. In fact, Tomlinson Run is the only state park in the Northern Panhandle, meaning if any of us want to visit any others, we're going to have to do some traveling.
I've been to a few over the years. Canaan Valley and Blackwater Falls have always been favorite trips, whether it's only for a day or an entire week.
A couple of years ago, I got the chance to visit Blennerhasset Island in Parkersburg. That was an interesting experience as you have to board a small ferry to access the island, and we were there at night for a special event.
But there are many more things to experience in our state. Wouldn't it be nice if we all had that opportunity?
I think part of the issue is certain regions of West Virginia, at times, still feel a disconnect from others. The Northern Panhandle might not feel as if we get the same attention as Charleston, for example. The Southern Coalfields would probably like some of the opportunities experienced by residents of the Eastern Panhanle.
But, we all call West Virginia home, and we should be proud of what our state has to offer and take some time to explore it.
I've always heard about the Cranberry Glades, for example. I think it would be very interesting to see such a unique ecosystem of virtually unspoiled wilderness.
There are points of historical significance, areas of natural beauty, places to hike or bike, camp, look at nature, ride the river or just float along on a gentle stream.
There are the overlooks of Cooper's Rock and Hawk's Nest, riding the old rails at Cass, the Civil War battlefields at Droop Mountain and Carnifex Ferry, and so many more.
Most of the state parks have special programs as well, with a variety of activities, events and attractions throughout the year.
For example, Cooper's Rock, I've heard, has an Irish Road Bowling tournament scheduled in March.
I've also seen events focused on basket weaving, wine making, music and dancing and many other things reflecting on the state's history, culture or just some regional specialties.
I'm sure there is much none of us knows about some of the things available in our state, or even the communities in our own back yard.
All it would take is to look online, read a book or hop in the car and go on a quick trip.
Considering it only takes a drive of a few hours to get anywhere in West Virginia, it really wouldn't take much just to go for a weekend drive every once in a while and see little parts of this state.
There is so much of West Virginia I have yet to experience, and programs like the VIPP could provide just the right kind of encouragement. So, we'll see what happens there.
The Mountain State has a great deal to offer our own residents and visitors alike. You just have to be willing to take the time and look around sometimes.
(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)