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.

Our Volunteers Have Big Hearts At Watoga State Park

The volunteers at Watoga State Park work tirelessly behind the scenes to improve your experience at the park. Consequently, individuals and businesses graciously donate time, services, talents, materials, and yes, monies too. After all, they never expect anything in return. Above all, here at the Watoga State Park Foundation, our volunteers, donors, organizations, and businesses selflessly help the park.

Volunteers at Watoga are nearing completion of restorative efforts on the Workman-Jarvis Cabin. It's in a wooded setting with a green metal roof. Hand-hewn rails line the new porch. Photo by the Watoga State Park Foundation.
Volunteers at Watoga are nearing the completion of restorative efforts on the Workman-Jarvis Cabin. Photo by the Watoga State Park Foundation.

Built in 1887: A Cabin Well Worth Saving

Significantly, in 2018, the Watoga State Park Foundation began discussing the deteriorating condition of the historic Workman-Jarvis Cabin off of the Anne Bailey Trail. Without intervention, money and volunteers, this pioneer cabin, built in 1887, certainly would no longer be a part of Watoga’s rich and storied history.

Further, by the summer of 2019, critical foundation work began on the historic Workman-Jarvis Cabin off the Anne Bailey Trail. Of course, skilled tradespeople and our volunteers were on site.

Extensive foundation repairs were required to be completed on the Workman-Jarvis cabin. Photo by The Watoga State Park Foundation.
A “before” photo of the foundation of the Workman-Jarvis Cabin. Photo by The Watoga State Park Foundation.
An "after" photo of this log cabin shows the extensive foundation work that was necessary to save this historic cabin from certain ruin. Photo by The Watoga State Park Foundation.
An “after” view of the foundation work completed at the Workman-Jarvis cabin site. Photo by The Watoga State Park Foundation.

There’s still some work to do. After all, we’ll get there. But now, because of all of you, the finish line is in sight for the Workman-Jarvis Cabin restoration project.

These Thanks Are For Our Volunteers and Donors!

The following quote aptly describes the volunteers at Watoga State Park.

“Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they have the heart.” – Elizabeth Andrew, author

With that in mind, the Watoga State Park Foundations extends its sincere appreciation to the following volunteers, businesses, and donors for your help with this project. Without you, this never would have been possible.

Ethan Burgess
Vada Boback
David Elliott
Gail Hyer
Wayne Pollard
Paul Speyser
Ken Springer
Anne and Sollie Workman
The Workman Family

Beckwith Lumber Company
Glades Building Supply
Interstate Lumber Company
Jim C. Hamer Lumber Company
Judy Fencecraft
Mon Power
Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau
Pocahontas County Historical Society

News You Can Use To Volunteer Or Donate

Moreover, we will keep park visitors, volunteers, and donors updated on completion dates, activities under development, and what this cabin may mean to you in the near future.

If you would like to volunteer your time and/or services to help Watoga, please click here. Also, donors can find more information here.

We close with a quote by Jim Rohn, motivational speaker, entrepreneur, and author: “Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have.”

About the Author

John Dean is a writer, editor, and journalist. He is a member of the Watoga State Park Foundation Board of Directors. You can reach John at .

The Watoga Park Bench Project — Your Spot, Your Words, Your Memories, Your Way!

The beginning colors of fall accent where the Gray Family selected the path leading to the dock on the lake at Watoga for their bench. Shelly (1945-2007) loved this area of the park and loved to fish. The Gray Family selected the path leading to the dock on the lake at Watoga for their bench. Shelly (1945-2007) loved this area of the park and loved to fish.
The Gray Family selected the path leading to the dock on the lake at Watoga for their bench. Shelly (1945-2007) loved this area of the park and loved to fish. | 📸: Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.

Have A Seat On Your Sleek, New Park Bench!

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!

This image is displaying the Wade family's inscription on a plaque for a park bench located near the Fred E. Brooks Memorial at the Arboretum at Watoga State Park near Marlinton, West Virginia. The Wades have visited Watoga for decades. We love the inscription on the Wade's park bench and so would John Denver. | 📸: Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.
The Wade family bench is located near the Fred E. Brooks Memorial at the Arboretum. The Wades have visited Watoga for decades. We love the inscription on the Wade’s park bench and so would John Denver. | 📸: Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.

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.

It's an early fall day with the leaves just starting to change, some yellows and oranges beginning to appear. You can pick your bench at T.M. Cheek overlook as you take in the panoramic view of the Greenbrier River Valley and Kennison Mountain in the distance. The bench on the left honors Alfred G. Dean, Jr. for "A Life Dedicated To WV State Parks." Junior's final service was as a board member on the Watoga State Park Foundation. The bench on the right was donated by the Foundation. Enjoy the view. | 📸: Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.
You can have a seat on a bench at T.M. Cheek overlook as you take in the panoramic view of the Greenbrier River Valley and Kennison Mountain. Enjoy the view. We do. | 📸: Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.

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.

John C. Dean is a graduate of West Virginia University, 1984, BSJ.

For 16 years, John lived at Watoga until his father, Vernon, retired after 43 years.

A bench for John’s father, Vernon C. Dean, will be located at T.M. Cheek Memorial in spring 2021. Moreover, a bench honoring his uncle, Alfred G. Dean, Jr., is located at park headquarters near the CCC statue. A bench for Vernon’s and Alfred’s Jr.’s father, Alfred G. Dean, will be situated near the CCC statue as well in summer 2021.

You can email John at .