We have a kids friendly swimming pool and great playgrounds. Paddle boats on the lake. Amazing mountaintop overlooks. Best soft serve ice cream in the universe at Jack Horner’s Corner in Seebert. Beautiful mountain valley around nearby Hillsboro, WV.
Experience Watoga’s old growth forest!
Watoga State Park is 10,000 acres. The southwestern section of the Park is unmaintained Wilderness. Hike the Burnside Ridge Trail to access this area. Allow yourself several hours to get out and back. Further south from this area is the Spice Run Wilderness Area of the Monongahela National Forest.
Four generations of the Bott family have stayed at Cabin 20, nestled in the pines next to the swimming pool at Watoga State Park.
For 72 years, the Botts have fished, swam, hiked, and along the way have made countless memories at the state’s largest recreation area. Specifically, from 1957-1967, these kinfolks called this particular cabin their home away from home.
And this is David Bott’s story about the swimming pool, the cabin next door and the park.
Discovering Watoga, Cabin 20 and the Pool
“My parents began traveling to Pocahontas County in 1948, staying at Graham’s Motel in Buckeye, fishing the Greenbrier River. Discovering Watoga, they soon began staying in the cabins. I began my love affair with Watoga at two-years-old.
“We stayed at Cabin 20 for at least ten years when my sisters [Barbara and Jane] were young. Before they were born, we generally stayed in the Pine Run area. Later we stayed in Cabin 1 and 2 down by the Greenbrier River. After I got married and had children, we stayed in Cabin 3 until it burned down.
“When Barbara and Jane were young, it was a logical choice for kids with a lot of energy and a need for activities. Mom liked the convenience of everything plus it allowed us to be entertained most of the time.
“Swimming during the day, exploring Island Lick Creek in the evenings, and catching crawdads to fish the lake. My parents almost always stayed the last week of August because they wanted to give us one last summer hurrah before school started.”
The Majesty of Cabin 20
“I think the layout was one of the features my mother enjoyed the most. The front door was almost center of the cabin. Walk into the living room/dining area. On either side of the fireplace were single beds. Mom and dad slept here. It was a magnificent fireplace. To the right was a hallway, first on the left, the kitchen, across the way, a bedroom. Down the hall on the right the other bedroom and bathroom across the hall. Backdoor to the woodshed and the little back porch was the raccoon dining area.”
Swimming Pool Humor
“I was in grade school; Barbara was in preschool and Jane was a toddler. My mother would require us to take a break from swimming in the afternoon. Barbara had to nap, but I got to run around. Instead, I jumped the fence and went back to the pool. Well, my mother went to the front desk and spoke with the lifeguards. They promptly came out and made me get out of the pool. They made a big show of it and banned me from swimming the rest of the day. Of course, all of this was contrived by my mother.”
Still Making Cabin 20 Memories Decades Later
“One of my favorite memories is a more recent one. My daughter, son-in-law and granddaughters stayed with us at Cabin 20 in 2007, the year of the extreme drought. We saw black bears venturing into the park. I spent a lot of time enjoying my granddaughters, helping them learn how to swim, teaching them how to dive. They had to do numerous trivial things for me that week because they lost a bet that I could not swim the length of the pool underwater.”
More to Come
In the next installment, Jane Bott, David’s sister, tells us about her days at the swimming pool, Cabin 20 and Watoga. Stay tuned.
For more information on Cabin 20 or any other cabins at Watoga available for reservations, please click here.
About the Author
John C. Dean is a 1984 graduate of West Virginia University, BSJ. He lived at Watoga in the 1960s and 1970s. Presently, John is an editor at Puritas Springs Software, a legal software development company in Hinckley, Ohio. Previously, he was a senior legal editor from 1989-2001 for Squire Patton Boggs, a Cleveland, Ohio international law firm. Additionally, he was a reporter for The Register-Herald in Beckley, West Virginia in the mid-1980s.
The pool officially opens for the season on Saturday, May 30, according to Jody Spencer, park superintendent.
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.
Ahh, Memorial Day weekend is here! And, while growing up at Watoga State Park, the swimming pool is the place to be!
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.”
AFrosty 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 email@example.com. Near Labor Day, I will be publishing a blog(s) to commemorate readers’ memories at the swimming pool.
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:
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or post on his Facebook writing page by clicking this link to go to John C. Dean, Writer.
“We are the Copperheads — the mighty, mighty Copperheads. Everywhere we go, people wanna know, so we tell them.”
This chant is still the battle cry for Marlinton Middle School today as it was at my ole stompin’ grounds in the 1970s. Regardless, I am not a fan of snakes! Without a doubt, those copperheads are “mighty,” but the chants remind me of a not so pleasant day at Watoga State Park.
Nonetheless, it did not help my fear of snakes that my junior high school’s logo and cheers revolved around the copperhead snake. During this era, everyone is proud (except me and maybe a few others who wouldn’t admit it) that “we are the Copperheads.”
“The fight or flight response, or stress response, is triggered by a release of hormones either prompting us to stay and fight or run away and flee.”
Freeze! It’s the Mighty, Mighty Copperheads
Just a quick note about the copperhead snake and I’ll get right back to that scary encounter with one at West Virginia’s largest state park.
Found in the eastern U.S., the northern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen) is a venomous pit viper subspecies. The copperhead’s average length is between two and three feet, and its diet consists of rodents, insects, small birds, and amphibians. In the Mountain State, the copperhead’s home is in wooded and rocky areas, and it does not actively seek human contact. Copperheads often lie still (like “freezing”), but will strike if people unknowingly step near them or on them (like I almost did).
TheTrouble Writing About Copperheads
Since some experts suggest that writing about your fears helps allay them, this is my feeble attempt at accomplishing that. However, my previous attempt writing about black snakes didn’t cure me. I double-checked; yep, still scared.
In particular, I think that almost being stricken at such a young age by a copperhead may have been the traumatizing event that triggered this deep-seated lifelong fear. And, I am not so sure that I would be writing this story if not for my mom.
Until now, I have never written about this topic. I could blame writer’s block (such an easy excuse to avoid the real reason), but that’s not really the case. So, in essence, here’s my best recollection about that twisted copperhead.
The Jumpman Pose Before Michael Jordan
Ronnie and I are tossing a baseball in the front yard of the conservation officer’s residence, near the north entrance to the park. This cabin is nestled next to a narrow mountain stream where we often caught tad poles, minnows and frogs. Specifically, we are enjoying the chance to run carefree and relieve some of that winter’s cabin fever.
In the meantime, mom is sitting in the brown wooden rocker on the front porch. All of a sudden, mom instinctively spots a copperhead and issues a warning cry that a viper is about to strike me!
“Johnny, watch out. There’s a copperhead! Run!”
Rather than doing what mom instructs, I instead look down and see what lurks below. And, somehow, someway, I leap up and outward.
When I first saw the Michael JordanJumpman logo for Nike decades later, it conjured up images of me leaping skyward over the dreaded copperhead. All right, maybe that was more related to my basketball days as a Marlinton Copperhead!
On the other hand, mom’s well-timed alert about the copperhead snake may have not only saved my life, but it also taught me to pay closer attention to my surroundings – beneath, above, beside, in front of, and behind, and above.
At least, that is how I like to recall that warm spring day in the late 1960s. Years later, Ronnie would still tease me by comparing my screams that day to the wheel screech of a Shay No. 5 making a sharp turn on the downward descent from Bald Knob at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park.
On the positive side and fortunately for me, I did not feel the viper’s sting that day and, needless to say, I avoid ALL snakes at ALL costs. Oh, I said that already, didn’t I?
It’s Your Choice — Fight or Flightthe Coopperheads?
What do you do when you see a copperhead snake? Run like the wind? Stand your ground and fight?
While trying to write about this fear of snakes (Ophidiophobia or ophiophobia), I came across what happens to your body during a stressful situation — be it your memorable encounter with a coiled and ready-to-strike copperhead snake at Watoga, a road rage incident about to intensify during your morning rush hour commute or a vicious dog ready to pounce during your peaceful morning stroll.
Regardless of the specifics of each encounter, you now must decide: fight or flight.
“The fight or flight response, or stress response, is triggered by a release of hormones either prompting us to stay and fight or run away and flee,” explains psychologist Carolyn Fisher, PhD. “During the response, all bodily systems are working to keep us alive in what we’ve perceived as a dangerous situation.”
Your heart beats faster and your blood pressure goes up.
Your pupils dilate.
You have a muted response to pain.
Your skin is flushed or pale.
You may lose control of your bladder.
You are more observant of your surrounding and your senses kick into high gear.
Stress hormones flow throughout your body, causing trembling or twitching.
Your memories can be affected – not recalling details accurately or even blacking out vivid memories.
And If You Smell Cucumbers . . .
While some of my vivid copperhead snake memories may be difficult to remember in 2020, I do recall with specificity the sage advice my mom repeatedly imparted upon me when venturing into the expanse of Watoga’s 10,000 acres of pristine beauty.
“Johnny, if you smell cucumbers, it means there is a copperhead nearby, and you need to run!” And run I do – even to this day!
P.S. While I do have an intense fear of all snakes, it never has and never will stop me from enjoying my favorite place in the World — Watoga State Park!
About the Author
John C. Dean is a 1984 graduate of West Virginia University, BSJ. He lived at Watoga State Park until his father, Vernon, retired after 43 years. In the mid-1970s, he was a forward on the Marlinton Junior High School Copperheads team.
Since 2001, John has been an editor at Puritas Springs Software, a legal software development company in Hinckley, Ohio. Previously, he was a senior legal editor for Squire Patton Boggs, a Cleveland, Ohio international law firm from 1989-2001. Additionally, he began his writing career as a reporter for The Register-Herald in Beckley, West Virginia in the mid-1980s. You can contact John at email@example.com with your fight or flight stories about the mighty, mighty copperheads.
You may be familiar with the idiom “opening a can of worms,” but what about “opening a can of black snakes”?
In fact, this is the story about a can of black snakes rearing their heads and hissing!
For reptile lovers, copperheads, rattlesnakes and black snakes can be found at Watoga State Park. However, this post concentrates on just one species: the seemingly harmless black snake — the Northern black racer: (Coluber c. constrictor).
“This snake is slender, glossy black in color and may attain a length of six feet. The dorsal scales are smooth and the chin and throat are white. Black Racers occur throughout the state in moist woodlands and ﬁelds, where they feed on birds and mammals, as well as amphibians and reptiles. Approximately 25 off-white, elliptical eggs are deposited in loose soil or sawdust piles. Hatchlings have 30 or more reddish brown blotches on a gray background. The banded juvenile pattern slowly disappears as the snake grows larger, and the snake is completely black by the time it reaches 30 inches in length.”
Before opening that can of black snakes, let me confess that snakes scare me! All snakes. This phobia is known as Ophidiophobia, or ophiophobia. Furthermore, I don’t care if they are venomous or not. For example, just researching and reading a blog post about snakes at West Virginia‘s largest state park creeps me out. Maybe you have nightmares about these reptilians too. In that regard, a future blog will delve into the vivid details of how I became so terrified of snakes.
Let’s Talk About This Can of Black Snakes
Now that you know one of my greatest fears in life, let’s begin to open (ever so carefully) that can of black snakes.
The year: 1963. The place: Near Beaver Creek Campground. The participants: My brother, Gilbert, my sister, Della, and my mom. Gilbert is 9. Della is almost a teenager. Mom is pregnant with my youngest sister, Vicki Lynn.
To begin with, my brother Gilbert is behind the adventurous and daring display that leads to those snakes becoming the topic of Dean conversations for decades to come. When snowstorms knock out our electricity for days on end at the park, we sometimes tell ghost stories and, of course, this snake story too, as we sit huddled together with kerosene lanterns casting an eerie glow about the living room at Watoga.
I recall mom (1921-1998) telling us about Gilbert’s antics, but I wanted to hear Gilbert’s and Della’s versions of those events once more.
The Black Snakes are Hissing
“C’mon mom, I wanna show you something,” Gilbert says.
Even though mom is tired after a day of working in the fields at my grandparents’ 211-acre farm that borders Watoga, she follows Gib that hot summer day at the park. Della, 12, walks beside mom.
At 9, Gib is excited to reveal his “surprise” to Mom. As with most Deans, adventures at Watoga oftentimes lead to interesting and mischievous adventures and practical jokes.
The trio walk to the trash cans situated between our home and the brown wooden sided maintenance garage near the campground.
“Look, Mom, look what I found!” Gilbert excitedly says. “Look inside the garbage can.”
Opening the shiny metal lid, Mom sees about 20 black snakes of various sizes and shapes encircling the bottom of the 30-gallon trash container trying to slither their way to the top of the can.
“The black snakes are all curled up. They are trying to climb up the side of the garbage can. Their heads rear, their mouths open, and they hiss loudly.”
— Della Dean Johnson
A New Version of Afternoon Sickness
After peering inside the trash receptacle, Mom lets out a scream that can be heard as far away as Kennison Mountain, about 16 miles from the park.
Obviously, Mom is not a fan of snakes either.
“Git rid of those snakes right now, right away,” she sternly tells Gib. Della remembers that Mom got sick after seeing the snakes, and it is not your typical morning sickness either. So, instead, a new version of afternoon sickness is unleashed that day.
A Few Slithery Details
So, just how do those reptiles get in the trash can?
Gib discovers a nest of the black snakes in a couple piles of saw dust between our home and the nearby maintenance garage about 200 yards from the campground.
“I find quite a number of them,” Gib recalls. “These are not baby snakes either. They range in size from about 2 or 3 feet to about 5 feet. Because I didn’t have a stick or anything to catch them with, I grab them with my hands; I put two fingers at the base of the snake’s neck to where it cannot bite me. I didn’t get bit once. They did climb up my arm and squeeze it though.”
I wanted to know if Vicki also had a fear of snakes. She says emphatically: “I hate them!”
Needless to say, I am leery of opening any garbage can lids.
In conclusion, I like a good laugh or two or enjoy pulling a prank too — just none involving black snakes, copperheads or rattlers. To put it another way, and as my mom screamed that day, “Git rid of those snakes right now, right away!”
About the Author
John C. Dean is a graduate of West Virginia University, 1984, BSJ. For 16 years, he lived at Watoga State Park until his father, Vernon, retired after 43 years. Since 2001, John has been an editor at Puritas Springs Software, a legal software development company in Hinckley, Ohio. From 1989-2001, he was a senior legal editor for Squire Patton Boggs, a Cleveland, Ohio international law firm. Additionally, he was a reporter for The Register-Herald in Beckley, West Virginia in the mid-1980s. You can email John details of your encounters with black snakes or any other reptiles at Watoga at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
John C. Dean is a graduate of West Virginia University, 1984, BSJ. For 16 years, he lived at Watoga State Park until his father, Vernon, retired after 43 years. Since 2001, John has been an editor at Puritas Springs Software, a legal software development company in Hinckley, Ohio. From 1989-2001, he was a legal editor for Squire Patton Boggs, a Cleveland, Ohio international law firm. Additionally, he was a reporter for The Register-Herald in Beckley, West Virginia in the mid-1980s. You can share your Watoga adventures with John at email@example.com.
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 is a graduate of West Virginia University, 1984, BSJ. For 16 years, he lived at Watoga State Park until his father, Vernon, retired after 43 years. Since 2001, John has been an editor at Puritas Springs Software, a legal software development company in Hinckley, Ohio. From 1989-2001, he was a legal editor for Squire Patton Boggs, a Cleveland, Ohio international law firm. Additionally, he was a reporter for The Register-Herald in Beckley, West Virginia in the mid-1980s. Feel free to share your “Wild & Wonderful” fishin’ stories with John at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
John is in the planning stage for park benches for his father and grandfather, Alfred G. Dean, to commemorate their dedication and service to Watoga and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Moreover, a bench honoring his uncle, Alfred G. Dean, Jr., is at T.M. Cheek overlook. “Junior” was a founding member of the Foundation. He would be thrilled to have you, your friends and your pets sit on his bench and enjoy the majestic view.