Memories of Horseback Riding at Watoga State Park

Some of you generously shared your recollections of riding the trail at Watoga State Park.  Others also shared information about who ran the operation and some ideas about its demise.  Memories of Horseback Riding at Watoga State Park

I am told the riding operation was run by Stuart Horner’s father.  Stuart and his wife Kristy currently run the iconic Horner’s Corner, a familiar sight to visitors as they pass through the village of Seebert en-route to Watoga.

It has also been confirmed that the high cost of liability insurance finally brought this popular activity to a close. The horse trails have been resurrected as the Busch Settlement and The Bonnie Trails and are now serving the public as wonderful hiking trails.

Well, we still have our memories of things that are no more, and here are yours.

Memories of Horseback Riding at Watoga State Park

“I remember the horseback riding very fondly!  Went a few times when I was little during one of our Spencer Family Reunions.  It was a real treat back then. We often would also just go over to visit the horses at the fence line if we were walking the trail between there and the Rec Center. We were so so sad when the horses left but happy to have the memories” Krin Goodwin Hupp

“I remember going to my Grandmas house in the summer when school was out and went swimming and horseback riding. Always like doing that with Grandma Burr. My uncle buck (Henry), his son Dewey and my Cousin Mike Pyne all work there and Dewey still does” Thomas Purdy

A Newly Wed’s Story

“ I do have a Watoga horseback riding story. My husband and I spent our week long honeymoon in a cabin at Watoga. I am the “horse person” between us two, but talked him into doing the “one hour” trail ride one day. A couple days later, I wanted to go again, but he wasn’t quite as interested. When we got to the stables, we were still discussing it, and the 2 men that worked the stables then overheard us. They knew from our first ride that I was an experienced rider, and said that they hadn’t been on the “two hour” trail yet that early in the year (it was May) and if I wanted to go, they’d charge me less, since some clearing of the trail, or going around downed trees might be involved.

My husband saw I wanted to do it, and gracefully let me know he’d be fine with it, but he didn’t want to go. So, on my honeymoon, I went on a 2+ hour trail ride, just me and the 2 “stable hands”. I should have known I’d never live it down, as it turned out, I got pregnant on our honeymoon, and my husband joked that our firstborn son belonged to a stable hand! He blamed the other 2 on the mailman and the UPS driver…but he can’t deny a single one of them, as they all 3 look like him, But I did enjoy the trail ride! And miss horseback riding being available like it used to be, but as a horse owner myself now, I understand the difficulties” Sheila Murphy Weakley

More Memories of Horseback Riding at Watoga State Park

“I still remember my favorite horse to ride back then. His name was Blaze! What fun it was back then.” Meg Goodwin Berger
“In the 1950’s horseback riding was very popular. The first summer (1956) I worked at Watoga there was a very bad accident. A couple on their honeymoon was riding and the horse the man was spooked by a snake and threw the man. The fall broke his back, we never heard if he was able to walk again.

One night a week there was square dancing in the upstairs with a live band and on other nights we had a jukebox and cabin guests came up and we danced. I believe the reason horses are not there now is because the insurance is so expensive. Lost River still has horseback riding. Had some good times in that barn. After the guests left for the evening the help learned how to trip the jukebox and danced later”. Charlotte McKeever Emswiler

“I believe the horseback riding stopped due to continued budget cuts. In the end, the state was contracting with individuals and their horses and it was just too costly. As far as the trail name, I think your name sounds much fancier than plain old “Possum” Trail”. Lisa Miller Rich

Welcome to Watoga!

We have great places to stay and great places to play!  Welcome to Watoga!

Reserve Cabin

Hope you can be here a few minutes.  Get to know us a little.  We have the most return visitors of any West Virginia State Park.  Come see us soon!

Stay at  Watoga

Check out what people say about our cabins  and our campgrounds

If you are looking for a hiking wilderness adventure, check this one out

Something a little more tame?

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.

Become a Friend of Watoga Now!

Monongaseneka Overlook of Greenbrier River Feb, 2018
Overlook of Greenbrier River from Monongaseneka Trail

Read Ken Springer’s articles here on trail conditions, park history, and natural history.

If you have questions, be sure to contact us.

 



 

 

 

Watoga Trail Report March 7, 2018: Old Growth

Bongo, Daisy and their manservant left their collective tracks in the snow this morning as they ascended the NW section of Honey Bee Trail. The recent winds have dropped many trees and branches on Watoga’s trails but we managed to clear all on this part of Honey Bee Trail save a 14 inch oak lying flush with the trail about 1 1/4 miles from the trailhead.  Old Growth.

Old Growth

Now that the existence of old growth trees in Watoga State Park has been confirmed I find myself constantly looking for the large trees. The largest oak spotted today in the Arboretum was well under 30 inches in diameter and the average was probably in the 12 inch range. Grand trees for sure, but the ones in the old growth area have a century or two head start on these youngsters.

Bongo and Daisy on the Honeybee Trail Watoga State ParkIf I were to tell you that Bongo and Daisy dragged this downed tree off the trail, you may not believe me. Therefore I will take the credit for it and give them a treat as recompense.

Happy Hiking,

Ken Springer

Bongo and Daisy looking for Old Growth at Watoga State Park

Watoga Trail Report March 4, 2018: Family Reunion Central

If the Bear Pen Trail is any indication of the current condition of the rest of the trails at Watoga State Park then the trail volunteers are in for a big clean-up task.  Cleaning large branches and trees off the section of the trail from the trailhead to just the junction of Buck and Doe took nearly 2 hours.  Praise be the person who invented the z-rig.   Family Reunion Central.

Last week’s “Watoga- Where Is It ?” photograph of the memorial plaque at the T.M. Cheek overlook has a backstory.  And I will share it with you.

Family Reunion Central

Char Weise has a long family history at Watoga State Park dating back to
his great grandfather who lived in Renick, WV.  Great Grandfather Weise started a grand tradition of annual family reunions at Watoga.  These family gatherings continue to this very day as the family has grown through many generations.  At one such reunion some years back they filled every cabin in the park.

Here is how Mr. Weise recounts how that familiar landmark came to rest at the T.M. Cheek overlook:

Char Weise’s Story

“Our family has been coming to Watoga every year for the Spencer family reunion since 1963.  From the late 1960’s at least, our family usually spent the week in Cabin 21.  The trail up to TM Cheek from Cabin 21, which was then called the Honeymoon trail, was my parents’ favorite walk.  They’d often go up there early in the morning while my brothers and sisters and I were still asleep and look at the view from the overlook.  It was still their favorite walk in their later years.  My Mom died in 1995 and my Dad in 1997.

We asked for the plaque to be installed around 2005.  The superintendent, Mark Wylie, told us that there was an interest in reintroducing American chestnuts, which had been wiped out in a blight many years ago, to the park.  We thought planting some chestnuts at that spot would be a fitting tribute to our dad, who was a biologist with a great interest in conservation.  Now every year when we come to Watoga, my siblings and I and our spouses and kids make sure to hike to TM Cheek in the morning, up the trail that our parents loved, to think about them and pay our respects.”

TM Cheek Overlook at Weise Chestnut Watoga State ParkThanks to Char Weise and John and Margy Goodwin for this bit of history about a park that just seems to bring forth such wonderful memories.  Let us hope that many more generations will be able to experience the joy and beauty of being in West Virginia’s largest and best park.

Plaque commemorating Charles and Joan Weise TM Cheek Overlook Watoga State Park

Happy Hiking,

Ken Springer

Return of American Chestnut

This is a follow-up to our recent discussion about the loss of the American Chestnut to a blight.  Therefore, I would like to address efforts to restore this majestic tree to our forest.  The return of the American Chestnut.

The American Chestnut Foundation and the American Chestnut Research and Restoration Project have made great strides in developing a blight resistant chestnut.   Furthermore, they have the same qualities of the original tree through breeding and transgenic programs.

There is hope that future Americans and wildlife will once again enjoy all that the American Chestnut has to offer.  If you are interested in the restoration of the American Chestnut, I highly recommend this 15 minute Ted Talk on these efforts.

Learn More About the Return of the American Chestnut

Rock Slides and Remembrance of Forest Primeval

This is the scene this morning at Mile Marker 44 on the Greenbrier River Trail. Two rockslides have partially blocked the trail. Caution should be exercised when passing this section of trail, particularly when raining. There are some huge rocks on the slope that are hanging on by a thread; it is a contest now between gravity and very tenuous holds on the slope. And of course, gravity will win. Rock Slides and Remembrance of Forest Primeval.

Bongo at rockslide and remebrance of forest primeval

I have noticed on this rockslide, as in previous ones, that large dead hemlocks tumble over bringing up their root ball with them starting a cascade of rock down and on to the trail. Erosion as a result of heavy rain only exacerbates the problem. This is an area with frequent problems.

Update of Watoga Logging Proposal

Well, Senate Bill 270 by all accounts is now dead. So at least for the moment Watoga will be spared from the plans to log her. Many of you expressed your opposition to this ill-conceived idea. Your comments were genuine and moving and you are to be commended for expressing your love for Watoga State Park.

Brian Hirt, a fan and frequent visitor to Watoga, expressed in this modification of a song by Gordon Lightfoot his sentiments about the need to preserve and protect all that is in, and within, Watoga State Park for all generations to come.

In reading his lyrics I can only request that he pick up his guitar and share it with the rest of us in song at his first opportunity.

Thanks Brian

There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run. When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun, long before the white man and long before the wheel. When the green dark forest was too silent to be real.

Rembrance of Forest Primeval

But time has no beginnings and history has no bounds. And to this verdant country they came from all around. They floated logs upon her waterways and timbered the forest’s tall, built the mines and the mills and the factories for the good of us all.
But then they looked back at the mountains and what did they see a barren landscape without any trees, with rivers overflowing with silt looking like a wasteland if you please.

Their minds were overflowing of the visions of their day but thankfully some looked into the future and saw places like Watoga so that today we too can walk in the green dark forests tall and imagine a time when the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun long before the white man and long before the wheel and when the railroads did not run.

Happy Hiking, at Watoga of course !

Ken Springer

Watoga Trail Report February 28, 2018: Monongaseneka Trail & Chestnut Musings

Upon arriving at the Monongaseneka Overlook this morning Bongo and I saw fit to tarry a bit and “take in the view”. And what a view it is; changing with each visit depending upon the time of day, season and the weather. One thing that is always striking is the sense of an endless forest stretching out and up the slopes of Droop Mountain and beyond.  Monongaseneka Trail & Chestnut Musings.

Thinking Back in Time

I often find myself considering what it may have looked like to the indigenous people and to the pioneers in Appalachia. If I could go back in time it would be my greatest desire to see our primeval forests. Not intending to take anything away from the beautiful forests of today, but those ancient trees of such immense proportions would dwarf today’s trees, even those we consider “old growth”.

Todays forests have many of the same species of trees that greeted the earliest visitors to Appalachia with one very big exception, the American Chestnut. It is estimated that this one species accounted for 20 to 30% of the forest growth. It was one of the most important trees to early settlers. The chestnuts were an important food source for humans and animals alike. The lumber was used for fence posts and to build cabins including flooring and furniture. Some of the Wormy Chestnut can still be seen today in the legacy cabins at Watoga State Park.

When I was a youngster an old man who remembered the American Chestnut fondly told me that the greatest thing about that tree was the shade provided by the huge thickly leaved canopy. He said that even in the dog days of August you could find relief under a chestnut tree.

The Chestnut Blight of 1904 began to kill off the trees and once having gathered steam decimated this wonderful tree throughout its range by 1940.

Protecting Old Growth Forests

Knowing these things makes our existing old growth even more precious. We should, we must, be vigilant in our protection of that which is rare and struggling to become what it once was. For, as yet unknown forces, be it disease or man, will always present a threat to that which we love simply because it is there.

Bongo and I cleared a number of obstacles off of Monongaseka Trail up to and including the overlook today. The trail is good to go. Monongaseneka Trail & Chestnut Musings.

Happy Hiking,

Ken Springer

Photo courtesy of Timothy Van Vliet

Watoga Trail Report February 24, 2018, Hiking with Canine Companions

A nice loop trail from the Pine Run Cabin area is starting on either Pine Run Trail (Cabin 28) or TM Cheek Trail (Cabin 21).  The loop is sewn together with a short section of the Honeymoon Trail and TM Cheek Road.  An added plus to this moderately strenuous hike is passing the TM Cheek overlook.  Since it is approximately the halfway point, it is a good spot to sit on the bench and take in the great view for a bit.  Today was hiking with canine companions.

My canine associates and I cleaned up this loop hike today.  We left behind a few larger trees to be cut with a chainsaw in the near future.  These obstacles were delimbed and are easily negotiated.

Canine Trail Companions

I want to introduce you to one of my two trail maintenance assistants, Mr. Bongo T. Bones.  Bongo came to me by way of a dog rescue group in Missouri who, in turn, got him from a breeder.  Bongo had the misfortune of being born with an under-bite.  Breeders do not often tolerate any physical irregularities; sometimes destroying such dogs when they are puppies.  I personally love his slight imperfection. I think it gives him a unique look matching his enthusiastic personality.  He is always ready for fun or work.

Bongo, Ken's canine companion on the trail at Watoga State ParkBongo is a West Highland White Terrier, a breed originating in the Scottish Highlands.  So our West Virginia mountains are a perfect home for this breed.  Westie’s as they are called are smart, friendly and seem to know that we are out in the woods to perform a task.  When I stop on the trail to remove an obstacle they sit off to one side and patiently wait.  Then I give the order to “go trail ” and we resume our hike.  They absolutely could not be better companions.  And they never, ever, complain. Hiking with canine companions.

Now meet Mr. Mossy Log………  No, I will save that for another day.Mossy log at Watoga State Park

Happy Hiking,

Ken

Watoga Trail Report February 22, 2018:

Litter is an unusual find on Watoga’s trails so the Red Bull can on the Allegheny Trail caught my eye and found its way into my pack. I have always found an unexplainable dichotomy when someone intentionally seeks beauty and then desecrates it.  Watoga Trail Report for February 22, 2018.

The good old Z-rig was used again today to move a tree off of the Allegheny Trail a short ways up from Chicken House Road. Numerous limbs were removed from here onto Honeymoon Trail out to the junction with 10 Acre Trail. There are 4 trees down on Honeymoon that will be removed by chainsaw ASAP.

 

Thinking Ahead

Tomorrow the Allegheny Trail will be checked for another incursion of cattle that heavily damaged the trail, which is part of the Mountain Trail Challenge Half Marathon route. This popular race is scheduled for August 11, 2018.

Fisherman in fog on Watoga Lake in FebruaryMorning mist on Watoga lake: water and ice, kin
A moment in life shared: father and son, kin
Their time frozen in a stranger’s camera

Watoga Trail Report February 19, 2018: Honey Bee and Dragon Draft Trails

I almost forgot my ice creepers this morning and I would have soon regretted that. Those familiar with Honey Bee Trail in the Arboretum know that the initial mile of the SW section of the trail is fairly steep, narrow and rocky.   And when you throw in a few inches of slippery snow your footing decreases exponentially.  Cruising the Honey Bee and Dragon Draft Trails.

But I did not forget the ice creepers.  We cleaned a number of large limbs off the trail, plus one larger tree that was relocated with a z-rig and an additional assist from gravity.  By the way, when I say “we” I am including my canine trail companions, Daisy and Bongo.

Honey Bee and Dragons Draft Trails Visitor

We followed the fresh tracks of a lone coyote until we arrived at the junction of Honey Bee and Buckhorn Trail.  We parted ways with the coyote here and headed down Buckhorn removing a great number of impediments on the trail until arriving at the shelter on Dragon Draft.  Two Mile Run is high now due to melting snow so trying to keep my feet dry on the many stream crossings became an exercise in futility. As a result, after several stream crossings I gave up on rock hopping.  I plowed through in the same method employed by the dogs.  There is a point where you just can’t get any wetter.

Some chainsaw work is required on Dragon Draft between the trail head and the shelter.  It can wait for another day though as they are all easy step-overs.

OK all you intrepid Watoga hikers; do you really know this park? Today’s mystery picture is located somewhere in the 10,000 plus acres of Watoga State Park.  What is it ?  Where is it?  You gotta get them both right to score.Mystery Photo in Watoga

Hint: There is a slightly modified old saw that goes something to the effect of “Aim for the moon and you may hit the ___?____”.  This was said a lot when I was a kid living in southeastern, Kentucky.  It may be idiomatic to that area.

Happy Hiking,

Ken