WHEELING - If you ask Frank O'Brien, Olivia Litman and Deb Carroll, the Upper Ohio Valley is filled with attractions and culture for all to enjoy.
"When you consider the amount of activities we have going on from March until September, it is extraordinary," said O'Brien, executive director of the Wheeling-Ohio County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
O'Brien cites the numerous public events that take place along Wheeling's Waterfront every year. These include the Upper Ohio Valley Italian Festival, the Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta, the Wheeling Heritage Music BluesFest and the Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic, to name a few.
Photos by Casey Junkins
"Other communities of comparable size just don't have these kinds of things, or at least not anywhere near as many of them," O'Brien said. "We really have some outstanding attractions."
Another attraction O'Brien highlights is the Capitol Theatre, which his organization now owns. The theater regularly hosts plays and musicals, after being closed for more than two years from 2007 to 2009.
"Everything that we said was going to happen has happened. I absolutely do not anticipate anything that is going to stand in the way of its success," he said of the Capitol.
One of the most frequent sayings in the local area is that, "There's never anything to do here." Is that true?
No, if you ask local tourism officials. In Wheeling, you have Oglebay and Wheeling parks, there are festivals and events at Heritage Port just about every weekend in the spring and summer months, and many of the area's other communities also feature a number of events including the popular Jamboree In The Hills. The Capitol Theatre offers shows from the Wheeling Symphony along with Broadway productions, and WesBanco Arena has everything from monster trucks to hockey and children's shows. Newer attractions such as Wheeling's skate park and the proposed Miracle Field of the Ohio Valley also add to the area's charm.
O'Brien also cites Oglebay Park and all of its summer, fall, winter and spring activities as another major attraction.
"It truly is extraordinary that Oglebay Park is run by a city commission (Wheeling Park Commission). Most parks of that caliber are privately owned," he said.
As for those who like to gamble, O'Brien said Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack remains a major attraction.
"Wheeling truly has something for everyone, no matter what you are looking for," he said.
Olivia Litman, the bureau's marketing director, said families and individuals should have no trouble finding things to do around Wheeling.
"I like to focus on the fact that we have something for everyone here. There are lots of things to do with your family, and there is plenty of nightlife for young couples or singles," she said.
"With so many different places to see unique art and hear unique music, Wheeling has a lot to offer," Litman added.
Litman also notes that Wheeling is surrounded by areas such as The Highlands and all of its retail, dining and entertainment options.
It's not all about festivals and events, though. Children who like to ride skateboards have a newer skatepark in the Elm Grove section of Wheeling; those who like to bike have the Wheeling Heritage Trail; and those who like West Virginia's mountain country can reach it in just a few hours from Wheeling.
The Children's Museum of Wheeling offers youngsters a chance to improve their minds through play, while organizations such as the Wheeling Symphony continue to provide area residents with performances normally found only in much larger cities.
Oglebay Institute features programs for all age ranges, while the Towngate Theatre showcases weekly movies and occasional plays for area residents.
Meanwhile, on the western side of the Ohio River, Carroll and the Belmont County Tourism Council promote activities throughout the county. She said Jamboree In The Hills, the major country music festival that takes place near Morristown every July, is the county's largest draw.
"We also have the Barnesville Pumpkin Festival, and the Belmont County Victorian Mansion Museum," she said. "And in Bellaire, we have the National Imperial Glass Museum and the Bellaire Toy and Plastic Brick Museum."