Rest Areas have existed along the side of major highways since before the Interstate Highway System was born in 1956. Often these Rest Areas are dark and dingy with few if any facilities. In fact, many have closed over the years due to high crime rates. Others like the ones on the New York State Thruway and the Connecticut Turnpike offer full service restaurants and gasoline stations.
There is a new trend in Rest Areas that’s very exciting for wanderers like Brenda and me. Many states have opened Welcome Centers at or near their borders with other states. These Welcome Centers offer far more than the traditional services like rest rooms, vending machines and hotel coupon books. They offer travel services such as hotel reservations and weather radio reports; and most importantly to Brenda and me, they offer great selections of visitors guides and have employees who know about the places listed in them. We get many of our ideas for places to visit from these folks. We learn about places that we didn’t know existed and never would have found through internet research alone.
Last weekend we were driving down Route 81 to visit my son in Martinsburg and stopped at the West Virginia Welcome Center. There we found visitors guides for several WV counties, brochures for all the State Parks, and a guide to the Civil War Weekend in Putnam County that will be held next March. We had considered visiting Berkeley Springs on Saturday but the person working in the Welcome Center told us there wasn’t much to do there this time of year. He recommended that we visit Harper’s Ferry, a Civil War town instead. While we didn’t get there on this trip, we’ve filed Harper’s Ferry away for a future visit. The West Virginia Welcome Center also has a picnic area with grills for your barbecue needs. For those traveling north, there is also a Welcome Center as you enter West Virginia from Virginia.
After visiting with my son, we decided to detour about 20 miles out of our way to visit the Virginia Welcome Center on Route 81. Along with the usual travel guides and brochures we found a complete list and map of the 142 Virginia Wineries. We’ll be planning one of our 2009 vacations around this guide. We did learn some sad news though. Due to budget cuts, the Virginia Welcome Center is now closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The Virginia Welcome Center also has a picnic area with grills for your use.
So next time you’re on the road, bring your picnic basket and barbecue tools and take a break at one of the Welcome Centers in Virginia or West Virginia. You’ll leave refreshed and ready to face the trip ahead.