Ken Zebo, naturalist and programmer at North Bend State Park, guides a pair of hikers during a Quest expedition.
image courtesy of Greater Parkersburg CVB

This story was originally published in the July 2017 issue of  Wonderful West Virginia. To subscribe, visit

North Bend State Park helps nature novices take their first steps toward outdoor adventures.

When Miki Gain of Salem turned 50 in 2016, she decided to start doing the things she had only ever dreamed about: writing a book, getting back outdoors, going backpacking. “Taking a baby step of faith, even if the path is a little rough, is followed by other steps,” she says. “Soon, you’re on a totally new trail that you hadn’t ever considered before.”

She’s talking about her personal journey since entering her fifth decade, but she might as well be describing the trip that started it all—a customized outdoor adventure with North Bend State Park’s Quest program.

“When I was in college, I spent a lot of time in the outdoors, climbing, hiking, skiing, and a small amount of car camping,” Gain says. “I always wanted to get into backpacking but hadn’t saved up enough for the gear by the time I got married and had kids. When the family came along, everything was put on a shelf—all of it. The Quest program was the perfect opportunity to kick-start my outdoors life again.”

Your Backcountry Concierge

Gain ventured into the woods of North Bend State Park with her teenage daughter Taylor and two Quest leaders, Marina and Steve, trained naturalists and interns at the park for the summer.

Gain had planned her personalized quest—a twonight trip filled with hiking, backpacking, navigating, backcountry camping, kayaking, and geocaching—a few weeks earlier during a phone call with park superintendent Steve Jones. “Steve was so easy to talk to from the start,” she says. “I had some basic ideas of what I would like to do for the quest, but he helped flesh everything out.”

A Quest leader provides a demonstration during a compass course.
image courtesy of Marina Warf

The Quest program, now in its third year, offers customized adventures to individuals and groups wanting to expand their outdoor interests. From nature walks to mountain biking, there’s a quest for everyone. “You tell us what you want to do in the outdoors and what you want to learn, and we’ll try to make that happen,” Jones says. “Maybe you want to ride the railtrail for a few hours, or maybe you want to go out into the wilderness for a few days. Being able to provide all those different opportunities is pretty cool. Each quest is customized based on the guests’ interests, concerns, leisure time, and comfort level.”

The park provides all the necessary gear when guests arrive. But you won’t find grimy rental equipment or cheap gear from a big-box store, says Ken Zebo, park naturalist and programmer. “Something as minor as an ill-fitting life vest can ruin someone’s entire experience,” he says. “The gear we’ve bought for the Quest program is what we use ourselves. It’s quality gear, because we want guests to get a true representation of what these activities are like.”

Fulfilling the Mission

Although some Quest participants simply want to try something they’ve never done before, many become enthusiasts by the time their adventure ends. And that’s what it’s all about, Jones says. “The Quest program fulfills part of our mission as a state park. We’ve always had places where people could go rock climbing, we’ve always had places for kayaking—but if you’ve never done those things, they might be intimidating to you. So, we’ll take you out and introduce you to them, and maybe you’ll come back and enjoy the park all summer long.”

North Bend State Park‘s Quest program offers a variety of activities for interested adventurers, including biking on the North Bend Rail Trail, above, and overnight backpacking trips, below.
photographed by Steve Shaluta

Laura Carpenter, of Pennsboro, tried indoor rock climbing during college but always wanted to try outdoor rock climbing and rappelling. So, last summer, she joined a two-and-a-half-hour rappelling quest, and she plans to try a rock climbing quest this summer.

“I asked a lot of questions about the equipment and how it all worked, and the quest leader did a great job talking us through the process,” she says. “We practiced on an entry-level rappel and moved on to two others that
got steeper each time. The last one was the highlight for me. It had really nice views, and we were pretty close to the surrounding rocks so it was more of a challenge.”

North Bend’s assistant superintendent Kathy Metz leads kayaking classes and overnight biking trips for the Quest program. She says working with all ages and comfort levels is the highlight of the program for her. “Whether you’re completely afraid of the water or you’ve been scuba diving, we’ll customize the quest for you,” she says.

North Bend superintendent Steve Jones, left, leads a Quest guest on a kayaking expedition.
photographed by Rick Lee

Metz has gone out with guests in their 70s who had never been in a kayak before and were scared even to hop in the boat. “By the end of the two-hour class they were so relaxed. They were all saying, ‘Why haven’t I tried this before?'” she says. “To help people go from terrified to simply enjoying an activity, even wanting to go out and do it again on their own, is really rewarding.”

Jones has discussed North Bend’s Quest program with other superintendents in hopes that other state parks will adopt something similar. “For each of our state parks, it comes down to looking at the resources you have and the expertise you have and who your guests typically are,” he says. “But you can take the Quest program, or elements of the Quest program, and really help guests get more out of your park.”

For a complete list of Quest activities at North Bend State Park, visit

written by Katherine Pyles