The 400-acre wilderness campus of Experience Learning (formerly The Mountain Institute) is situated at the southern end of Spruce Mountain in southwestern Pendleton County. Its non-profit mission is environmental education, with operating policies that are highly eco-friendly. This is a classic location, near the Birthplace of Rivers, where opportunities for wilderness recreation abound. Nearby Spruce Knob is the highest point in West Virginia, the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and anywhere on the Appalachian Front from New York to Alabama. One mile to the east – in an upland limestone cove known as the Hunting Ground – is the 80-acre farm owned and frequented by a group of cavers for more than fifty years. The refurbished century-old farmhouse sits at 3500 feet. Weather permitting, there will be a party-picnic on the farm’s high meadow at 4,000 feet, with topographical relief exceeding 2800 feet in the immediate vicinity.

This location is beautiful and interesting, though more secluded than some past VAR sites. At 4,000 feet elevation, it lies on Greenbrier limestone with karst features and small caves. Spacious mowed meadows with expansive views of Spruce Mountain and the surrounding Alleghenies provide abundant camping spots. Camping is included with registration. There is space for trailers and RVs but no hookups. There are two large yurts, one including complete kitchen facilities; another provides space for programs and the VAR business meeting. Adjacent is a large outside deck with tables. Many are fascinated by this unique and ingenious architecture. A bathhouse provides toilets, showers and sinks. There is a composting outhouse. Several porta-potties will be conveniently accessible to the camping area. Many small yurts are housing for Experience Learning staff and off-limits for our event.

A dormitory offers five rooms with a total of 25 bunks, available for $10 per person per night. This cost includes bedding. A group might rent a room or rooms and all the bunks therein, or they might be rented individually. Whether these are completely of one gender or coed will depend on how or whether demand develops. In any case, these must be arranged for separately.
To make arrangements for a dormitory room or bunk prior to completing your pre-registration, call, text, or email Dave Field: or 814-889-1582 (cell).

For those who do not wish to camp, there are rustic vacation cabins available, such as the Germany Valley Overlook Cabins and those of the Yokums at Seneca Rocks. There are motels at Nelson Rocks and at Seneca Rocks. There is a small convenience store and deli on Route 28 about one mile north of where Sawmill Run Road intersects Route 28. The closest restaurant is the Gateway on WV 28 – US 33 between Judy Gap and Riverton. Other restaurants and lodging can be found at Seneca Rocks, Franklin, Monterey, and Durbin. The VAR site is 15 miles from the Gateway Restaurant, 6 miles of which is a winding mountain road. Those wishing to avoid this drive must provide their own meals when food is not available on site.

This event will be held during the dark skies of a new moon, so with a clear atmosphere the milky way can be viewed in all its spectacular glory. This location, relatively far from light pollution, has some of the darkest skies in the mid-Atlantic states. Telescopes in the onsite observatory will provided a viewing experience, assisted by astronomer Joe Morris, who will be present only Friday night.

The AT&T tower on Hunting Ground Mountain provides AT&T cell phone service on the farm. Essentially, there is no cell phone service to the west on the Experience Learning site, despite occasional and unpredictable pockets of service. An exception is that AT&T customers may have reception near the entrance to Experience Learning at the junction with Sawmill Run Road. Wi-Fi is available for visitors around the main yurts. There is a landline for emergencies – 304-567-2632.

Pets are not permitted.

So far, Anne Elmore and Highline Rope are likely to be present. We’ll keep trying. There are other possibilities.

Adult beverages will not be provided, with the exception of the party on the farm’s high meadow. Alcohol is okay, but NO GLASS containers – bring your drinks in cans or plastic.

There will be a bonfire Friday and Saturday evening. Other camp fires must be self-contained. No fires that would leave any scar on the ground.

Attendees may arrive Thursday night if they wish to engage in caving or other activities on Friday. The event at Experience Learning will end Sunday after the VAR business meeting. Throughout the weekend, and especially Sunday afternoon, arrangements can be made for visits to the farm and its high meadow.

The boundaries of four counties come together very near the VAR site and our plan is to feature caves in all four. We need guided trips to appropriate caves and appeal to cavers willing to lead trips to favorite caves they know well. We hope several will be new to veteran VAR cavers. Thus far led trips are scheduled to Shovel Eater, Sinnett, two yet to be determined caves in Burnsville Cove, and a conservation trip to Sinks of Gandy with permission of WVDNR. The September 1 closure date imposed by WVDNR for bat protection will prohibit visitation to certain popular caves such as Kee, Sharps, and Stillhouse, among others. Sinks of Gandy will be closed except for the conservation trip. Despite these closures, many possibilities for self-led trips remain. Stay tuned for further specifics.

A guidebook will include event information, descriptions and maps of caves, a catalog of the vast recreational opportunities close by, and more.

Gordon Birkhimer will lead a graffiti removal trip to Sinks of Gandy. WVDNR permission is limited to this one trip.

On Saturday a simple but festive picnic lunch will be enjoyed on the Hunting Ground farm’s high meadow, provided by Pine Mountain Grotto. Those who are fit and vigorous may choose to walk over an exceedingly scenic farm road—reminding many of a western landscape, while others in four-wheel drive vehicles carrying the food, camp chairs, etc. will travel by road to approach the farm from the east. This is an operating grazing farm. There will be cattle on the place. Please be especially careful about closing and securing gates, and watch out for cow pies.

On Saturday morning Pine Mountain Grotto and Sunday morning Front Royal Grotto will offer a continental breakfast for a modest fee.

Dinner, catered by Experience Learning, will include lasagna, salad, garlic bread, desert, and drink. Vegetarian lasagna will be provided for those who indicate their pre-registration preference.

In the large yurt classroom, John Taylor will present an old-fashioned slide show featuring thirty years of Virginia Region personalities, 1970-2000. Afterwards, Gordon Birkhimer will DJ music and karaoke.