Watoga: How Our Grandparents Gave Us This Lifelong Gift

Guest Post by Rachelle Bott Beckner

My sister, Sara (R) and I have continued a family tradition spanning seven decades at Watoga. 📸: David Bott, 1987.
My sister, Sara (R), and I have continued a family tradition spanning seven decades at Watoga.
📸: David Bott, 1987.

For more than seven decades, the Botts have stayed in various cabins at Watoga State Park. The family fished, swam, hiked, and rode horses at the stables. This is Rachelle Bott Beckner’s memories about growing up spending summer vacations at Watoga.

Cabins Have Personality Too

It’s difficult to choose my favorite cabin at Watoga State Park. I think, over the years, we’ve stayed at nearly all of them. In particular, I have fond memories in Cabins 2 (River Cabin Area), 3 (Island Lick Cabin Area), 14 (Bucks Run Cabin Area), 20 (next door to the swimming pool) and 21 (Pine Run Cabin Area).

Of course, the years that Grandma and Grandpa Bott (who started this tradition when my father, David Bott, was a child) stayed at Cabin 20 were great. We would visit the pool daily and Grandma would give us money to buy treats from the vending machines inside the pool.

I loved Cabin 14 because my sister, Sara, and I would fly down the driveway on our bikes and ride down the hill with no hands until we reached the commissary. We’d visit the commissary nightly after dinner to buy an ice cream treat.

We are celebrating my parents’ wedding anniversary on August 19, 1988 in Cabin 14 at Watoga. From L-R, foreground to background: Joanna Joseph Reynolds, my cousin, in highchair; Aunt Barbara Bott Joseph; Uncle Bob Joseph, my dad, David Bott, across from him Grandpa Bott (Leonard S. Bott); and my mom, Donna Bott. 📸: Rachelle Bott Beckner.Rachelle Bott Beckner.
We are celebrating my parents’ wedding anniversary on August 19, 1988 in Cabin 14 at Watoga. From L-R, foreground to background: Joanna Joseph Reynolds, my cousin, in highchair, Aunt Barbara Bott Joseph, Uncle Bob Joseph, my dad, David Bott. Across from my dad is Grandpa Bott (Leonard S. Bott) and my mom, Donna Bott.
📸: Rachelle Bott Beckner.

Finding Hidden Artwork in Wood Knots

Perhaps some of my favorite memories, though, are from Cabin 3, which was large enough to hold the extended family. Both of my aunts, Barbara Bott Joseph and Flora Jane Bott, would stay with us with their spouses or significant others. My sister and I would share a room. Some of our favorite pastimes were laying in our beds and finding pictures and stories in the wood knots in the paneling. I remember laying in bed one afternoon for an hour or more and my grandmother became worried what we were up to because we were so quiet. She expected some mischievous act, but we were just using our imaginations to find art in the walls.

Our family was devastated when it burned down one year and we couldn’t stay there again. Cabin 3 had the space to accommodate the extended family.

One year, there was a mix-up with the reservations in the office and we all had to stay in Cabin 14. The office gave us cots to use for everyone to sleep there. Sara and I were kids at the time so it didn’t bother us and we wouldn’t have thought anything about having nine people stuffed into a cabin built for four. As an adult, I can’t imagine how everyone survived that week.

Watoga is Near and Dear to Our Hearts

Growing up, my grandparents were mine and my sister’s best friends. I’m not gonna lie. We were spoiled. We were the only grandchildren at that time on my father’s side of the family. I was the first grandbaby on both sides of the family. We could do no wrong in my grandmother’s eyes. We loved to spend Friday nights at their house, so a week at Watoga was like a weeklong sleepover. We’d stay up late and build fires, roasting marshmallows. A running family joke we have is the year it was too hot to build a fire in the cabin, but my mother did anyway. She built a scorcher of a fire and roasted my grandfather out of the house. He stood on the porch until it died down.

Creating a Lifetime of Memories with the Gift of Watoga

For all of the Botts, but especially me and my sister, Watoga holds a lifetime of memories. We will cherish our memories forever because they remind us of our grandparents.

Their love for us was shown by giving us the gift of Watoga and the beauty of West Virginia. During the week, Grandpa would take us down to the Greenbrier River across from Cabin 1 and teach us how to skip rocks. Sometimes, we’d drive down to Seebert to the little convenience store there. What’s more, on every trip, Grandpa would make his classic Dad joke and ask us if we knew where Seebert got its name. “There was a man named, Bert,” he said, “and he’d wandered off. The townspeople started asking, did you see Bert?” Thus, the town became named Seebert.

In 1948, my grandfather, Leonard (pictured here at Cabin 4), began our family's tradition of visiting Watoga every summer with his wife and my grandmother, Flora. 📸: David Bott, circa 1983.
In 1948, my grandfather, Leonard (pictured here at Cabin 4), began our family’s tradition of visiting Watoga every summer with his wife and my grandmother, Flora.
📸: David Bott, circa 1983.

Grandpa wanted us to know our state and appreciate nature. Of course, he’d take us on hikes around the lake and sometimes the whole family would go on the planned nature hikes on one of the many trails in the park. One year, most of the family (not my grandmother or mom) took a night hike with the park ranger.

The Allure of Watoga

During the day, we’d swim at the pool or go horseback riding at the stables. We’d stay at Pine Run when we were preteens. Grandma would bring her jar of quarters she saved all year for us to use at the rec center near the pool. We’d walk the trail from Pine Run around the lake and to the rec center, where we’d spend our quarters on the jukebox, arcade games and rounds of ping pong.

My parents, David and Donna Bott, enjoying a summer day 2007 with their granddaughter, Belle (my daughter), at Watoga Lake. 📸: Rachelle Bott Beckner.
My parents, David and Donna Bott, enjoying a summer day in 2007 with my daughter, Belle (their granddaughter), at Watoga Lake.
📸: Rachelle Bott Beckner.

Later in the evening, the entire family would visit the rec center for the family movie night, which was usually Woodsy the Owl or Smokey the Bear. In particular, it didn’t matter how many times we had watched the films at Watoga or the nearby Cranberry Glades; it was so familiar to us it felt like home. We’d sing along with the song, “Give a hoot—don’t pollute!”

In the evenings, we’d go down to the lake at dusk to catch a few more bluegills with our trusty crickets for bait. Later, we’d drive through the park spotting deer. When we returned to the cabin, we’d wait and watch for the raccoons to come out.

Watoga—A Most Precious Gem

In this slower quarantine time, your mind can easily float back to the slower days at Watoga, which weren’t so rare then. In today’s crazy-paced, high-tech life, the real beauty that Watoga offers families is a rare opportunity to unplug; to take a deep breath and smell the pine trees; to switch off the phones and TVs and cut a switch off a bush to roast marshmallows; to find yourself and connect with your family and one of the state’s most precious gems.

My mom, myself and my sister, Sara, hiking on one of Watoga’s many trails in 1990. Pictured in foreground: Me. Background is my mom and sister. 📸: David Bott, 1990.
My mom, myself and my sister, Sara, hiking on one of Watoga’s many trails in 1990. Pictured in the foreground: Me. In the background: my mom and my sister.
📸: David Bott, 1990.

Generations of the Bott family have enjoyed the quiet reprieve of Watoga. Without doubt, it is important to me for that tradition to carry on, which is why when my girls were infants we stayed at Cabin 20 for a week. Like me, they were bathed in the kitchen sink. Like me, they swam in the freezing waters of Watoga pool. Like me, Belle and Lilly fished with crickets to catch bluegills from Watoga Lake.

Now, our family has a cabin near Green Bank and the family cabin has become our home away from home. In fact, it’s Watoga that was the impetus for my grandparents to build our family cabin. It’s Watoga that the Botts have to thank for a love of nature, the state and her people.

In conclusion, I invite all West Virginians to reconnect with their families and rediscover all that Watoga has to offer. You won’t be sorry you did.

About the Author

Rachelle is a West Virginia native and former journalist. She now lives in Clemson, S.C., with husband, Andrew, daughters, Belle and Lilly, and their dog, Whittaker. Rachelle works with Tigers United, which is dedicated to preserving natural habitat around the world to save wild tigers.

First Energy contributes to Watoga Dark Sky Project

First Energy contributes to Watoga Dark Sky Project. On July 28th, 2020 Watoga State Park Foundation received a $5000 grant from First Energy for the Dark Sky Project to cover the cost of light fixture replacements in the park.

L - R   Wayne Pollard - Foundation board member,  Jody Spencer - Watoga State Park Superintendent, John Norman - First Energy Foundation, Mary Dawson - Foundation board member, Louanne Fatora - Foundation board member.
L – R   Wayne Pollard – Foundation board member,  Jody Spencer – Watoga State Park Superintendent, John Norman – First Energy Foundation, Mary Dawson – Foundation board member, Louanne Fatora – Foundation board member.

What can you do to reduce your impact on light pollution? Install fully shielded downlight fixtures at your house. These fixtures direct light downward, rather than out to the side and up into the sky. Fixtures need to have light bulbs that are less than 3000 kelvins (color temperature) and 800 lumens (brightness). Disconnecting dusk to dawn lights will better preserve the dark sky. An alternative to dusk to dawn lights is installing motion sensor flood lights.

Watoga State Park Dark Skies

Watoga State Park, in Pocahontas County West Virginia is located in one of the darkest regions in the East, with very little light pollution. Light pollution has detrimental affects on the natural life cycles of many animal and insect species as well as human health. Since 2018, Foundation members Mary Dawson and Louanne Fatora have been working on implementing the guidelines established by the International Dark Sky Association to certify Watoga as an IDA certified park. One major portion of the certification process is to convert the existing light fixtures and bulbs in the entire park to be dark sky friendly. At this time, a great majority of the fixtures have been purchased and installed for the cabins, campgrounds, administration building, pool and activity hall.

First Energy contributes to Watoga Dark Sky Project. Board members express their gratitude to First Energy for their generous support of Watoga State Park Foundation and our Dark Sky Project.

Synchronous Fireflies, “They Lit Up the Woods Like a Christmas Tree”

Synchronous Fireflies

Photo of synchronous firefly
Synchronous firefly (Photinus carolinus) Courtesy of Tiffany Beachy

This story, like most, has a backstory. What follows is how something extraordinary was recently discovered in Watoga State Park.

A little over a year ago Mack Frantz, a zoologist with West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, was informed by a retired biologist from the same agency that she had observed a rare firefly, a lightning bug if you prefer, within Watoga State Park. She even provided geographic coordinates of where her sighting took place.

A small group of people led by USDA biologist Tiffany Beachy that included Sam Parker from Droop Mountain State Park Mary Dawson of the Dark Sky Park initiative and I hiked out to the location at 10 pm on a clear evening in mid-June of this year. After 20 minutes or so, we were treated to a sight unlike anything we had ever seen.

Suddenly, countless fireflies, all flashing simultaneously, lit up the forest like a string of Christmas lights. As fast as the display of bioluminescent lights had started, they stopped, and in perfect unison.

It’s official now, Watoga State Park has a population of synchronous fireflies.

Never heard of a synchronous firefly? That’s not so unusual, neither did I until this summer. But the appeal of these insects is extraordinary, and they may mean a lot more to the park and Pocahontas County as a whole, than we may think.

Unique Fireflies

So, what are synchronous fireflies, and why are they such a big deal?

Mack Frantz describes the synchronous firefly, as, “unique among most fireflies in that males synchronize their flashing displays to rhythmically repeat ‘flash trains.’ Flash-trains are a species-specific group of flashes reported at regular intervals.”

Photo of WV DNR zoologist Mack Frantz
Mack Frantz, WV DNR zoologist, and friend, “We want to make the fireflies accessible to the public without harming them.” Courtesy of Mack Frantz

This virtuoso display of aerial light by the male is meant to attract a female mate on the ground and lasts from one to three hours each night through the relatively short mating season.

“Males do not live long, so the displays only last a few weeks. Additionally, synchronous fireflies are habitat specialists, typically requiring high elevation moist forests. That means you have to be in the right place and time to find them.” Said Mack.

Mack said that Watoga State Park is one of only two populations confirmed in West Virginia on public lands as of this summer. He added that “The WV Department of Natural Resources will be working closely with state and federal partners to determine the best way to conserve and manage this species. That would include making the park’s population publicly accessible for viewing without disturbing the species.”

Another condition that is a must for maintaining a population of synchronous fireflies is a minimal amount of artificial light; they thrive in the darkest locations.

“Synchronous fireflies are highly sensitive to light pollution such as that from flashlights or vehicle headlights. The State Parks and Wildlife Diversity unit of West Virginia DNR will coordinate best-management practices for guided walks that permit public viewing of synchronous fireflies with minimal impact. “added Mack.

Dark Sky

It is a fortunate coincidence that Watoga State Park entered upon a project to become qualified for a dark sky designation in 2019, a mere year before the synchronous fireflies were discovered in the park.

Louanne Fatora of the Watoga State Park Foundation, who, along with Mary Dawson, is spearheading this initiative, says, “The discovery of the synchronous firefly bolsters our efforts to establish Watoga State Park as a certified International Dark Sky Park.

Watoga State Park and Calvin Price State Forest, comprise 20,000 acres of habitat that will gain protection from artificial light pollution.”

Loss of habitat for the synchronous firefly can be mitigated with this designation, a critical factor in maintaining healthy populations.

“Synchronous firefly populations have been declining, and they are the only species in America that synchronize flashing light patterns. So it is crucial that we guard their forested, dark sky habitat for future generations of visitors to Watoga State Park.” Says Louanne.

Based upon the experience of other parks in the eastern United States that have populations of synchronous fireflies, there is considerable public demand to view their flashing displays.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee is a perfect example of the popularity of these fireflies. Before park officials controlled the viewing sites, hundreds of cars were coming into the park each evening during the relatively short mating period.

As would be expected, the people were parking anywhere they could and trampling through the sensitive areas with flashlights, endangering both the females on the ground and interrupting the flash cycles of the males with their flashlights.

In 2015 park officials created a lottery system and closed the main road into the public viewing areas. During the eight nights of regulated public viewing, 800 to 1000 people are shuttled into the sites per night.

In 2019 there were 29,000 applications to see the fireflies and far fewer openings, further demonstrating the popularity of synchronous fireflies. *

The experience in the Smokies and other locations with fireflies presents a clear implication for us here in Pocahontas County – How are we going to handle the expected influx of visitors to view the synchronous fireflies?

How this considerable problem is to be managed rests entirely upon one individual, Jody Spencer, superintendent of Watoga State Park.

When I talked to Jody, he was clearly excited about the discovery of the synchronous fireflies in the park. So much so, he was not only out there watching them on numerous evenings with his family, he found another population of the fireflies in a different part of the park. **

Jody said, “We want the public to have the opportunity to see these marvelous creatures and do it in a way that will ensure the continuation of their populations at Watoga State Park.

Public access will require certain restrictions and guidelines to protect the fireflies. And, there are a number of considerations beyond that, such as concerns for the evening quietude and darkness that the guests in the cabins come here for.”

Managing a park with a variety of resources and activities is a balancing act for park superintendents. Be assured, Jody and his staff will develop a plan that works well for a public eager to see this extraordinary event of light and protect the fireflies at the same time.

The expected increase of new visitors to Pocahontas County to view the night sky and see the light-show of the synchronous fireflies has the potential to bring more folks to our area. After all, we don’t call our county Nature’s Mountain Playground for nothing.

To look at the broader picture of what these marvelous fireflies might mean to Pocahontas County, we need to get some input from the one person who knows best how to make it work as a popular attraction, not only for Watoga State Park but the county as a whole.

Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau

Having already partnered with the Watoga State Park Foundation on the Dark Sky Park initiative, Cara Rose, Executive Director of the Pocahontas County CVB was thrilled to hear about the discovery of the synchronous fireflies at Watoga.

She took the time to call me while on vacation last week and said that the two programs, dark skies, and the synchronous fireflies, dovetail with each other in ways that can significantly benefit the park and local businesses. “After all, the wonders of nature are our product here in Pocahontas County,” Cara said.

Cara offered the support of the CVB in marketing the opportunities for public viewing of the fireflies, saying, “I see it as an opportunity to make use of something extraordinary that enhances what we already have here in Pocahontas County.

I hear it from visitors and locals all of the time, “I love it here in Pocahontas County; it is a special place.” Now, we can add one more item to the list of things that make it unique – Synchronous fireflies.

From the mountain trails of Watoga State Park,

Arrowhead Discoveries in All the Right Places at Watoga

Have you ever seen an arrowhead at Watoga State Park?

Recently, I spoke to two gentleman (both named Ken) who found arrowheads at the park.

Finding an Arrowhead with your Dad — Priceless

Ken Caplinger, former Watoga Assistant Superintendent (1979-1984), later served as West Virginia State Parks Chief and is now a board member of the West Virginia State Parks Foundation.

“One was by an employee when we were building the Allegheny Trail connector from the Beaver Creek Campground over toward Honeymoon Trail.

“The other was when my Dad was visiting me and he accompanied me on a work task to the picnic area over across from Pine Run cabin area. We were walking along the little creek that comes down from the picnic shelter and he spotted an arrowhead in the edge of the creek.”

Finding an 11,000-Year-Old Arrowhead

Ken Springer, Vice-President of The Watoga Foundation, relayed the following:

“I found the arrowhead approximately three years ago on the Monongaseneka Trail. See more of Ken’s find including the history of arrowheads here.

Ken stated that the “design indicates it may be Archaic, a group of Native Americans who lived in settlements in our area in the period from 9000 BC to 4500 BC. “

Arrowhead found at Watoga on the Monongaseneka Trail, 2018. Photo by Ken Springer.
Arrowhead found at Watoga on the Monongaseneka Trail, 2018. 📸: Ken Springer.
1-5/8 inch arrowhead found at Watoga State Park. Ken Springer is illustrating the length of the point. Photo by Ken Springer, 2018.
1-5/8 inch arrowhead found at Watoga with this image illustrating the length of the point. 📸: Ken Springer, 2018.

“If it were a projectile point, it would have been used with a spear and atlatl [a spear-throwing lever], not a bow and arrow as they were yet to be invented in North America.”

Ken Springer’s arrowhead is on display at the Watoga Nature Center. Please note that it is illegal to remove any object, such as an arrowhead, from any park in West Virginia.

Finding Your First Arrowhead With Your Brother

I was with my older brother, Ronnie, when I discovered my first arrowhead, but I was not allowed to keep it. Our dad, a park ranger at Watoga, taught us at a young age not to keep what nature left for us and others to admire and enjoy.

However, it was always an adventure searching for these flint-like creations. The expansiveness of Watoga and nearby Calvin Price State Forest provided Ronnie and I ample opportunities to search for arrowheads. And, getting to see one up close and personal proved to be exhilarating for an 8-year-old.

The Airstrip and Calvin Price State Forest

There were a couple of spots where Ronnie and I found those treasured items.
Specifically, we had the most success on our exploration missions at the expansive airstrip near the Beaver Creek Campground.

At least once a week, Ronnie and I would venture into the secluded wilderness that surrounded us. Notably, the first time that I ever spotted an arrowhead was along the path leading into the forest, close to a small mountain stream oftentimes reduced to a trickle during the heat of the summer. Just seeing one and not even having picked it up yet caused my heart to beat faster.

Excitedly, I jumped up and down with joy.

“Ronnie, Ronnie, look what I found! Come over here. I think it’s an arrowhead.”

Of course, Ronnie was wiser about these matters than me, and upon closer inspection, he said: “You sure did, Johnny. Wow, that’s a nice one too!”

Remembering What Dad Taught Us

Before crossing that small creek to head home, Ronnie stopped. He showed me what Dad had taught us about not removing or keeping historic artifacts that we may discover at the park. Ronnie slowly bent down and carefully placed the tan-colored arrowhead neatly under a nearby rock.

“There,” Ronnie said, “I wonder who will discover this next?”

During your stay at Watoga, explore and take in the wilderness surrounding you. You may even see the arrowhead that Ronnie and I returned to its rightful place more than 50 years ago. In the meantime, please give any discoveries to personnel at the park office for display at the nature center or simply leave it where you found it. The next park visitor will be glad that you did.

About the Author

John C. Dean lived at Watoga from for 16 years until his father, Vernon, retired after 43 years of service with the Division of Natural Resources. On John’s “bucket list” is returning to the airstrip and seeing an arrowhead one last time. You can reach John at .