This Party’s Just Getting Started!

This party is ready to celebrate designation as West Virginia's first-ever dark sky park at a star watching party on September 2 at Droop Mountain Lookout Tower. This scene illustrates the different moon phases at a recent lunar eclipse. © Jill Mullins.
This party is ready to celebrate designation as West Virginia’s first-ever dark sky park at a star watching party on September 2 at Droop Mountain Lookout Tower. This scene illustrates the different moon phases at a recent lunar eclipse. 📸©: Jill Mullins.

Having attained international recognition, what’s on the celestial horizon for West Virginia’s newest stars on the dark sky park tourism circuit this fall? Well, this party’s just getting started!

It’s time to get ready to celebrate unlike anywhere else in the world or the universe for that matter!

Receiving national and international attention are Watoga and Droop Mountain Battlefield state parks, along with Calvin Price State Forest, which comprise the first-ever international dark sky park in the Mountain State. Not only does this park have almost 20,000 acres of land mass, but it is also home to billions of galaxies, stars, dark holes and constellations of untold and unknown acreage that it frequently displays in a breathtaking picturesque setting.

Now, this scenic tourist mecca is gearing up for its inaugural star party on September 2. When the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), the leading advocate fighting light pollution in the world, announced this certification last year, it proclaimed these areas as “one of the largest and darkest sky sheds within the eastern United States.”

Since then, anticipation and interest in this star-gazing extravaganza have been building locally, regionally and nationally.

“I Can’t Even See My Hand in Front of My Face!”

Tucked away in the scenic highlands of Pocahontas County are three heavily forested areas. Here, it is so dark that sometimes you cannot see the person standing next to you. “In the dark, I can’t even see my hand in front of my face,” some visitors have commented. In fact, for years, the number one selling postcard at Watoga has been one of complete darkness.

For centuries, stargazers, professional photographers, and astronomers have been drawn to the region’s dark skies. Pocahontas County is celebrating its bicentennial this fall, and what a great way to join in the party! Of course, there are many other tourist attractions too. This birthplace of rivers touts several state parks and forests, along with the Monongahela National Forest, Snowshoe Ski Resort, the acclaimed Green Bank Observatory, and the birthplace of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Pearl S. Buck.

So, just what’s next for this international dark sky park?

In order to maintain certification, dark sky parks in the U.S. must engage in community outreach and educational programs to increase awareness about “how the excessive and wasteful use of artificial lighting is a growing, urgent and global pollutant that must and can be feasibly addressed,” said Ashley Wilson, IDA’s Director of Conservation and lead of its International Dark Sky Places Program. “After a park is certified, it continues to conserve the night sky by engaging with its neighbors, whether they are other protected areas or gateway communities, to take interest and action to help celebrate, support, and protect this natural, cultural, and precious resource.”

The Watoga State Park Foundation, https://www.watogafoundation.org/watoga-dark-sky-project/Inc. is the event’s sponsor. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, promoting recreation, conservation, ecology, history and the natural resources of the park.

The grandeur of the Milky Way as seen on a clear night at Watoga Lake. Is Watoga State Park worthy of national park status? 📸: Jesse Thornton.
The grandeur of the Milky Way as seen on a clear night at Watoga Lake. 📸©: Jesse Thornton.

“We’re excited to preserve for younger generations the ability to see and enjoy the brilliant night skies,” said Louanne Fatora, vice president of the Foundation. “With today’s light pollution, it’s rare to be able to ever be able to experience this phenomenon.”

Turn Out the Lights! You’re Invited to the First-Ever West Virginia Dark Sky Star Party

When: Friday, September 2, 2022, 7:30 p.m.-11 p.m. (rain date is Saturday, September 3)

Where: The Tower at Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park, Hillsboro, West Virginia

Once darkness falls, in accordance with star party lighting standards, the area near the lookout tower will be illuminated. Look for glowing lights or red bulb lanterns for optimal viewing and safety reasons.

Activities/Events: A detailed program guide listing activities and events will be distributed. A summary of some of the activities include:

Telescopes operated by amateur astronomers J. Perez and Michael Rosalina will be available for viewing. They will explain the view to individuals and answer questions. You are allowed to bring your own equipment.

A “Starry Night Art for Children” program is a part of this event, which uses art as a tool to educate children about the importance of preserving the night sky for astronomy and for the protection of wildlife habitats. Moreover, after viewing the galaxies, children will be encouraged to draw or complete dot-to-dot constellations they have seen. Illustrations will be used to help children label and remember night sky “pictures”. Moreover, crayons, paper, and a glow-in-the-dark constellation lacing card will be on-hand for all children. Color pages depicting nocturnal animals, and animals who prefer darkness, will also be available.

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.

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!

The Naturalist Notebook — An Insider’s View of Watoga State Park

Naturalist Notes by Kayla may tell you more than you want to know about dogwood, and then some. Photo by Angie Hill
Naturalist Notes by Kayla may tell you more than you want to know about dogwood, and then some. Photo by Angie Hill.

Hello everyone! Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Kayla Bowyer, the new naturalist here at Watoga State Park. This is the debut of the Naturalist Notebook. My name is Kayla Bowyer.

As a naturalist, it’s my job to talk so please allow me to tell you a little bit about myself. I have been at Watoga for about a month. Already, I can say that it feels like home. The rolling hills and valleys, and the winding curves that are a blast to drive, at least now in the summer, remind me of my childhood growing up in the smaller hills and valleys of Northeast Ohio.

I grew up in a small town in Ohio, where it was basically a stop light and a flea market. My home base was about 45 minutes south of Youngstown and about 45 minutes to an hour west of Pittsburgh. But possibly the best point of reference for folks that grew up in the Mountain State is that I grew up 30 minutes from Newell, the home of Fiestaware. And yes, it’s just as beloved across the river as it is here.

If you have visited this part of Ohio, you’ll recognize that it’s not flat and is full of forests and creek valleys. This is the place my education truly began, with the trees and the wildlife.

I was lucky enough to live at the top of a hill. From there, I could see all kinds of wildlife, from indigo buntings to flying squirrels to deer who followed my horse in his daily travels. It was a wonderful place to grow up. Watching Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin only helped to fuel my interest in the environment and nature.

My Career Passion

I followed this passion all the way to college. I attended the University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio, a Division 3 school just outside of Canton. There, I pursued a degree in Environmental Science graduating in May of 2020, a Class of Covid grad.

I ended up pursuing a naturalist career after meeting and working with the naturalist at Beaver Creek State Park. Since then, she has moved forward to Wingfoot State Park in Akron. Importantly, teaching has always come much more naturally to me, but I never had the passion to be a classroom teacher. So, I felt rather stuck in trying to figure out what to do with my passion.

Once I met the naturalist at Beaver Creek, I knew that I had found a name for what I wanted to do, and I pursued it as my heart’s desire. I have been able to follow this passion to many beautiful places, from Lake Erie to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Initial Musings from Watoga’s Naturalist Notebook

Few places feel as wonderful and welcoming as Watoga State Park. The hills and the hollers are gorgeous, filled with beautiful Appalachian flora and fauna. I have been taking a hike once a week on my days off . They’ve been the highlight of my week. From the Anne Bailey Trail to the Dragon Draft Trail, this park is full of satisfyingly rugged hikes and adventures.

My goal as a naturalist is to introduce many folks to adventures that they may not realize are here in Watoga. From hikes to campfires, I plan on including weekly adventures that guests can explore and experience, with each one different from the last. When you come down to the programs, bring family and friends and a willingness to learn and explore. I also encourage guests to ask questions and tell their stories; I may be the one talking but I want to learn as much from you as you can learn from me. There will be some Naturalist Notes you have never read about before at Watoga.

This Naturalist Will Keep You Informed

To find out what programs that I am hosting, follow the Foundation’s web page and Facebook page, The Pocahontas Times, or stop by the office for a pamphlet on what programs will be going on that weekend. My naturalist programs are scheduled for Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, unless there is a special event during the week.

I look forward to meeting you as you come down to visit this beautiful and one of a kind park. It’s a large and wondrous place and I will gladly guide you through it.

Editor’s note

When Kayla is not busy crawling in and around Watoga’s creeks or trying to find several Dragon’s Tails in the Brooks Arboretum, she will share more musings with you in the Naturalist’s Notebook. Watoga welcomes you to her magical woods, Kayla.

Watoga Naturalist Activities — 4th of July Weekend, 2021

Happy 4th of July from Watoga State Park. We have some phenomenal Watoga naturalist activities during the 4th of July weekend for all ages to enjoy. For more information, please contact the office at (304) 799-4087 or email Naturalist Kayla Bowyer at kayla.r.bowyer at wv.gov. The following schedule is just for July 2 through July 4. We’ll be releasing a full slate of programs and activities soon.

A nice summer day greets a young visitor as he slides down the slide. Youngsters always list the pool in their Top 10. The swimming pool is a popular spot on the 4th of July at Watoga. Photo by Stanley Clark©.
The swimming pool is a popular spot on the 4th of July at Watoga. Photo by Stanley Clark©.

Friday, July 2nd

Beautiful Birds-11 a.m.

Meet Naturalist Kayla at the boat dock for a birding walk around the lake. Bring your own binoculars or some will be provided.

Butterflies and Moths-2 p.m.

Stop by the Nature Center to learn about the differences between butterflies and moths and the species that call Watoga home! Take home a butterfly craft and coloring sheets as part of a memorable 4th of July!

Creek Crawl-3:30 p.m.

Join Naturalist Kayla at the Nature Center to learn about the critters that call our creeks home. Get wet and catch amazing creek creatures.

Saturday, July 3rd

Lend a Helping Hand-10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Learn about several worthwhile endeavors and projects underway by the volunteers of the Watoga State Park Foundation. These “Helping Hands” have a special 4th of July surprise in store for you.

Roving Ranger-1 p.m.-3 p.m.

Find Naturalist Kayla floating around the office and CCC museum. Feel free to ask her questions about the park, programs, and critters that call Watoga home.

Follow the Dragon’s Tail-4 p.m.

Join Naturalist Kayla for a hike along Dragon Draft Trail through Brooks Arboretum. We will cross multiple creeks with moderate to difficult terrain. Wear closed toed shoes, bring water, and walking sticks are highly recommended. You won’t be disappointed as this is one our favorite Watoga naturalist activities.

Starry Night Stories-8 p.m.

Join the Watoga State Park Foundation behind the Riverside campground check-in station to honor the age-old tradition of telling stories under the stars. Enjoy both the beauty of the night sky and the entertaining tails woven by our story tellers.

Sunday, 4th of July

Slimy Crafts -11 a.m.

Stop by the picnic tables near the swimming pool to make Americana slime. All ages are welcome to come and create glittering slimes.

Corn Hole Games-1 p.m.

Join us for corn hole fun and games. No entry fee. Bring the whole family. Meet at the playground by the pool.

T-Shirt Tie Dye-3 p.m.

Join us to create your very own tie dye t-shirt. We have onesies, ladies t-shirts, children’s, and adult t-shirts. Sizes range from youth medium to adult 3XL (numbers may be limited). Please purchase your shirt in the gift shop before coming to the swimming pool, near the picnic tables.

We’re looking forward to seeing you at our Watoga Naturalist Activities from July 2 through July 4. Happy 4th of July from Watoga State Park and the Watoga State Park Foundation.

Watoga State Park’s Half Marathon and 5k Races

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!

In mid-August, Watoga State Park’s Half Marathon and 5k Races return to West Virginia’s largest state park.

5k runners start the second leg of Watoga State Park's Half Marathon and 5k races. Photo by the Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.
5k runners start the second leg of Watoga State Park’s Half Marathon and 5k Races. Photo by the Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.

Running and walking enthusiasts prepare to be “on your mark” for details about the Sixth Annual Watoga State Park Mountain Trail Challenge Half Marathon and 5k events. Next, let’s “get set” with August 14, 2021 as a key date on your calendar. Now, it’s time to “go!” Tell your friends, family and fellow racing comrades. Of course, it is best to register as soon as possible. Early birds do receive discounts. Registration details are here.

All race proceeds benefit the park through the Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.

Are You On Your Mark For Watoga State Park’s Half Marathon And 5k?

So, when is this? Details? Where? Course descriptions?

When and Where: The races will be Saturday, August 14, 2021, Watoga State Park, 4800 Watoga Road, Marlinton, WV 24954.

Start and Finish Lines: Both of Watoga’s Half Marathon and 5k Races start and finish at Watoga’s Beaver Creek Campground. At the old airstrip here, Gov. William C. Marland would land his plane in the mid-1950s to stay at a Watoga cabin in the woods. These days there is plenty of space (acres and acres of grassy flat land) for runners to stretch, warm up, and spread out before the races begin.

What and When: 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. We’re almost ready to “get set” for the races.

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.

Course Details: The 13.1-mile half marathon course challenges runners. Experience Watoga’s, beautiful shade trees, flora and fauna at elevations ranging from 2,560 feet to 3,200 feet. Occasionally, admire the uniqueness of part of Watoga’s 40 miles of trails as you traverse along the Allegheny Trail, Busch Settlement Trail, and Honeymoon Trail to mention a few.

View the Half Marathon course map here.

Get Set By Knowing Your Course

Up next is the 5k, which is open to runners and walkers alike.

Course Details: Along this 3.1-mile route, you will experience the beauty of tall pines, hemlock trees, and other hardwoods before traveling west into the woods. Certainly, take in the clusters of dense rhododendrons along Beaver Creek as your course joins the Allegheny Trail, making this journey a breathtaking finish as you return to the airstrip.

See the route for the 5k here. Please note that the 5k course may be slightly modified from years past. Likewise, take a look at this 2019 YouTube video of racers, course challenges, and the scenic beauty that awaits you at the park’s Half Marathon and 5k Races .

It’s Time To Go!

Now that you’ve found your mark, became set, you’re ready to go by deciding which race to enter. Here is the registration site for both races.

Regardless, it is not too early to explore lodging options here at the park and places to stay or dine.

Additionally, our volunteers will be along the trails and other unexpected places cheering you on, staffing first-aid stations and providing needed hydration at Watoga State Park’s Half Marathon and 5k Races! Let’s go, racers!

About the Author

While growing up at Watoga for more than 16 years, John C. Dean explored parts or all of the race routes, including the “Road Not Taken.” Moreover, say hello to John along with Jack and Max, his two black Labrador Retrievers, along the wooded park’s Half Marathon and 5k Races’ panoramic vistas on August 14. He won’t mind if you ask how he liked spending a day lost in Watoga’s expansive woods. John is a journalist, writer, and legal editor. He also is a member of the Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc. Board of Directors. John can be reached at .

Two Benches for Two Former Watoga Superintendents

Benches for former Watoga superintendents Richard Dale and Kermit McKeever were set in June in their honor. 📸: John C. Dean, September 16, 2020
Benches for former Watoga superintendents Richard Dale and Kermit McKeever were set in June in their honor. 📸: John C. Dean, September 16, 2020

Benches honoring two former superintendents were installed in June as part of the Watoga State Park Bench Project. Both are situated near the statue honoring the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) with a nearby small stream flowing gently to Watoga Lake. In the background is the park’s administration building.

Bench for Kermit McKeever

Kermit McKeever (1910-1995), oftentimes referred to as the “father of West Virginia’s modern state park system,” was Watoga’s superintendent from 1944-1948.

Situated near the CCC statue is Kermit and Arenna McKeever's bench as part of the Watoga State Park Bench Program. 📸: John C. Dean, September 16, 2020
Situated near the CCC statue is Kermit and Arenna McKeever’s bench as part of the Watoga State Park Bench Program. 📸: John C. Dean, September 16, 2020

For the next 31 years, McKeever was the state’s Parks Director. Furthermore, he was instrumental in expanding the number of parks from 14 to 34. During that time, 100 vacation cabins and nine lodges were built, golf courses and ski slopes were created, naturalist programs were established, and crucial infrastructure such as roads, bridges and utilities were completed. McKeever Lodge at Pipestem State Park is named in his honor.

“All of my family are very appreciative of the bench and also where it’s located,” said Charlotte McKeever Emswiler, McKeever’s daughter. “I think that’s because it was one of the parks built by the CCC.”

Kermit and Arenna McKeever’s bench was donated by Emswiler and her daughters, Jacqueline Hersch, Vicki Evans and Jennifer Abbott.

Bench for Richard Dale

Richard Dale, who turns 95 this month, devoted 32 years of service to other parks within the state including Audra, Cass, Cedar Creek, Holly River, Prickett’s Fork, and Watoga. Likewise, he was the superintendent at Watoga from 1966-1975.

Richard Dale, superintendent at Watoga from 1966-1975, enjoys a sun-filled summer day on his bench. 📸: Rose Clark, June 2020.
Richard Dale, superintendent at Watoga from 1966-1975, enjoys a sun-filled summer day on his bench. 📸: Rose Clark, June 2020.

“I’ve been blessed with a lot more than I deserve,” Dale told The Pocahontas Times, “and I’m thankful every day. I asked the Lord to make me a kind person.”

Mr. Dale’s bench was donated by Jim and Judy Meads of Glenville. In 1967 and 1968, Mead was the park’s naturalist. Thus, the Meads began a friendship that has lasted more than 50 years.

“We setup our camper beside the Beaver Creek Campground’s bath house and lived there for a couple of weeks,” said Meads in a May 2019 article detailing his adventures as Watoga’s park naturalist in 1967 and 1968. “Mr. Dale realized our accommodations were a little cramped and asked if we would like to move to a large room over the restaurant in the Administration Building, which was built in the mid 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corp.”

Dedication Ceremonies

Due to Covid-19, the dedication ceremonies for the Dale and McKeever benches have been postponed until 2021, according to Mac Gray, Watoga State Park Foundation Treasurer.

Plan Your Watoga State Park Bench Now

Want your own bench when you visit Watoga? Whether it’s to remember a loved one or to mark your favorite spot at the state’s largest and oldest park, our professional crew can assist you. And with more than 10,000 acres of pristine wilderness, Watoga has ample room for your bench.

Significantly, the Watoga State Park Bench Project has completed the installation of 31 benches throughout the park’s 10,000 acres – 28 donated by park supporters. Further, three others have been provided by the Foundation.

Click here for more information about the Watoga State Park Bench Project.

Future Blogs About the Dales and the McKeevers

In the meantime, we will be writing more about Richard Dale’s and Kermit McKeever’s time at Watoga, including never-before-revealed details. Stay tuned.

About the Author

John C. Dean, a former journalist, lived at Watoga in the 1960s and 1970s. His dad, Vernon C., worked with Richard Dale and Kermit McKeever. More than 75 years later, the Dale, Dean and McKeever families remain friends.

Watoga Swimming Pool Update

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

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

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

Wild Edibles Festival

The 2019 Wild Edibles Festival is Coming Soon to a State Park Near You

Watoga State Park Naturalist, Chris Bartley, is visibly excited about this year’s Wild Edibles Festival. When I stopped at the park headquarters to talk to him last Thursday, he started off our conversation discussing the major, and likely better, changes to the format of the event. “Instead of scheduled classes this year, we are trying an ‘open forum’ approach. The downside to having people sign up for classes when other classes are being conducted simultaneously is that people have to choose between presentations. Often they are forced to miss other classes they would like to attend. With this change, people can move from demonstration to demonstration and have a full experience. “

Naturalist Chris Bartley, Watoga State Park

Chris said this year’s wild edibles festival event will be held at the picnic shelter.T This spacious area allows attendees to visit demonstrations on various aspects of gathering and utilizing wild edibles, including herbal and medicinal uses. Additionally, several naturalists from other state parks will be on hand to conduct guided wild edible walks.

This year’s Wild Edibles Festival kicks off at 3 PM on Friday, May 3 with a guided foraging hike around Watoga Lake. Those interested should assemble at the Activities Building, bring water, wear closed-toe shoes and clothing appropriate for the weather and water.

At 7 PM Friday Geo Derick, Keynote Speaker, will discuss Wild Medicine: The Art and the Science. Geo is a Registered Clinical Herbalist and is the founding owner, practitioner, and formulator of Geo Joys. Geo enjoys formulating custom medicines for clients that are both good tasting and therapeutic. She is no stranger to our Wild Edibles Festival. And her presentations are always well attended and popular. This presentation takes place in the Activities Building near the pool.

Activities commence at 10 AM Saturday until approximately 4 PM. Visit the many vendors, demonstrations and guided walks throughout the day, all focused on wild foods, drink, and medicines. Sample wild foods. Garlic mustard pesto, ramp pickles and chili will be available. Live music is provided by Sugar Run. Watoga Wild Edibles Festival is fun and educational!

For more information on the Wild Edibles Festival contact Christopher Bartley at (304) 799- 4087 or via email at or Contact Watoga Foundation.

A Short History of Foraging for Wild Foods

Photo of local (Pocahontas County, WV) wild edibles

The number of people who must forage for their daily sustenance decreases every year. However, some can still be found in some remote areas such as the Amazon River Basin. Agriculture, in existence for about 10,000 years, has replaced virtually all hunting and gathering societies. With the exception of sport hunting and fishing, the knowledge and skills required to procure wild foods and medicines are in danger of being lost in the industrialized world. However, on Native American lands and in Appalachia people have always consumed seasonal plants, berries, nuts, and mushrooms found in nature.

Euell Gibbons came to public attention in 1962 when he wrote best-seller, “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” It is often regarded as the classic of foraging guides. Six more books of the same or similar genre. Mr. Gibbons books were well timed for the “Back to Earth” movement of the ’60s and ’70s. They are appreciated by the growing number of people interested in foraging for wild foods.

Euell Gibbons was also known as spokesman for Post Grape Nuts during this period. His commercials would often start with “Ever eat a pine tree?” “Many parts are edible.” The commercials ended with “the taste of Post Grape Nuts reminds me of wild hickory nuts.” You can see some of these old commercials on YouTube., as well as many funny parodies of Euell. In on he is eating a bowl of Grape Nuts and pauses to say “Of course I don’t usually eat it (Grape Nuts) out of a bowl like this, usually I just eat it out of my shoe. Sometimes I just eat my shoe…”

In the last decade or so there has been a resurgence of interest in collecting wild foods. Some aspects of this pastime have become trendy. Afew years ago upscale restaurants offered such dishes as nettle salad, causing a rush on nettle foraging. Too bad it wasn’t the invasive garlic mustard. Even the term ‘foraging’ has been replaced by ‘wildcrafting’ in many circles. Pocahontas County is thankfully not one of them.

But on the whole the revived interest in wild foods has been a good thing. Bringing attention to environmental concerns such as the damage perpetrated by invasive species, and getting people off their couches and into the outdoors are positive developments. Books on the subject of foraging have become more sophisticated through the years, offering delicious and healthy recipes. An improvement of the standby method of the ’60s which directed foragers to boil everything and then drench it in butter.

Speaking of recipes for wild foods, I set out on a trail last week with the intention of harvesting a handful of ramps and a mess of wintercress, also called creasy greens. I unexpectedly stumbled upon an old apple tree that had a dozen or so morels circling it. On my way back home I gave thought to how I might prepare this trio of wild delicacies.

Wild Edibles dinner from the bounty of Pocahontas County, WV

Dinner that evening consisted of sautéed ramps and creasy greens with roasted walnuts topped with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar reduction. The delicious greens sat alongside a morel po-boy with homemade aioli. This sumptuous plate was paired with a Dogfish Head Watermelon IPA.

That sounded a lot like foodie-speak, didn’t it?

Sorry, I meant to say that I fried up those shrooms and slid em into a bun with a slather of mayo. Then I boiled up those greens, put a stick of butter on em, and washed it all down with a Miller Lite.

Happy Hiking and Foraging,

Ken Springer