Ever eat a peanut butter sandwich right before coming face-to-face with a black bear? And how about seeing a bear with Paul McCartney eyes? With this in mind, the following are readers’ creative endings to earlier posts (Part 1 and Part 2) about the black bear at Watoga State Park.
Peanut Butter Sammie, Anyone?
The black bear lifts his head, moving his snout inches from my face. Now, I feel his breath as he sniffs and snorts. Lastly, I did not consider the peanut butter sandwich I had recently eaten.
— David Bott
The Bear with Paul McCartney Eyes
There I stood with my feet frozen to the ground like I was standing in water and Lake Watoga froze right around them. Of course, I didn’t try to break free and run; instead, I relax to go with the flow.
The first thing I notice are this bear’s eyes. While he’s standing on his hind legs and looking right at me, I am so close to him that my nose is hardly a foot from his. I can smell his hot bear-breath. Up this close, his eyes seem larger than normal, and there is a distant light behind the brown color. Keep in mind that these aren’t the vacuous eyes of a wild animal. And this mammal’s eyes are windows to something I cannot put a word on. Simultaneous love and sadness? Something like that.
Meanwhile, there the four of us stood — for how long I don’t know. Be that as it may, you may think that the woods are a quiet place where you can hear a pin drop. News flash! What’s more, the Watoga woods are not as quiet as you’d expect if you’re from the city. In short, birds are tweeting, insects are chirping, flies are buzzing, woodpeckers are pecking, and there are a thousand other members of the forest’s orchestra.
A September afternoon in the woods is anything but quiet. And that’s something else I remember very clearly about this moment. Not only are we mesmerized by this bear with Paul McCartney eyes, but we also cannot hear any of the noises we have come to expect.
Nothing. In fact, if you’ve heard the expression “deafening silence,” this was it.
That is up until the bear says, “Follow me.”
— Ernie Zore
And the Moral of the Story is . . .
I notice the biggest black bear I have ever seen climb up and into the bed of Henry Burr’s maintenance truck.
Moreover, this huge animal is having himself a big ole feast, ripping into a number of trash bags that Henry had thrown into the park vehicle earlier from the campsites at Beaver Creek Campground.
After discovering this mess later that same day, Vernon says: “Ok, Johnny and Ronnie. The lesson in this is to never put off ’til tomorrow what you could’ve done today. Particularly, Mr. Burr is gonna have a mess to clean up in the mornin’.“
— Brenda Waugh
All You Need is a Little Love
Nestling with the sow bear and her cub is a fawn. Apparently, the fawn has lost its mother. This gentle giant has adopted the fawn as her own.
Many times, through the years, I would see a black bear playing in the woods with a deer. Surprisingly, they were not fighting; just playing, chasing and enjoying the special bond they developed as babies.
I will never forget their special friendship. Undoubtedly, it taught me to always be understanding of individuals no matter their background.
With this in mind, don’t we all need a little love?
— Donna Dilley
In conclusion, while researching the untold aspects of the black bear, I came across an interesting paragraph in The Pocahontas Times. Significantly, was this the animal killed at Watoga almost 50 years ago? Maybe it was.
Fifty Years Ago … The Pocahontas Times
Thursday, January 8, 1970
George Schoolcraft saw a large bear track on Pyles Mountain. He reported it to A. G. Dean. The bear traveled to Beaver Creek – from Beaver Creek into Burr Valley, bedded down on Briery Knob. The next day Eldridge McComb heard his dog barking and went to investigate. The dog had the bear in a large fallen tree. They returned to W. S. Smith’s for information about shooting bears. When they returned, the bear and dog were gone – heading for Anthonys Creek.
Probably the best advice that was ever given to me by an uncle who freely dispensed advice, much of it unsolicited, was to be good to your mechanic. He was spot on; if you are fortunate enough to find a competent and trustworthy person to entrust the health of your car to, it pays to show your appreciation. We appreciate Mister Good Wrench of Watoga.
Even more so because, like many professions, this one is fraught with unscrupulous operators – but not here in Pocahontas County of course.
Car Talk was a radio show about auto repairs that ran for 35 years on National Public Radio. It was hosted by brothers, Tom and Ray Magliozzi also called “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers.” The two actually ran an auto repair shop in Boston’s Harvard Square.
People would call into the show with their car troubles and Click and Clack would diagnose the problem with a great deal of hilarity. I never missed a show in all those years for two reasons; yes, they were funny, very funny. But the show explored every possible problem you might encounter with a vehicle – so it was also very practical.
Gone are the days when you could pick up a distributor cap, a set of points and spark plugs at the NAPA store and do your own tune-up. Today’s auto mechanic must be skilled in technical diagnostics and computerized systems, in addition to being handy with a torque wrench.
Car Talk made me realize that a good mechanic has to have a lot of smarts and must think like a detective. A problem with a vehicle may be caused by a multitude of things and the right questions must be asked to pinpoint the actual cause of the problem. Computerized diagnostics also help, but you have to have the skills to operate this technology.
Meet Mister Good Wrench of Watoga
Watoga State Park got a good deal when they hired Arthur Sharp to maintain the fleet of trucks, backhoes, grader, mowers, and chainsaws necessary to keep the park running smoothly.
Arthur, a native of Pocahontas County, came to the job with skills learned as a diesel mechanic for the West Virginia National Guard.
He attended the twelve-week school at Fort Jackson, South Carolina where he graduated an “all wheels” mechanic.
In fact, Arthur wears a lot of hats. In addition to being a full-time mechanic at the park, he is active in the West Virginia National Guard, operates a farm
Where does a guy that busy find time to marry his wife Kristine and produce three great kids; Noah, Evan, and 8-month old Hope? Arthur manages it by taking care of the farm work in the evening when he can also be there with his family.
When visitors return to Watoga State Park this season they will find the Riverside Campground boasting many improvements. Backhoes and graders have been in the campground all winter pulling ditches, putting in new drainage systems, and resurfacing many of the campsites.
In other areas of the park, employees have been preemptively cutting down trees that pose a falling hazard to nearby buildings. The half-dozen mowers required to keep the grass down throughout the park, have been repaired and are awaiting use this spring.
It is Arthur who keeps all of this equipment running.
Part of the goal of the Watoga Trail Report is to make the public aware of how their park is being maintained and cared for. In doing so it is necessary to point out the many dedicated park employees, like Arthur Sharp, Mr Good Wrench of Watoga, who strive each day to make your visit a memorable one.
Other Park News
In a previous dispatch, we talked about the restoration and upgrades being made to many of the cabins. It was mentioned that the money for this project comes from the sale of government bonds and Watoga State Park was the recipient of this windfall.
Work on the cabins has been going on for about two years now, resulting in new decks, remodeled kitchens and bathrooms, and new furniture.
I have been stopping in from time to time to observe the progress, taking photographs and talking with the many skilled workers involved.
One thing became instantly clear to me; this influx of money for the cabins not only benefits the visitors to the park but, for the most part, those dollars are staying right here in Pocahontas County.
As much of the building material as possible is purchased locally. Additionally, the project is also bringing work to local contractors like Stuart Horner of JB Builders and David Smith of Marlinton-based Dream Builders. They, in turn, hire labor so the overall benefits extend well outside the park.
Pine Run Cabin Renovations
A recent visit to a couple of the cabins in the Pine Run Cabin Area, found employees refinishing the chestnut floors. It was a great opportunity to see side by side cabins in different stages of removal of the old floor finish.
Keeping in mind that these particular cabins were built over 80 years ago, to get to the original wood surface required sanding through many layers of polyurethane or varnish. How many? No one really knows but it looked to me like the workers were going through a lot of sandpaper.
Arthur showed me a cabin in which the finishing was completed. There was yellow tape across the door like you would see at a crime scene. We only peeked through the open door but the finished floor was dazzling.
Imagine all of the park visitors who strode those floors for over eight decades. Also, imagine what it cost to rent that cabin back in 1937? It turns out that it was $30 per week for a six-person cabin.
It may sound inexpensive, but keep in mind that in 1937, during the Great Depression, the average annual wage was only $1780. The cost of a gallon of gasoline was 10 cents and a loaf of bread was 9 cents.
The average annual wage in the U.S. today is approximately $48,672 and the rate for that same six-person cabin today is $953 per week.
A quick calculation reveals that in 1937 it required 1.6% of your annual wages to rent a cabin at Watoga for you and your family and friends for a week. Today renting that same cabin accounts for 1.9% of your annual wages, not that much difference. So in truth, you are paying just about the same today as you would have in 1937.
Watoga State Park has only raised the cost of renting its cabins attendant with rising salaries throughout the years. It is still a good bargain to rent a cabin and enjoy all of the other amenities and activities found within the park and around Pocahontas County.
Back to 1969, when sometimes mom would refer to Ronnie and me as “wild!” Neither of us knew that “Wild and Wonderful” would become synonymous with our home state. At the same time, we were too occupied with “Wild and Wonderful” activities enveloping us at Watoga State Park and Calvin Price State Forest near Marlinton to pay much attention to such words. With this in mind, here’s one of my “Wild and Wonderful” rainbow trout fishing adventures.
Snakes, Arrowheads, Fortresses, and Freckles, our Pet Deer
On that overcast spring day, Ronnie and I create names for the various cumulus cloud formations. We see dandelions too, but mostly feel them squish between our toes, as we run “wild” discovering “wonderful” treasures like snakes, arrowheads and old fortresses hidden deep within the woods past the airstrip near the state forest.
“Johnny, look at that huge trout way up there!” Ronnie exclaims. “See it?”
Wherever Ronnie ventures this April day, I try to follow. Sometimes I am successful; other times not so much. After all, he’s my big brother, my hero, my teacher. Ronnie is 11. I am three years younger. So, one rainy evening near dusk, at the Beaver Creek Campground, we dig into the damp soil to collect about two dozen night crawlers, and then drop them in a blue, white and orange Maxwell House coffee can.
The “Wild and Wonderful” Fishin’ Pole
The next day, Ronnie asks “Hey Johnny! Wanna come with me?”
“Yeah, sure. But, what we gonna do?”
Naturally, I am excited to tag along no matter where it is or what we might do. As a matter of fact, it isn’t often that Ronnie invites me to go on one of his journeys throughout the park.
“We’re goin’ fishin’ then! C’mon, let’s go to Laurel Run.” Laurel Run is one of Ronnie’s favorite spots to journey off to by himself and leave me standing at the intersection to either Burr Valley or the park superintendent’s residence.
“Johnny, go git that ole coffee can we had last night. Those are our fishin’ worms. You’re gonna catch a big, ole trout today!” Of course, I ran full steam ahead to our secret hiding place behind the maintenance garage, close to the rustic campground.
To begin this “Wild and Wonderful” rainbow trout fishin’ story, Ronnie and I find two fallen branches from an oak to serve as that day’s fishing poles.
First, Ronnie finds some dirty tennis shoe strings to be our bait lines. Second, he coaxes me into snagging some safety pins from Mom’s sewing box, neatly tucked beside her Singer sewing machine. Third, some aging yellow twine becomes our fishing lines. Fourth, Ronnie ties a knot a few inches from the limb’s base and then winds the string along the four-foot branch to the end of my brand-new fishing apparatus. Finally, he secures a small pebble to the end of the string as a weight. Mom’s safety pins are our hooks.
Learning how to Reel in a “Wild and Wonderful” Rainbow Trout
To begin with, Ronnie shows me how to drop my improvised fishing line into Laurel Run. I hear a subtle splash as the stone and the night crawler enter the sparkling mountain waters. We wait for our lines to sink deeper. Not only does Ronnie help me to move the pole slowly back and forth, but also he teaches me how to bring the rod closer to my body, and then to lift it out of the water.
“Ok, do it again, Johnny. Throw the line back out there in the middle of that hole. You’ll git the hang of it. I know ya will.” And I repeat this several times. After a few minutes, Ronnie asks if there’s been a bite yet.
“No, I don’t think so. How would I know?”
“Oh, you’ll know all right. When a trout that’s bigger than you pulls, you’ll be learnin’ how to swim all the way to the pool and back again!”
So, we wait. And then wait some more. I notice Ronnie looking into the nearby cluster of oak and pine trees. I look too, noticing a few deer cautiously observing us standing in one of their water sources. Naturally, I wonder if Freckles is making new friends at the game farm.
Seeing my First “Wild and Wonderful” Rainbow Trout
Then it happens. I feel a tug at last. Without delay, Ronnie calmly wades over, tells me to firmly hold my pole and to guide it toward me, and finally to lift the catch up and out of the water.
“See it, Johnny? Would ya look at that? Look, it’s beautiful and check out those colors!”
“Oh my gosh, Ronnie. I can’t believe it. I caught a fish! Look, I caught him!”
“Yeah, Johnny, you got one all right. You just caught your very first wild rainbow trout! Way to go! Would you look at that? Talk about a beaut!”
At this point, I continue to admire the “Wild and Wonderful” rainbow trout’s subtle blues and greens. Those hues on its slender body mesmerize me.
“You wanna keep it? It’s up to you.”
To say the least, I am ecstatic to catch my first fish with Ronnie’s help. Even though it isn’t a trophy-sized catch, and most likely a baby, that “Wild and Wonderful” rainbow trout lives to swim another day in the crystal-clear waters of Laurel Run. I never became an expert angler like Ronnie, but whenever I see a rainbow, the array of colors reminds me that fishing for wild rainbow trout is just one of my many colorful “Wild and Wonderful” Watoga adventures.
Where Will Your “Wild and Wonderful” Adventure Take Place?
The West Virginia Department of Natural Resources stocks all four types of trout at Watoga Lake (rainbow, golden rainbow, brook, and brown trout) at some point throughout the year. Trout are not stocked at Laurel Run. Visit the DNR website for to decide where you will catch your next “Wild and Wonderful” trophy-sized fish.
Let’s go fishing for wild rainbow trout! It’s sure to be “Wild and Wonderful.”
John C. Dean lived at Watoga for 16 years from 1960-1976, until his dad, Vernon C., retired after 43 years of service with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. He can be reached at " target="_blank">
Rising early that June morning, and breathing in the fresh mountain air, you realize it’s a great day for a nature hike or two at Watoga State Park. Thoughts of a park bench have not yet entered your mind as you begin the day’s adventures at West Virginia‘s largest state park. But, later that day, musings about park benches will take front and center stage.
Meanwhile, you complete the 2.5-mile trek known as Jesse’s Cove Trail, admiring the restored and historic Workman Cabin along the way. Oh, by the way — you see no ghosts. Moreover, feeling adventurous when you get to Ann Bailey Trail, you traverse a few more miles to the lookout tower everyone keeps telling you to visit. Finally, once there, and in need of a break, you imagine taking a respite on a park bench to admire the panoramic views of the Greenbrier Valley and Kennison Mountain framed before you like an Ansel Adams photo.
Having noticed park benches at Watoga Lake and T.M. Cheek Overlook, you ponder creating your very own park bench. Can I do a park bench too? How would that work?
After chatting with the friendly staff at Watoga’s park office, you discover that YES, you can have a park bench too! So, to that end, we’re here to help you every step of the way as we love park benches and we love projects. Undeniably, when you put the two together, you have the Watoga Park Bench Project.
What Will You See While Sitting On Your Park Bench?
The Park Bench Project is one of many worthwhile programs that we, here at the Watoga State Park Foundation, undertake each year at the state’s largest park. From building new hiking trails to restoring a pioneer-era cabin to helping you with your park bench, we make the time to answer your questions, and yes, to complete the installation of your park bench.
How does the Park Bench Project work? Where’s this bench made? How long does it take to get one installed? Where in the park can I place my bench? What’s it going to cost me? Is this bench environmentally friendly? Does my bench have to be a memorial one?
Soon, we will answer your bench questions.
Significantly, we have an expert team of knowledgeable volunteers, hard-working park employees, and dedicated Foundation members to assist you in completing your customized park bench within our 10,100 acres of lush natural beauty.
Aha, Your Park Bench — Pick A Reason, Pick A Moment, Pick A Spot.
Now, you’ve found the perfect spot for your park bench at Watoga, be it along a secluded hiking trail, near the solar-heated swimming pool, along the 11-acre lake, or at any number of other hidden gems in the park. Importantly, you know why you want to place your park bench at that exact location, and, of course, the “why” is up to you.
Maybe it’s “just because” you want others to enjoy the stunning sunrises you experience at Ann Bailey Lookout Tower or the encapsulating view at T.M. Cheek overlook your family enjoys during your annual summer picnics. Maybe it’s for your pet who enjoys your expeditions through the natural wonders of the Brooks Memorial Arboretum as much as you do. Maybe it’s to honor someone special you shared meaningful moments with during your stay at one of Watoga’s 34 cabins or two campgrounds.
Well, you get the drift. Oh no, we mean you get your park bench, your spot, your words, your memories, your way! Undeniably, this is your park bench project, after all.
We Heard You Have Some Questions About The Watoga Park Bench Project And We Have Some Answers Too.
Earlier, we promised answers to your questions. Specifically, here’s our Top Ten FAQs:
Q: Where’s this park bench made?
A: As the Bruce Springsteen song emphatically declares: “Born in the USA!”
Q: What is the material used to manufacture the park benches?
A: Here at Watoga, we’re environmentalists. All benches are eco-friendly, constructed with 100% recycled plastic, maintenance free, attractive, and durable enough to withstand brutal Watoga winters. Additionally, your bench will be here for decades to come so that future Watogaphiles can take a seat at your spot to admire “your view.”
Q: What are the dimensions of my bench?
A: With attention to the important details: Seat Length: 48″; Seat Height: 17-1/2″; Seat Width: 14-3/4″; Total Height: 32-1/2″; Overall Area: 48″ x 26-1/8″; Weight: 87 lbs.
Don’t worry. We have room for it here at Watoga, and it has room for you and a couple of friends also.
Ten Thousand Smackaroos? No Way! Not at Watoga.
Q: How much will my park bench cost?
A: $500. Yeah, we know that’s some serious dough. Maybe look at it this way: Your bench will last a minimum of 50 years, maybe longer. That works out to $10 a year for others to chill, relax, talk or maybe not talk. That’s 83 cents a month. Unlike a park bench in New York City’s Central Park that comes in at $10,000, a Watoga park bench at 5% of that cost is a bargain. Hmm, wonder what a cup of java will cost in the Big Apple in 2070?
Q: How long does it take for my bench to arrive?
A: Once ordered, your park bench is here in about three weeks, sometimes sooner. Depending on the weather, we dig the footers, pour the concrete (where appropriate), and set your awesome park bench. To put it another way, leave the hard work to us — because we enjoy it.
You Said You Have Some More Questions, Right?
Q: Who installs my park bench?
A: Your bench is professionally installed by our park staff.
Q: Where in the park may I place my bench?
A: You pick your spot. If it is logistically feasible, we place your park bench there. Call it a win-win for you and future park visitors. What’s more, feel free to share your spot’s significance with us. To that end, we would love to write about why you chose that location. Others are more than likely interested too.
Q: Can I be there when my park bench is installed and ready to sit on?
A: Absolutely! We recommend that you attend if at all possible. Nevertheless, it’s a special occasion, not only for us at Watoga, but also for you, your friends, your family, or even your pet(s).
Q: What can my park bench plaque say?
A: That’s up to you. Be creative. Try a little humor. Most people ask close friends and family members to help with the wit and wisdom aspects. Without a doubt, we know that your plaque’s inscription will be great!
Oh, Yes. We Have A Form For That.
Q: Is there a form to fill out to get started? How do I get one? What’s your contact information?
A: Great questions! Yeah, what’s more, we have forms here at the Foundation, just like the rest of the world. For instance, there are a few ways to get the necessary paperwork to you to get started.
To start, you can use our “Contact” link (just click here) to request information. We’ll promptly respond to your inquiry. Additionally, we can e-mail or snail mail you more information (including necessary forms). Furthermore, if you happen to be fishing at Watoga Lake, driving through the “Country Roads” at Watoga, staying at one of our two campgrounds or in one of our cabins, stop and chat with us at the park office (across from Watoga Lake).
In the event that none of those ways work for you, you may call Mac Gray, the Foundation’s Treasurer, at 304-653-4373 with any questions, comments or suggestions regarding your park bench.
What To Do Once Your Bench Is A Permanent Part Of The Watoga Landscape?
It’s your day and your park bench. Maybe make it a social event on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? Or fly solo? In short, you decide how you want to mark this momentous occasion, and we’ll be there to take pics or videos if you so desire.
Other ideas: Read a good book on your bench. Maybe it’s a spy thriller. Maybe a double agent is sitting next to you. Sip a cappuccino on your bench. Take some selfies. Capture yourself, your friends or your pets on your bench. On this occasion, how about a picnic? After all, it’s your bench now.
Take solace that not only you, but also park visitors now have a place to rest their soles and reinvigorate their souls thanks to you. Puns intended.
Your Ideas; Your Bench; Our Mutual Project.
Last, but not least, we’re excited to be a part of and to help you create your bench. Just tell us your dreams and ideas and we will help you bring them to fruition. Yeah, we’ve done this before. It’s a lot of fun for us too. Let’s talk.
For 16 years, John lived at Watoga until his father, Vernon, retired after 43 years.
A bench for John’s father, Vernon C. Dean, will be located at T.M. Cheek Memorial in spring 2021. Moreover, a bench honoring his uncle, Alfred G. Dean, Jr., is located at park headquarters near the CCC statue. A bench for Vernon’s and Alfred’s Jr.’s father, Alfred G. Dean, will be situated near the CCC statue as well in summer 2021.