Watoga Swimming Pool Update

The pool officially opens for the season on Saturday, May 30, according to Jody Spencer, park superintendent.

Visitors enjoying a summer afternoon in the Watoga State Park Swimming Pool. | Photographer unknown
Visitors enjoying a summer afternoon in the Watoga State Park Swimming Pool. | Photographer unknown

Mr. Spencer stated that prior to entering the swim area, each person must have a temperature less than 100 and answer several COVID-19-related questions. The number of admitted swimmers will be limited, and you may wish to call 304-799-7459 to check availability. The pool will be open Wednesday through Sunday.

The Swimming Pool at Watoga — The Day It Snowed!

A Continuing Series

Ahh, Memorial Day weekend is here! And, while growing up at Watoga State Park, the swimming pool is the place to be!

Watoga Sate Park. Nestled in the background is Cabin 20. | 📸: @john.c.dean
Side view of the swimming pool at Watoga Sate Park. Nestled in the background is Cabin 20. | 📸: @john.c.dean

This is the last year for the pool (a new one is in the works), but not the last year for memories about this legendary swimming spot. In particular, many readers, visitors and park guests have relayed stories of how cold that water was. This is mine.

Recently, I spoke with my cousin, Debra Dean Murphy, to ask how she remembers the pool. As a matter of fact, Deb was a lifeguard at the pool from 1979-1984. Likewise, I was a lifeguard from 1977-1979. It’s a long-standing Dean tradition to always get in the pool on this holiday weekend no matter the weather.

“The water in the Watoga pool was so cold it would literally take your breath away and make your lips turn blue,” Deb said. “But it was the pool and we loved it and we couldn’t imagine not swimming and diving and playing games in it. There were also those rare occasions when, during or after a rain, the water would feel surprisingly warm.”

Furthermore, Coach Tom Sanders: lifeguard at Watoga (1973-1975) recalls: “I think the water was from a spring. It was really cold, cold water. When the air temperature was cold, swimmers could not stay in the pool awfully long after taking a swim. The pool was always known to be cooler than the nearby swimming holes in the local rivers.”

A Frosty Morning at the Pool

So, on that memorable Memorial Day weekend, here’s what happens next:

Date: Sunday, May 28, 1972

Morning temperature: 30 degrees. Afternoon high: 76 degrees. Weather data courtesy of the National Centers for Environmental Information – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Brrr, to say the least, right?

As can be seen from that subfreezing temp, this opening day weekend is not what you would call ideal swimming conditions (not that any weekend until mid-August at the pool ever is).

However, in the 1970s, solar power meant the actual sun. On hot days, the cluster of pine trees above the pool would provide welcome shade, but on this frosty morning, they keep any glimpse of the sun away. Moreover, even on a warm summer day, the water is chilly. In reality, the water is freezing cold!

The Swimming Pool Bone-Chilling Plunge

You may be wondering if anyone went swimming that day, right?

At 10 a.m.? Absolutely not!

The lifeguards have on jeans, sweat shirts, winter headgear and coats. Undeniably, it is so cold that you can see your breath. I have on my swimming trunks under my jeans. Deb is bundled inside a heavy blanket covering her black Speedo suit. In particular, no other brave souls have ventured to the pool. Meanwhile, we gather inside the bathhouse, near the front entrance, hoping for a sudden tropical warmup.

All of a sudden it begins snowing. It’s like a whiteout – gusty, swirling winds with arctic blasts bringing a steady stream of snowflakes onto the crystal-clear waters of the swimming pool.

However, Deb and I are not going to let a little snow halt a family ritual at the swimming pool. The lifeguards look on in astonishment as Deb and I jump into deep end of the pool, even though it is only for about 30 seconds.

Quickly swimming to the edge faster than an Olympic freestyle gold medalist, Deb and I get out before we are frozen in time. We are shaking and shivering uncontrollably, teeth chattering loudly. We hurriedly grab our nearby towels as hot showers await us.

That is my bone-chilling snow day at the pool. What is yours? Please email your pool memories to jcamerondean@gmail.com. Near Labor Day, I will be publishing a blog(s) to commemorate readers’ memories at the swimming pool.

Roadside perspective of the Watoga State Park Swimming Pool before trees were thinned to allow more sunlight. | Watoga Sate Park. | 📸: @john.c.dean
Roadside perspective of the Watoga State Park Swimming Pool before trees were thinned to allow more sunlight. | Watoga Sate Park. | 📸: @john.c.dean

About the Author

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.

The Swimming Pool at Watoga — A Continuing Series

Visitors enjoying a summer afternoon in the Watoga State Park Swimming Pool. | Photographer unknown
Visitors enjoying a summer afternoon in the Watoga State Park Swimming Pool. | Photographer unknown

My Favorite Swimming Pool in the Whole Wide World

For 80 years at the Watoga State Park Swimming Pool, countless sunbathers and swimmers have graced its water and tread on its time-worn concrete decks.

Tentatively, this will be the last summer for the pool as we now know it. Plans are underway for the construction of a “new and improved” facility for future generations. As more details become available, I will provide timely updates. And, in that vein, I also look forward to telling you the differences between life at the pool — then and now.

But, today’s musing focuses more on a personal thrill at the pool at West Virginia’s largest state park. Since this is a continuing blog, we will talk to others about their days at the pool, and we will also get the inside scoop from behind-the-scenes personnel for continuing updates.

The swimming pool is legendary for its ice-cold, frigid, Siberia-like water temperatures. Just pick a winter-like adjective and it fits nicely when talking about going for a dip. I too vividly recall those arctic waters while growing up at Watoga. No matter how cold the water, this pool is and always will be my favorite swimming pool in the whole wide world!

Current Swimming Pool Opening Day Plans

Detailed plans for opening dates at state park swimming pools have not been released. For the most up-to-date information, please utilize the following resources:

West Virginia-specific information: Call the toll-free hotline 1-800-887-4304 or visit:

www.coronavirus.wv.gov
West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources: www.dhhr.wv.gov/COVID-19
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention – www.cdc.gov
World Health Organization – www.who.int

The Swimming Pool and the Thrill of Victory

When you learn how to swim at a young age, oftentimes you are called “a fish.” As a result of days, weeks, months and years of “living” at the pool, I dream of being the next Mark Spitz and winning multiple Olympic gold medals. Imagine a mentor instructing you how to perfect a dive from the pool’s springboard.

Remember “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” from ABC’s Wide World of Sports? And, it is nice to say that those memories at Watoga’s pool are dominated more by the “thrills” than they are the “defeats.”

Likewise, it is still a thrill to know that where I learned to swim is part of the majestic expanse of natural beauty and wonders nestled in the expanse of 10,000-plus acres. Certainly, I didn’t give it much thought when I was younger, but the foresight and planning to build the pool where it is amazes me.

Learning How to Dive

In 1973, “Coach” Tom Sanders is one of the lifeguards at the swimming pool. I am 12 and can swim well, but I have not conquered the art of diving yet.

“Ok, John, remember to tuck your chin,” Coach says. “Feet together. Bend your knees a little. Lean forward. Don’t look up. I am going to help you fall in. Ok, you ready?”

“Yeah, I’m ready, Coach.”

“You sure? Get set? Here we go!”

And with that, Coach ever so slowly nudges me forward into the deep end of the pool. I do not keep my chin tucked and subsequently complete what is commonly known as a “belly smacker.” Ouch!

At this instant, I think that this process may take longer than the time it took to walk the few miles to the pool from our home near Beaver Creek Campground at the north entrance to the park.

“All right, John, let’s try it again. It is going to take some practice just like those corner shots you like to take at the gym. Remember why we practice basketball for two hours after school, right?”

As a matter of fact, I did practice that dive for several days. I would arrive at the pool early each day before park guests had arrived for the day. The pool opens at 11 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. When Coach had time or the pool wasn’t crowded, he would provide much needed guidance.

“Remember to keep your head down when you go in the water. Toes together. Don’t look up.”

After the third day, I have the technique down, thanks to Coach’s encouragement, cheers, hand claps and positive reinforcement techniques.

Coach, This Dive’s for You!

In conclusion, Thomas “Coach” Sanders was a teacher for a decade and a principal for 31 years in Pocahontas County.

Until now, I never conveyed to Coach how instrumental he was in not only my aquatic development, but also in my educational and career choices. Undoubtedly, absent Coach’s guidance, I would not have been able to do what some consider a simple maneuver. Above all, Coach Sanders instilled in me to always try my best in life no matter what the task. So, it pays dividends to never give up, to give it your all, and as the proverb states “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”

Without a doubt, Coach, this dive’s for you!

Editor’s Note:

Throughout the next few months, John will be compiling stories, memories, facts, and tidbits about readers’ experiences at the swimming pool. Near Labor Day, he will publish that collection for posterity’s sake. Please share your swimming pool experiences with John at jcamerondean@gmail.com or post on his Facebook writing page by clicking this link to go to John C. Dean, Writer.

Entrance to bathhouse and swimming pool at Watoga State Park. | Photographer unknown
Entrance to bathhouse and swimming pool at Watoga State Park. | Photographer unknown


About the Author

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.