Most of the time, fun daytrips seem out of reach for the average person, but the West Virginia Travelers create fun that is within reach.

The West Virginia Travelers are a group of Marion County adults who come together to organize bucket-list trips for the average person.

At their first meeting of 2022, the group's board of director presented several destinations that are pinned on their map for upcoming bus trips.

In years past, the group took much more extravagant, vacation-style outings. Members in their ranks have been to Alaska, Hawaii, the west coast, Florida and pretty much any appealing destination in the United States.

The group has been around for over 50 years, dating back to the parents of some of its members. Carol Domico, the group's treasurer, said her parents were quite the storied travelers, and that's likely where she caught the bug.

"My parents we're always traveling all over the place, that's probably where I picked up a knack for it," Domico said.

Nowadays, the group has slowed down a bit. With most of its membership retirement age, some joined the group to stay busy. Most of the group's trips are single-day bus trips to points of interest in the surrounding states or even in West Virginia.

At their recent meeting, at the YWCA on Pleasant Valley Road, the group laid out some options for upcoming trips. Shows in Pittsburgh, trips to Ohio's Amish country, and a visit to Lake Erie were all part of the conversation.

The group has taken several jaunts over to Berlin, Ohio and the surrounding areas that are populated by the Amish, trips that Travelers' treasurer Judy Selders says are some of her favorites.

"If I can come back on this earth again, plant me down in the Amish," Selders said. "I love it there. I go there and those people amaze me, and I never get tired of going there and always see something new."

The Travelers have been to the Amish winery, Heini's Cheese Chalet in Millersburg, Ohio, Troyer's Market and have attended live theater shows the communities put on.

"We always do the big farmhouse, family style dinners. We love to eat!" Selders said. "We go to flea markets and wineries and it's always a wonderful time."

COVID-19 and its resulting shutdowns and restrictions put a hamper on the group's activities the last two years. For the majority of 2020, the Travelers didn't do much traveling and while 2021 was better, the pandemic still caused frustrations and last-minute cancellations.

However, despite the complications, every officer in the group agreed that the friendships and the trips that did work out the last few years helped them escape from the grim reality that COVID has brought on.

"We just have to keep looking ahead and planning ahead," said Beverly Jones, the group's tour guide. "That's what COVID has been all about and that's what we've had to keep in mind."

"They kept telling us to look at things outside and outdoors, that's why we've done things like [Pittsburgh's] strip district and Amish country and flea markets," Domico said. "It's been rough the last couple years for everybody, it really has."

Margaret Anne Wakefield, the group's long-time president, is a also member of a few other travel groups and she said that after 2020, the problem wasn't so much closures as it was finding people who felt safe enough to venture out for work or play.

"With some of the other groups, they had problems last year because they didn't have enough help," Wakefield said. "Like you'd try to book a motel and they couldn't take you because they didn't have enough people to clean seven rooms."

Yet, despite the struggles faced and trips cancelled, group members agree that the real reason they participate is the friendships they've made as a byproduct of their membership, that's what the group is all about.

"I've got new friends, good, close friends and we just all have a wonderful time together," Domico said. "During this COVID, it's just been wonderful to have these friendships."

Wakefield described the group as one big caring family and welcomed any adult with some free time to join their ranks. All it takes is $5 yearly dues and some extra money to split the cost of the bus from time to time.

Jones said her goal as tour guide is to make sure everything is safe, affordable and most of all fun.

"It says it right here in our bylaws, 'the purpose and objective of this group is to provide the membership with trips that are interesting, economical and safe,'" Jones said. "That's just it. We want everyone to make new friends, learn something as you go and just have a good time."

The Travelers already have several trips for this spring locked in and the excursions are still open for new members to join in.

March 10, the group plans  to travel to Arthurdale, West Virginia to tour the New Deal homestead and museum. April 3, they plan to see the Oakridge Boys at the Robinson Grand in Clarksburg. May 7, the travelers plan to attend the Dandelion Festival in Dover, Ohio.

Bus tour groups like the West Virginia Travelers are an important part of small communities and the businesses within them. Leisha Elliott, executive director of the Marion County Convention and Visitor's Bureau, said that Marion County attracts its fair share of tour groups and they have favorite hotspots around the Fairmont area.

"We have bus tours that come into our area. Prickett's Fort is a place that we know a lot of those tours are coming into," Elliott said. "But it takes a certain capacity to accommodate groups of that size. Not all of our restaurants are equipped to handle big groups like that, but a lot of them that do come through love to stop at Muriale's."

For travelers that are heading south for the winter, West Virginia — specifically Marion County even — becomes a halfway point for many of the "snowbirds" as Elliott called them.

"Even though we're not their final destination, we've got a lot of hotels right here along the interstate that are accommodating to that kind of thing," Elliott said.

But Elliott hopes that the West Virginia Traveler's play a different kind of role, unintentionally as they're out and about on their own adventures. Maybe when sitting next to a fellow traveling group out a few states away, the travelers will talk about their home back in Marion County and spark some interest to attract other groups to come see what our county has to offer.

"When we have people going out to other places, we hope they sort of become Marion County ambassadors. Maybe they start talking about all the great things we have, and it entices them to book their next trip in Marion County," Elliott said.

If interested in finding out more information about the West Virginia Travelers and some of their upcoming trips, call Margaret Anne Wakefield at 304-288-1190.

Reach David Kirk at 304-367-2522 or by email at dkirk@timeswv.com.

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