Already dripping with sweat, Brian Maas has been cutting brush and weeds for only a few minutes but vows to keep going despite the summer humidity.
Even biting insects can’t stop him, Brian jokes as he takes a drink of bottled water slowly warming in the late morning sun.
Pretty impressive, especially since he’s volunteering to do this work—a charitable effort aimed at helping preserve one of West Virginia’s most iconic views.
Located just three miles west of Berkeley Springs on Route 9, the well-known roadside spot across from the Panorama at the Peak restaurant is often crowded with cars as people stop to take in a view that includes three states and two rivers (Cacapon and Potomac).
A long-time fan, Brain says he first discovered the rural landscape as a college student looking for a place to go canoeing. It was the beginning of something very special.
Today he’s recently retired from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (after nearly 40 years of working in Washington) and now spending more time locally at his second home in nearby Great Cacapon, a small community located at the base of Cacapon Mountain.
“As a matter of fact, if it wasn’t for that clump of trees right there you could see my property,” he says before preparing to begin chopping anew at the tangled undergrowth.
That’s easier said than done, however, because the steep slope – the mountainside drops off sharply right away – means vegetation is often taller than it looks, and is much harder to reach.
“I think I’m going to have to bring back a rope to drop down there, but we’ll get it,” Brian says.
Preserving the view is difficult and expensive—no state or other public monies pay to keep it clear.
More than a friend, Brian is a guardian angel, according to Patti Miller, who co-owns Panorama at the Peak with her wife Leslie Hotaling.
Wiping tears from her eyes as she watched him work, Patti told us she never doubted that the spectacular view was something special that needed to be preserved. In fact, it was recently rated by National Geographic as one of the top five scenic spots in the eastern United States.
Amazed when a friend mentioned the land was for sale, Patti and Leslie own the 60 acres that extend down to a railroad track running beside the Cacapon River. The couple was astonished to discover the view’s future pretty much depended on who purchased the cherished site.
“We just couldn’t believe that something so impressive was privately owned, so we knew we wanted to buy it – as a way to protect and preserve the view for current as well as future generations,” she says, adding that a lot has happened since that revelation in 2004.
It just so happened that the land also included a restaurant, and today the eatery is well known regionally for using local, farm-grown food – attracting customers from across the Eastern Panhandle as well as neighboring states and Washington.
While the couple has never regretted their decision to protect the expansive view, it has been difficult and expensive since there are no state or other public monies to pay for keeping it clear.
The view’s owner calls Brian, who keeps the view clear of brush and overgrowth, her guardian angel.
Patti told us she estimates that they’ve spent thousands of dollars in the last decade doing this, and that’s another reason she appreciates Brian Maas – who is also a regular restaurant customer – for donating his time and muscle at no cost.
“When I heard he’d been in the restaurant and wanted to volunteer by helping clear the brush away, I just almost couldn’t believe it because I’d been worrying about needing to do that – but also knew that it is an expensive proposition,” she says.
Despite the ongoing expense, Patti is certain that this is part of her destiny – and is also determined to help others discover the history behind the view, in addition to its beauty.
As if on cue, the partially cloudy sky cleared just as more folks arrived to join Patti at the peak to snap a photo of the view.
“There is just such an amazing story to tell here, and I’ve been praying to God for angels to help me. So there’s no doubt that prayer is being answered,” she said, pausing again to wipe away tears as the sun began to shine again.