When West Virginia University surpassed the coal mines as the city's largest employer 20 years ago, something funny happened in Morgantown (population 28,654): The two seemingly disparate cultures melded perfectly, yielding an easy mix of Appalachia folksiness and highbrow caf? chatter—Nietzsche in the bookstore, spoon bread on the menu.
Pedal nearby Coopers Rock (where Cannondale tests bikes) and you'll be mashing with the state's brainiac elite. "We may be professionals, but we aren't afraid to get dirty," says Vinnie Monseau, a four-time Ironman competitor who moved here for medical school in 1992 and never left. More than 2,000 residents have joined Mo-Town's ranks since 2000.
Following suit, the Wharf District got a $45 million revamp with chic eateries and loft apartments, and paved bikeways are swiftly replacing old rail beds. Locals aren't shy about showing town loyalty either. Cue a jukebox to John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" and you'll witness the kind of heartfelt sing-along usually reserved for the national anthem.
BY THE NUMBERS
804: Number of BASE jumps made off the New River Gorge Bridge during the 2006 Bridge Day Festival
55: Distance, in miles, from downtown to the 919,000-acre Monongahela National Forest
18,000: Number of hogs at Morgantown's 2006 MountainFest Motorcycle Rally
WEEKEND SCOUTING TRIP
Where to play: Cyclists can access the 335-mile Great Allegheny Passage—Chesapeake & Ohio Towpath and pedal all the way to D.C. without ever seeing a car (www.atatrail.org). If it's water you seek, hit the Monongahela River for an easy lunch-break paddle or head out of town for the Class V Cheat River, a 13-mile minefield of massive boulders wedged in a 200-foot-high sandstone canyon ($85; www.cheatriveroutfitters.com).
Where to eat and drink: Rock out with the guitar slingers at Black Bear Burritos over a home-brewed stout and an organic tofu wrap (www.blackbearburritos.com). Hankering for pub grub? Fill up on cheap beer and lip-tingling hot wings—thanks to cook Betty Ann's secret sauce—at Novichenk's Tailgater's Pub (304-594-9821).
Where to stay: The WVU crew team can be seen rowing the Monongahela from rooms at the cushy Waterfront Place Hotel ($159; www.waterfrontplacehotel.com), within walking distance of High Street. Mountain Creek Cabins ($160; www.mountaincreekcabins.com) has bucolic pine cottages with old-fashioned wood-burning stoves. (At breakfast, order pancakes; the syrup comes courtesy of the maples out back.)<!--<h4>WANT TO LIVE HERE?</h4> <p> <strong>Hot property:</strong> A four-bedroom, three-bath 1940s home, set near rail-trails along the Mon River, recently went for $385,000 (<a href="http://www.klmproperties.com/" title="klm properties" target="_blank">www.klmproperties.com</a>). </p> <p> <strong>Real estate lowdown:</strong> In the central South Park historic district, a three-bedroom mock Tudor goes for $275,000; riverfront lofts fetch nearly $800,000. The median single-family home price is $203,025. </p> <p> <strong>The local economy:</strong> In the past four years, the Morgantown area has added more than 8,000 new jobs, many in health care and pharmaceuticals. Tradesmen are also in demand as developers scrabble to keep pace with the swelling population. (Building contracts have quadrupled since 2001.) More jobs are on the way with the construction of a $30 million neuroscience research institute and a $21 million expansion of WVU's cancer center. </p>-->