Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

In Backwoods of Lost River, a Gay Retreat

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

In Backwoods of Lost River, a Gay Retreat

Article excerpt

The beauty of Lost River -- beyond its rolling green hills and picturesque grain silos and clear streams snaking through West Virginia's hardwood forests -- is its surprising cosmopolitanism.

The beauty of Lost River -- beyond its rolling green hills and picturesque grain silos and clear streams snaking through West Virginia's hardwood forests -- is its surprising cosmopolitanism.

The area, just two hours from Washington, is definitively the backwoods, with poultry farms and scant cellphone service and grocery-store cashiers who say "What's that?" when asked about organic milk. Families have long been drawn to Lost River State Park, and the Trout Pond Recreation Area, Seneca Rocks and Smoke Hole caverns are a short drive away. And Lost River is also a major destination for gay tourists from Washington: a sort of Provincetown on the Potomac.

"Lost River is definitely a talked-about place to go among the D.C. gay community," said Michael Cole-Schwartz, the communications director for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group. "It's nice to get away to the country without worrying about local attitudes that might be unfriendly toward gay people."

But even local officials acknowledge that West Virginia is not known as the most progressive of states. In the last presidential election, Barack Obama got only 28.7 percent of the vote in Hardy County, Lost River's home.

"Live and let live" is how many locals view their relationship with the gay newcomers, said Diane Mathias, 44, who is gay and a lifelong resident of Lost River Valley. She runs the Mathias Garage with her father in a nearby community.

"Some of the locals may say 'gay people are damned to hell' at church on Sunday, but they'll still come here Monday morning to get their oil changed," said Ms. Mathias, who said her regular customers know she is gay.

With the legalization of gay marriage in the District of Columbia and Maryland, more gay couples are holding their wedding receptions in Lost River. …

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