Summertime Sights at Watoga State Park

Ah, those summertime sights, sounds, and smells entice many people to visit Watoga each year. This summer was no different.

From the children splashing about in the pool’s crystal-clear water to a family of deer meandering alongside a mountain stream, there’s always something to fill your senses in this 10,000-acre park.

Wildlife, Back to Nature, and Dark Skies

Raccoons, bats, and owls highlight the summertime night sights and sounds, but the dark skies alone are worth a visit to Watoga. Here, you can see the Milky Way along with other galaxies, planets, and constellations. You can even “wish upon a star!” And don’t forget to chase or catch a lightning bug or two during your summertime visit!

Recently, the International Dark-Sky Association recognized Watoga, along with Calvin Price State Forest and Droop Mountain State Park, as West Virginia’s first Dark Sky Parks.

Special thanks to photographers Tiffany Beachy, Donna Dilley, Angela Hill and Brian Hirt for sharing their photography with Watoga State Park Foundation.

"A bear! A bear! All black and brown and covered in hair!" - Author: George R R Martin.
“A bear! A bear! All black and brown and covered in hair!” – Author: George R R Martin. © Angela Hill.
Just one of many summertime sights at Watoga. ©Donna Dilley.
One of the many summertime sights at Watoga. © Donna Dilley.

Fishing in the summer on the lake is just a given. ©Angela Hill
Summer isn’t complete without fishing on the lake. © Angela Hill.
Evening sunsets can be quite spectacular in the summertime at Watoga Lake. Just one of many canopies of trees within the park. ©Donna Dilley.
Evening sunsets can be quite spectacular at Watoga Lake. © Donna Dilley.

Summertime Views For You!

A bench with a view, framed by West Virginia's state flower.
A bench with a view, framed by West Virginia’s state flower. © Angela Hill.
A vote by public school students in 1903 selected the rhododendron as West Virginia's state flower. © Angela Hill.
A vote by public school students in 1903 selected the rhododendron as West Virginia’s state flower. © Angela Hill.
This Wrybill pauses to take in the summertime sights at Watoga. The swimming pool is a popular spot in the summertime at Watoga. ©Angela Hill.
This Wrybill pauses to take in the summertime sights at Watoga. © Angela Hill.
Pickerelweed along the banks of Watoga Lake. This Wrybill pauses to take in the summertime sights at Watoga. ©Angela Hill.
Pickerelweed along the banks of Watoga Lake. © Angela Hill.
At Watoga, summer isn't complete without the Mountain Trail Challenge Races, held annually on the second Saturday in August. ©Brian Hirt.
At Watoga, summer isn’t complete without the Mountain Trail Challenge Races, held annually on the second Saturday in August. © Brian Hirt.
Just one of many canopies of trees within the park. ©Donna Dilley.
A canopy of pine trees in the Pine Run Cabin area. © Donna Dilley.
The photographer calls this shot "Rhododendren Heaven on Bear Pen Trail."
The photographer calls this shot “Rhododendron heaven on Bear Pen Trail.” © Angela Hill.
Sights like this one await you at Watoga.
Sights like this one await you at Watoga. © Angela Hill.
Up close and personal with a rhododendron bloom. © Angela Hill.
Up close and personal with a rhododendron bloom. © Angela Hill.
Cabin 34, aka "The Honeymoon Cabin," on a wondrous summer evening.
Cabin 34, aka “The Honeymoon Cabin,” on a wondrous summer evening. © Watoga State Park Foundation.
In a secluded area at Watoga, a synchronous firefly (Photinus carolinus) pauses before liftoff to search for a mate. This insects synchronization is one of many amazing summertime sights at Watoga.Photo by Tiffany Beachy©.
A synchronous firefly (Photinus carolinus) pauses before liftoff to search for a mate. © Tiffany Beachy.

Summertime, summertime . . .

You're almost there! A summer day at the solar-heated pool is priceless.
You’re almost there! A summer day at the solar-heated pool is priceless. © Watoga State Park Foundation.
The swimming pool is a popular spot during the summer. ©Stanley Clark.
The swimming pool is a popular spot during the summer. © Stanley Clark.
One of a number of mushrooms within the forest at Watoga.  © Angela Hill.
One of a number of mushrooms within the forest at Watoga. © Angela Hill.
A day of fun-filled activities is almost complete.
A day of fun-filled activities is almost complete. © Angela Hill.
The dark skies at Watoga never cease to amaze. Angela Hill.
The dark skies at Watoga never cease to amaze. © Angela Hill.
Comet Neowise in July 2020 from the Anne Bailey parking lot at Watoga. © Angela Hill.
Comet Neowise in July 2020 from the Anne Bailey parking lot at Watoga. © Angela Hill.

Watoga State Park Prepares To Go Dark

Reprinted with permission from Highland Outdoors magazine (www.highland-outdoors.com), Fall 2021 edition, p. 9.

Stargazers, rejoice! Watoga State Park is on its way to becoming an officially recognized Dark Sky Park. Watoga has long been known as one of the darkest and most light-pollution-free areas in Central Appalachia, providing spectacular views of clear night skies.

At 10,000 acres, Watoga will be West Virginia’s first Dark Sky Park. Expected to be included in the designation are Calvin Price State Forest, which adjoins Watoga to the south, and nearby Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park. Together, the three areas encompass 19,869 acres.

According to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), a Dark Sky Park (DSP) is “a land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment.”

As the largest state park in West Virginia, earning the DSP designation would add yet another spectacular feather to Watoga’s cap. The application process began two years ago, culminating in a 99-page application that included detailed measurements of night sky depth by local astronomers and light pollution maps, and resulted in the replacement of 181 outdoor light fixtures and bulbs to be dark sky-compliant.

Watoga Lake, the Anne Bailey trailhead, and other areas in the park should provide scenic nocturnal viewing opportunities for astronomers, tourists, photographers, and visitors. Future plans include educational programs and star parties for dark-sky enthusiasts at Watoga, Droop Mountain, and Calvin Price.

Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park. Photo by Jill Mullins.
Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park. Photo by Jill Mullins.

“The [pending] designation will put Watoga on the radar of groups or individuals who seek out dark sky facilities,” said Watoga superintendent Jody Spencer. “Dark skies have always been noticeable at Watoga, where night hikes, nighttime boating, and owl walks are popular activities. I think the real benefit to park guests is the fact that light pollution on the park has been greatly diminished.”

Stay tuned to our website (highland-outdoors.com) for more information on this exciting announcement.

John Dean is a writer and editor who grew up in Watoga in the 1960s. He is an active board member for the Watoga State Park Foundation.

Watoga Art in the Park Features Artisans, Workshops, and More!

Watoga art in the Park logo

Thousands of people visit Watoga State Park to escape urbanity. Others come to hike or run on wooded mountain trails or to experience scenic vistas along with nature’s sights and sounds. But, there’s a unique group of individuals who immerse themselves in the utter calm at Watoga. Throughout the year, they visualize, dream, and create works of art. Thus, at the 4th Annual Watoga Art in the Park this Labor Day weekend, art and nature come together. Talented artists, artisans, musicians, and photographers will take center stage.

The free event features hands-on workshops, juried fine arts and crafts, live music, and of course, food.

Artisans, Musicians, and Food Too at Watoga Art in the Park

This year’s festival spotlights six workshops. There will be Wood Turning, Clay Birdhouses, Exploring the Cosmos, Fused Glass, Pendant Making, and a Kid’s Corner with crafts and activities for children. However, children must be accompanied by an adult. Watoga State Park Naturalist Kayla Bowyer will lead discovery hikes on Saturday and Sunday.

Music by Jim Snyder begins at 11:00 a.m. Saturday. Trash Fairie, a ukulele group, performs at 2:00 p.m. Sunday’s musical entertainment also includes a performance by Uncle Gary and the Porch Pickers at 2:00 p.m.

“We are thrilled to again offer visitors and residents alike a unique event to enjoy,” said Laura Finch, president of the Board of Directors of Experience the Arts, Inc., a 501(c)(3) organization. “The focus of this year’s event is on local artists and artisans.” Last minute registrants can contact watogaartinthepark at gmail.com.

An added bonus to Watoga Art in the Park is the variety of food selections.

“We are especially excited for the food offerings this year, with a full spread of nibbles and nosh from Sally Cobb, including her world-famous chicken and sausage gumbo, shrimp etouffee over rice, along with veggie (and meat lovers) burgers and dogs,” said Finch.

Watoga annually hosts this popular and ever-expanding arts and crafts extravaganza the first weekend each September. The two-day festival is at the park’s picnic area, close to the swimming pool. Look for the Watoga Art in the Park logo on signs at Seebert Road/U.S. 219 or from the northern part of the park on Beaver Creek Road before you get to the campground.

Official Results from Watoga’s Mountain Trail Challenge Races

Photos of Watoga State Park Mountain Trail Challenge Races
And they’re off and running at Watoga’s Sixth Annual Mountain Trail Challenge Races. Photo by Daniel Flores.

The 5K and Half-Marathon Race Results Are In! APTiming.com has released official timing results for Watoga State Park’s Mountain Trail Challenge Races.

The overall finishers, top male finishers, and top female finishers follow:

Final Results

HALF-MARATHON

Overall winners

1. Aaron Walker, Spring Dale, WV, with a time of 1:55:12.1
2. Daniel McDowell, Princeton, WV, with a time of 1:57:24.9
3. Donald Marsh, Mount Clare, WV, with a time of 2:06:38.6

Male Winners

1. Aaron Walker, Spring Dale, WV, with a time of 1:55:12.1
2. Daniel McDowell, Princeton, WV, with a time of 1:57:24.9
3. Donald Marsh, Mount Clare, WV, with a time of 2:06:38.6

Female Winners

1. Elise McClintic, Lewisburg, WV, with a time of 2:08:27.2
2. Donna Wright, Roanoke, VA, with a time of 2:24:59.3
3. Megan Lively, Oak Hill, WV, with a time of 2:30:50.4

5K RUN/WALK

Overall Winners

1. Bryon Shrewsberry, Daniels, WV, with a time of 23:48.5
2. Ben Palisca, city unknown, with a time of 23:54.9
3. Hannah Scrafford, Marlinton, WV, with a time of 26:03.5

Male Winners

1. Bryon Shrewsberry, Daniels, WV, with a time of 23:48.5
2. Ben Palisca, city unknown, with a time of 23:54.9
3. Alexander Pearson, Arlington, VA, with a time of 27:41.4

Female Winners

1. Hannah Scrafford, Marlinton, WV, with a time of 26:03.5
2. Devin Haynes, Williamsburg, WV, with a time of 26:08.1
3. Kelly Pults, Mount Jackson, VA, with a time of 26:47.7

Without you . . .

Without all of the runners, more than 60 volunteers, including registration gurus, cuisine experts, professional photographers, knowledgeable aid station personnel, expert communications teams, ready-to-respond emergency personnel, and the dedicated Watoga State Park Foundation Team, none of this would have been possible.

The Foundation’s “Challenge” is to make the races better each year. Special shout-outs to the Mountain Trail Team whose hard work shaped the course into its best-ever condition for this year’s races.

Special thanks to many phenomenal local businesses and sponsors who donated so selflessly. Kudos to the talented Pocahontas County artisans who handcrafted special edition mugs and plates for the runners. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed.

Much appreciation to APTiming.com for your technical expertise in calibrating each and every runner’s times to the exact 1/1000ths of a second. Likewise, a round of applause is in order for media outlets and other organizations both in West Virginia and outside the Mountain State for helping to publicize the races.

To Watoga State Park employees who welcome so many people with open arms throughout the year to the largest state park in the Mountain State: Many thanks!

Finally, to the Mountain Trail Challenge runners who make these races second to none in America: We enjoy seeing you at the park even when there’s not a race. We admire your athleticism, stamina, and enthusiasm. You’re simply the best!

Mountain Trail Challenge Race Photos at Watoga State Park

Even though the weather was not perfect for the 6th Annual Watoga State Park Mountain Trail Challenge Races, runners young and old alike turned out to take on the “challenge” of the 5K Run/Walk and Half-Marathon.

Photos of Watoga State Park Mountain Trail Challenge Races
Most importantly, they’re off at Watoga’s Sixth Annual Mountain Trail Challenge Races. Photo by Daniel Flores.
Runners gather steam for Watoga's Mountain Trail Challenge.
Meanwhile, determination appears on the faces of half-marathoners at Watoga State Park. Photo by Brian Hirt.
Mountain Trail Challenge
Now, through the woods of the Mountain Trail Challenge we go. Photo by Brian Hirt.
Mountain Trail Challenge Runners go by lush ferns along the course.
Furthermore, along the trails at Watoga State Park is a plethora of flora and fauna for runners and hikers alike. Photo by Brian Hirt.
Without doubt, the moss and ferns welcomed the much-needed rain. However, we’re not so sure about the runners. Photo by Brian Hirt.

And the Mountain Trail Challenge
Continues . . .

During the races, fist-bumps are often seen between volunteers and runners. Photo by Brian Hirt.
Despite the weather, the smiles came out in full force. Photo by Brian Hirt.
Near the picnic shelter at Watoga State Park, this runner sprints toward an aid station.
Evidently, the refreshments and nutrition will be very useful in a second. Photo by Daniel Flores.
In spite of thunder, lightning, and torrential rain, this runner weathered the storm. Photo by Peggy Owens.
Certainly, there are many thumbs up to all the runners who show up year-after-year for the Mountain Trail Challenge races. Photo by Brian Hirt.
Strategically placed aid stations help runners to endure the “challenging” race. Photo by Daniel Flores.
Aha, the finish line at last! Photo by Peggy Owens.
Obviously, we took your photo. How did the one of us turn out? Photo by Peggy Owens.
Watoga State Park welcomes this young lady to the races!
No words needed. Photo by Daniel Flores.
Weather aside, warm and friendly smiles ruled the day. Photo by Daniel Flores.

Until Next Year . . .

Watoga State Park Foundation canopy.
Two Foundation board members await confirmation that all runners have safely traversed the courses. And planning is already underway for next year’s Mountain Trail Challenge races. Photo by Peggy Owens.

5K and Half Marathon Stage Almost Set to Welcome Runners to Watoga

5K and Half-Marathon signs going up at Watoga.

The stage is almost set for the Sixth Annual Watoga State Park Mountain Challenge Races. Saturday’s races will feature runners from Virginia to California and across the United States. Because of Watoga’s unique racecourses, 5K and Half Marathon enthusiasts come from across the U.S.

Race Day morning temperature will be a comfortable 63 degrees. Talk about ideal running conditions! Meteorologists currently predict afternoon temperatures of 84 degrees. There’s a 39 percent chance of scattered thunderstorms in nearby Hillsboro. However, at Watoga, it should be five to 10 degrees cooler along this challenging and hilly route.

As you drive into the park, race signs, strategically placed to “get your attention,” will direct you to the Beaver Creek Campground. You also may notice deer out grazing so early in a mist-filled morning.

From 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m., Race Day entrants can complete the registration process near the Beaver Creek Campground. Whether you’ve registered online or are waiting until that morning, don’t worry. Our volunteer teams will assist you.

All race proceeds benefit Watoga State Park. Any donations may be tax-deductible.

Because of the unavailability of Internet services, only cash or checks are accepted. Moreover, if you have never been to Watoga, please print your directions or save them to your mobile device prior to leaving. You will not have internet-based map directions for the entire trip to the park.

Along the 5K and Half Marathon Courses . . .

Along the half marathon route, runners will traverse through a 13.1-mile adventure. Elevations will range from 2,560 feet to 3,200 feet. Six aid stations staffed by volunteers providing nutrition and essential hydration to runners. The 5K will have one aid station situation mid-way in the 3.1-mile course.

Serious looks are on the faces of the half marathon runners as they are ready to take on a challenging 13.1-mile course at Watoga State Park's Half Marathon and 5k Races. Photo by the Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.
Half Marathon runners are ready to take on Watoga’s challenging 13.1-mile course. Photo by the Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.

This year’s tread (the surface runners feel underfoot) is in the best shape ever! Importantly, continuous and necessary work during the past six years has resulted in steady improvements to prevent erosion and tread wear.

Communications teams, rescue personnel, and emergency response squads will be in various locations throughout the park.

Photographers will be documenting your journey, your smiles, and even a grimace or two as you leave sweat behind.

The half marathon starts promptly at 8:30, followed by the 5K with both slated to end at 2 p.m. A cookout and an awards ceremony will be at the Beaver Creek Campground airstrip.

Race organizers, event planners, volunteers, and park personnel will be following protocol recommended by the Centers for Disease Control as well as local and state health guidelines. You can review current guidelines issued by the CDC. Additional COVID information will be provided in the pre-race meeting.

Watoga State Park and the Foundation are looking forward to welcoming you to the Watoga Mountain Trail Races. See you Saturday!

Online Registration for 5K and Half-Marathon Races Ends Soon!

Attention All Runners: Online registration for the Mountain Trail Challenge 5K and Half-Marathon Races ends in two days! Please click here to complete your sign up before 11:59 p.m., Saturday, August 7. After August 7, you can still register in-person on Race Day, August 14. Just follow the signs to the airfield near the Beaver Creek Campground.

Are you ready to run? Online registration deadline is fast approaching. Sign up today!
Are you ready to run? The online registration deadline for the 5K and Half-Marathon races is fast approaching. Sign up today!

As the largest state park in West Virginia at 10,000-plus acres and more than 40-miles of trails, Watoga State Park is the ideal spot for a late summer half-marathon and 5K. In the half-marathon, runners will traverse through some of the most majestic surroundings in the eastern U.S. Additionally, temperatures in mid-August tend to run on the hot side. Moreover, Watoga runners will be surrounded by a canopy of trees and greens on its half-marathon and 5K courses.

5K and Half-Marathon Specifics

Half-Marathon and 5K Races: August 14, Watoga State Park, 4800 Watoga Road, Marlinton, WV 24954. Follow the signs for Beaver Creek Campground. First up is the Half- Marathon. It begins promptly at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m. Furthermore, the 5K starts at 8:40 a.m., ending at 2 p.m.

View the Mountain Trail Challenge Half-Marathon course map. Here’s the route for the 5K.

Great Places to Stay and Eat!

You can explore lodging options at the park and other places to stay or dine.

Please note that for Race Day registrants, due to the unavailability of Internet services, only cash or checks can be accepted. Also, if you have never been to Watoga, please print your directions or save them to your mobile device prior to leaving home. You will not have internet-based map directions for the entire trip to the park.

See you on Race Day at Watoga, where its many wonders await you on shaded and wooded mountain trails!

Mountain Trail Challenge Races: Unique Courses for Runners at Watoga

Mountain Trail Challenge Races kick off on August 14 at Watoga State Park.
Mountain Trail Challenge Races kick off on August 14 at Watoga State Park. Photo by Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.

In less than two weeks, many people will meet at an old air strip in a remote region of the Allegheny Highlands in West Virginia. Throughout 2021, visitors came to Watoga State Park from near and far for various reasons. Some came to camp, hike, bike, fish or maybe stay in a cabin built in the 1930s. But, this is a group of runners gathering to do what they love: Run on the trails! And run they will at the Sixth Annual Watoga State Park Mountain Trail Challenge Races. Featured events are the half-marathon and the 5K on August 14.

Mountain Trail Challenge Races at West Virginia’s Largest State Park

As the largest state park in West Virginia at 10,000-plus acres and more than 40-miles of trails, Watoga is the ideal spot for a late summer half-marathon and 5K. In the half-marathon, runners will traverse through some of the most majestic surroundings in the eastern U.S. Additionally, temperatures in mid-August tend to run on the hot side. Watoga runners will be surrounded by a canopy of trees and greens on its half-marathon and 5K courses.

While marathoners and 5K runners alike have been conditioning for Watoga’s challenging trails, volunteers from the Watoga State Park Foundation have been busy getting both courses into game-day ready shape.

So, are you ready to race? Here are a few last-minute details. Online registration ends August 7 at 11:59 p.m. After August 7, registration is in person only, on Race Day, August 14 at 6:30 a.m. at the Beaver Creek Campground Check-in Station. Here is the registration site for both races.

All race proceeds benefit the park through the Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Your donations may be tax deductible.

Race Details

Half-Marathon and 5K Races: August 14, Watoga State Park, 4800 Watoga Road, Marlinton, WV 24954. Follow the signs for Beaver Creek Campground. First up is the Half- Marathon. It begins promptly at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m. The 5K starts at 8:40 a.m., ending at 2 p.m.

View the Mountain Trail Challenge Half-Marathon course map. Here’s the route for the 5K.

You can explore lodging options at the park and other places to stay or dine.

Course Updates and What Our Volunteers Are Doing

Word has it that the course surface is in excellent condition thanks to many volunteers who have been diligently removing encroaching plants and roots since 2020.

Behind the scenes at Watoga and on race day, more than 60 volunteers are working diligently to make the Mountain Trail Challenge Races the best ever. They have been busy marking the courses, using signs and flagging ribbons as well as mile point markers.

Moreover, on race day, others will be assisting with food, snacks and refreshments for the runners. You may even notice our volunteer communications team throughout the park, strategically located to ensure runners’ safety. So, look for our volunteers along the trails and other unexpected places cheering you on, staffing first-aid stations, and providing much-needed hydration. If you are able to volunteer to help the Foundation assist Watoga to become even greater than it is now, please complete this online form.

Don’t be surprised if you see a photographer or two along your route capturing your smiles and grimaces along the way. That Mountain Trail Challenge Races t-shirt you run so hard to receive is also ordered!

Many runners faces are depicted in this collage from Watoga State Park's Mountain Trail Challenge Races set to start on August 14.
Will you be one of these faces this year? Photo by Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.

Your Smiles for Watoga State Park Make A Difference

Smiles for Watoga make a difference. This Old Growth Forest is one of the Foundation's projects to preserve and protect so you too can enjoy. Photo by The Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.
This Old Growth Forest is one of the Foundation’s projects to preserve and protect so you too can enjoy. Your smile helps Watoga. Photo by The Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.

Do you know how easy it is to help The Watoga State Park Foundation make worthwhile improvements at the park? On the positive side, it doesn’t cost you a penny! In fact, it takes just a minute or two to change a couple of settings on your Amazon account. Voila! In essence, help us make your smiles for Watoga memorable.

Moreover, a portion of all your future purchases at the online retailer goes directly to the Foundation to help the park. Without a doubt, that definitely counts as several smiles for Watoga.

Besides it’s so easy that we’re going to let Amazon’s step-by-step directions explain how to do this on your phone or computer:

You Too Can Help Watoga While You Shop

AmazonSmile is a way customers can support their favorite charitable organization every time they shop with Amazon, at no additional cost.

Customers who shop at smile.amazon.com will find the same Amazon they know and love, with the added bonus that AmazonSmile will donate a portion of the eligible purchase price to the charity of your choice.

Signing up is easy!

How to sign up for AmazonSmile

If you shop using the Amazon app on your mobile phone:

1. Open the Amazon Shopping app
2. Navigate to the main menu (=)
3. Tap on Settings and then select “AmazonSmile”
4. Select your charity and then follow the on-screen instructions to turn ON AmazonSmile in the mobile app
5. Once AmazonSmile has been activated in your app, future eligible app purchases will generate a donation for the charity you have selected.

If you prefer to shop using a web browser:

1. Visit smile.amazon.com
2. Sign in with the same account you use for Amazon.com
3. Select your charity
4. Start shopping! Remember to checkout at smile.amazon.com to generate donations for your chosen charity. Tip: Add a bookmark to make it easier to shop at smile.amazon.com.

Source: https://www.aboutamazon.com/news/community/how-to-sign-up-for-amazonsmile

Keep Watoga Smiling

Please choose The Watoga State Park Foundation as your designated charity. Without a doubt, it is greatly appreciated. Please share this information or link with your friends and family. When you donate smiles to Watoga, we smile too.

Happy shopping! Remember to smile today.

Watoga State Park Foundation logo
The Watoga State Park is a 501(c)(3) organization.
Your donations may be tax deductible.