Huntington Quarterly Magazine – Spring 2000

Cheat Mountain Club

A Forest Fantasy Awaits You in Durbin, West Virginia

By: Jeanne Mozier

"I tricked a trout at the Cheat Mountain Club" could be the slogan that captures your epiphany. Or perhaps, "I climbed Cheat Mountain on my bike." Or, "I hiked to the beaver pond." The possibilities of a unique tagline for your weekend getaway to the former private hunting club at the top of the West Virginia world are nearly infinite.

Devoted primarily to outdoor recreation and full-lodge gatherings, the Cheat Mountain Club also has a romantic allure for the less active. There are blazing fires in the giant red spruce log building some 330 days a year, and the graceful suspension bridge over the pristine waters of the Shavers Fork is an ideal location for those whispered memories.

Authentic is not an idle claim made up for advertising the club, it is in every aspect of the place from the rugged landscape to the family-style dining and 100 percent wood interior of the lodge. Carved from countless acres of mountain forest in 1887 by a group of businessman, who wanted their own hunting retreat, today’s Cheat Mountain Club perpetuates that feel. After spending much of the 20th century as a private hunting club owned by various sportsmen associations, the lodge and what remained of the land were purchased by a group of young Charleston investors who opened it to the public in 1988. Guests now can fish, hunt, cross-country ski, hike and mountain bike in the million-acre Monogahela National Forest which surrounds the club.

The Cheat Mountain Club still owns more than a mile of Shavers Fork riverfront, which provides a stunning view from the lodge windows and a stone terrace with a circle of deck chairs at the edge of the lawn. This wide tributary of the Cheat River offers fishing, canoeing and kayaking.

Nowhere is the rich history of the club more obvious than in the Great Room with its 1940s Cushman maple furniture, hand-hewn log walls hung with boar and deer heads and huge stone fireplace with a collection of autographed shelf fungus on the mantle attesting the many return visitors. There’s an old piano in the corner with a dozen sing-along books that only have the words; you need to bring along a gal or guy who knows the music. Board games stored in the maple cabinet by the fireplace and dozens of books including old registers of the club replace television as nighttime entertainment. The 60 x 40-foot lodge displays decades of fiddling by its denizens like the brass plate strategically located to keep fireplace tools from marring the wood walls. On one side of the front entrance al line of stakes protrudes from the wall designed to hang waders. The other side has an odd line of clips that turn out to be holders for fly fishing rods, which, according to those who know, can never be leaned or laid down.

Old photos show that the lodge was once a true hunting club, opened up to all three stories. There were no individual rooms, only bunk beds stacked around the walls and on balconies, enough to house 50 or 60 men.

The Spruce Room has a private bath. All others, like the riverside Cherry Room where we stayed, have a washbasin in the room but require guests to travel down the hall to gender-segregated gang bathing facilities where a door separates off the tub and shower stall. Monogrammed towels and bathrobes are kept in each closet to guarantee that you’re prepared for that middle-of-the-night walk down the hall. Like every other part of the lodge, the rooms are wood-paneled. Mattresses are firm and you are provided with as many quilts and blankets as you may need to be comfortable along with individually controlled heat vents in each room.

Cheat Mountain Club is very child-friendly and the third floor bunkroom is an ideal place to stash them during a family reunion, one of the lodge’s most popular uses. Third floor residents also use the bath facilities one floor down.

The full-care package of CMC – the logo is emblazoned on everything – is appealing for those whose idea of a perfect getaway includes no hard decisions on where to go or what to eat. Three family style-meals a day come with your room, served at posted times and announced by the ringing of a giant brass hand bell. The antique monogrammed silver and original club plates gleaming with soft patina compliment the maple-furnished dining room with its roaring fire. All meals are made to order in the club’s kitchen, most by Carolyn who drives over two mountains daily to cook for guests. Spring water is piped in from the mountain; there’s an honor bar for evening cocktails and the wine rack displays about 70 bottles with an ingenious bottle opener mounted to the wall.

Our visit included the standard breakfast of eggs any way you choose, flapjacks with maple syrup, bacon, fruit and homemade breads. We had lunch both days. One was whipped up on our arrival after a brief consultation in the kitchen that concluded we were omnivorous; the next day we shared lunch with another couple. Both meals were tasty sandwiches served on croissants with salads, chips, cheese and fruit. Had we planned to be out on the river or along trails at lunch, food would have been packaged for us to take along.

Dinner was a perfectly roasted whole Cornish game hen and red rosemary roasted potatoes, fresh mixed green salad, baby carrots, fresh cornbread and CMC’s famous homemade apple pie with ice cream for desert. We willingly reaffirmed a guest register comment written in 1919: "arrived with ravenous appetites which were fully and completely satisfied at the table."

Each season provides its own cherished packaging for the visitor to CMC; spring flaunts wildflowers, butterflies and trout. "Although trout season in West Virginia never ends," says Cheat Mountain Club’s outfitter and night manager, Jason Means, "May is prime. As the weather warms, the various insects that trout feed on begin to hatch."

Jason would know. Fishing is his life, which makes his job at CMC the best in the world. "I would give anything for your job," he’s been told by CEOs with six figure salaries and stratospheric stock options who regularly gather at the club for business meetings and pleasure trips. A charming stripling of a young man, Jason is a bonus the club offers its guests along with free use of necessary equipment ranging from fly-fishing rods and waders to snowshoes and mountain bikes. Jason even sits up late into the evening in front of the fire tying flies for folks and discussing the fine points of casting techniques, tying patterns and the personal attributes of various trout species.

"There’s only a few magic moments a day for ideal fishing," Jason says, explaining why pre-dawn is the time to be up and about, "except for overcast days when you can fish all day effectively."

Cheat Mountain Club has always been prized for its fly-fishing. Originally, there were on-site trout hatcheries and runs. The daily catch limit was 300. Today, the hatcheries are used as holding tanks for fish brought from various trout ranches. It’s catch and release fishing in Shavers Fork for brook, brown and rainbow trout. If a group pays to have the river stocked especially for them, they can keep the fish they catch; the lodge will even cook them. During the summer, fishing is often off-site with hiking involved. Nearby Seneca Creek is one of the rare streams with wild rainbow trout which are more vibrant, slim and active.

"Most of our visitors are novice fisherman," says Jason. "They just want to catch a trout and need someone to tell them where the pool is and what fly to use." That being said, Jason will then regale any interested listener with stories of the experts who make CMC their special source. Among his heroes is Big Joe Lewis whom he titles as the greatest fly fisherman in West Virginia and who, along with former attorney, Bill Murray, runs fly fishing schools seven weeks a year at the lodge through Murray’s Mountain State Outfitters (1-800-690-2234).

During non-ideal fishing hours, or for the non-fisherman in the group, hiking is a way of soaking up the outdoor flavor. We chose the three-mile, well-marked Red loop trail through spruce, fir and rhododendron trees crossing and recrossing rock-strewn streams. Midway through the walk we encountered a multi-level, active beaver pond with a well-constructed dam of trees and sticks. All told, CMC maintains ten miles of trails on the property and all fade into endless miles of National Forest trails. We promised ourselves a return visit in late June when those countless rhododendron dress the forest in a wall of flowers.

A quickie hike, ideal for walking off those flapjacks and maple syrup, takes you over the nearly 100-foot-long parabolic year-old suspension footbridge with its distinctive swell and sway and a stunning view of the broad mountain river rushing beneath your feet. You can almost feel that invisible cloud of invigorating negative ions enhancing your attitude. Choose the downstream path on the other side and it takes you to a perfect photo opportunity of the hemlock-sided lodge across the river.

CMC’s Shavers Fork Valley is cradled in an elevated indention on the Shavers Mountain at about 4000 feet. This introduces possibly the most unique attribute of the club and the one that creates magical moments like hiking in the warm sunshine one afternoon and waking up the next morning to several inches of snow. CMC has its own weather universe which demands that your wardrobe planning spans more than one season whenever you go.

Unlike the weather, some things never change. In 1918, a quartet of noted traveling companions who called themselves the Vagabonds arrived at the lodge maintained by the Sportsman’s Association of Cheat Mountain as they passed through from Ashville to Pittsburgh. According to an entry Thomas Edison made in the guest register, he and his friends, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and naturalist, John Borroughs, found the club "a beautiful spot." More than 80 years later, my favorite traveling companion and I couldn’t agree more.