Watoga Update November 4, 2019

Current Happenings in and around Watoga State Park via Watoga Update November 4, 2019

The Riverside Campground sits empty now, the gate was closed last week for the 2019 camping season. Riverside will reopen as it does every spring, on April 1, 2020. It is now a winter sanctuary for dog-walkers and beavers that can be seen cruising the shores along the campground.

The Beaver Creek Campground will stay open until December 8, primarily to accommodate deer hunters. It will reopen the Friday before Memorial Day weekend 2020.

Ten of the Classic cabins will remain open throughout the winter months for the hardier Watoga visitors. Cabins remaining open are 3,8,9,14,15,16,18,19,28, and 33.

Volunteerism at work in Watoga
For the 15th year in a row, the members of the DC Taekwondo group came up to Watoga State Park for training purposes. (It’s top secret and I cannot tell you. Remember, they are from D.C.)

They always spend a day doing volunteer work in the park. When asked why they provide this wonderful service, their leader, Brian Wright, said: “We enjoy our visits so much that we want to give back to the park.”

This year they played the role of Sherpas and carried on their backs pieces of one of two benches to go into the Arboretum. The first bench donated by the Wade Family was assembled by the group at the trailhead and the other, donated by the Watoga Crossing Homeowner’s Association, went into the farther recesses of the park on Honey Bee Trail.

These are the first benches to be built in the Arboretum since the Civilian Conservation Corps hand-built 17 chestnut and stone benches in the 1930s.

David Elliott, acting as the base camp manager, did a splendid job of organizing this effort. He outfitted six external frame packs, spreading the disassembled park bench into near-equal weights, and attached them to the packs.

A huge thanks to the seven members of the Washington D.C. Taekwondo Group, David Elliott, and last but not least, Freia, the amazing pack dog who toted the water for the crew up the mountain.

Pi R Squared?, No, Pie Are Round
At least the ones made at the Hillsboro Library yesterday when 22 students showed up to learn the art of pie-making from Emily Sullivan. I do not use the word “art” loosely; cooking can be an art that takes years and a certain skill set to master and Emily possesses those traits in addition to being an engaging instructor.

Emily Sullivan Art of Pie Making workshop at Hillsboro Library community room.

Under her tutelage, we all made personal size apple pies that we walked away with after class. It was a ‘start from scratch’ course beginning with the most difficult task of making the pie dough. In my humble opinion the crust makes the pie, we learned all of Emily’s secrets yesterday, on pie crusts that is!

Fun was had by all and we started right away planning our next cooking class at the Hillsboro Library. Generally, there is no charge for the class so that’s a big plus. And classes are open to the general public including guests at Watoga State Park.

Stay tuned for information about future cooking classes at the Hillsboro Library.

Dirt Bean To Move One Block Over

Those visitors to our local state parks, including the Greenbrier River Trail, should note that the Dirt Bean has closed its doors at the 812 3rd Avenue location and will reopen in the new location on 2nd Avenue almost directly behind the old location.

The following photo of the owner, Kristy Lanier, was taken just hours before closing the door for the last time at this location. The new store will have the same great coffee, foods and drinks and should be open in the second week of November, if

Kristy Lanier, proprietor of Dirtbean Cafe & Bike Shop Marlinton, WV

Well, that’s it for this edition of the Watoga Update. Watoga State Park is open 365 days a year and there is always something to do in the largest and best state park in the mountain state of West Virginia.

Ken Springer
ken49bon@gmail.com

Tales From a Watoga Naturalist

Jim Meads, Professor Emeritus, Glenville State College, was Park Naturalist at Watoga in 1967 and 1968. Here are Jim’s stories from his time at Watoga.

Background

Judy and I have been married 52 years this July, 2019. Watoga State Park is such a special place for us. We started our wonderful life together here. In June of 1967, I was hired as a seasonal naturalist for Watoga. I was going into my Senior year in the fall at Glenville State College majoring in Biology and Chemistry. Richard Dale (wife Verna) was the Superintendent and Dale Crouser (wife Gwen) was the Assistant Superintendent. Their kindness will never be forgotten. The precusors to Tales from a Watoga Naturalist.

We were married in Parkersburg on July 2, 1967. My lovely wife was a city gal with not much experience in the world of nature. She never had an indoor pet except for a goldfish. Our plan was to leave for Watoga after our wedding in Parkersburg hauling a small Scottie trailer behind. I should tell you that in the trailer was a poodle given to us as a wedding present. No, never buy a pet for someone else. I also had an injured red tailed hawk, a bag of snakes, and an assortment of amphibians. Our plan was to live in the trailer at the Beaver Creek Campground.

Hawk Head

I need to stop here and explain the injured red tail hawk. He was discovered before our wedding on the road going from Seebert. We named the hawk, Garth, and Garth took up residence in the trees at our Beaver Creek Campground location. I fed him bluegill. If I wore my green park uniform, I could call his name and he would fly down and perch on my head. I had a scabby scalp that summer. Garth got into trouble when a camper was grilling hamburgers. Garth eyed the juicy meat, swooped down, and flew away with his catch.

I then moved him to the lake by the Administration building to keep him out of trouble. He was always a welcome addition to my nature lectures by the lake. When I called his name he would appear, land on my head, and amaze the park visitors. I had to laugh when one day a fisherman appeared in the office complaining that “the damn eagle had swooped down and grabbed the bass he had just hooked”. I knew it was no eagle but just an opportunistic red tailed hawk. Good ending to this story. Garth found a bride and I am hoping many Garth descendants are around Watoga.

As we entered the park through Seebert, along Island Lick Run, the rhododendrons were in full bloom. Judy told me later that, as we traveled the road toward the Administration Building, she was wondering if she could ever find her way out of that vast wilderness.

Accommodations

We setup our camper beside the Beaver Creek Campground’s bath house and lived there for a couple of weeks. 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. Most of the logs and lumber used in the construction was salvaged from blight-killed American Chestnut. Judy was excited to live in the large room with a bathroom on the side.

Mr. Dale gave us access to the storage shed and we found an electric hot plate and a table. We were now ready to live in our new abode. Judy was a trooper. She adapted to the camel crickets that shared our shower. Only two appliances could be used at a time, she realized. Otherwise we would pop the breakers losing power not only to our room but the restaurant beneath us. We did have the luxury of an electric skillet, crock pot, and coffee pot.

Cricket Tales from a Watoga Naturalist.

I loved it when we first moved in to the room and Judy heard tiny squeaks coming from the windows. She said that it is so nice to hear the chirping of baby birds. It was not until we were leaving for the summer that I confessed that those bird sounds were actually bats resting in the cracks of the windows.

I had such a wonderful experience working as naturalist at the Park. I would help with Monday check-ins of cabin guests. We would always plan a marshmallow roast up by the Recreation Hall each week. I learned early on the horrors of flying burning marshmallows launched by the kids of cabin guests. The Rec Hall is where we would show a 16 mm Disney nature classic. Who can forget “Bear Country” or “Squeak the Squirrel”? Tales from a Watoga Naturalist.

Usually after cabin check-ins we would have one cabin complain about finding bats in the cabin. There was no way they were going to believe that this was part of the park experience. I would don my superman suit (green park attire) and arrive at their cabin with a large container of bat repellent spray. Actually it was plain ole water and I would liberally spray the rafters. It worked almost 100% of the time. Plain water equals no bats.

Field Trip Tales from a Watoga Naturalist.

I would schedule motor field trips to Cranberry Glades. Oh, the memories of leading a tour to Big Glade and getting my direction confused in the alder thickets. There was a memorable time where we had several Mennonite ladies hiking through the sphagnum bogs. With their long dresses and buckle shoes, a person would think that it would make the trek difficult. They hiked better than I did. We scheduled trips to Bear Town before it officially became a state park. This unique natural area was finally purchased in 1970 with funds from the Nature Conservancy and a donation from Edwin G. Polan.

I shared Watoga’s unique animal and plant life with Park guests. I collected beautiful Timber Rattlesnakes from an old wood pile located at the end of the old airport runway at Beaver Creek. They were beautiful reptiles indeed. Tales from a Watoga Naturalist.

We always had a botany hike along the trail by the lake. As I was pretty good at plant identification, I learned a technique to use if one of the plants stumped me. “ I am not certain of the proper name of that plant but the locals call it….”. and would make up an Appalachian sounding name. However, that identification technique could not be used more than twice during one field trip! As I was diligently working, my good wife and Gwen Crouser would walk to Watoga Lake and put two reclining lounges in a row boat so they could sun bathe. A beaver tail slap beside the boat often greeted them.

Pre-Riverside Campground Tales from a Watoga Naturalist.

It was such an exciting time for us. Before the construction of Riverside, newest campground, we parked at Cabin Three, a great large cabin that tragically burned. We would hike along the Greenbrier River and enjoy the wonders that we encountered. I recall one evening that we packed our supper. We hauled a coffee pot and large container of water to a waterfall. Sadly, after transporting the heavy items, we discovered we had forgotten the coffee! Tales from a Watoga Naturalist.

It was on this trip that my good city wife had a scary experience. Going around a wet area in the path, she decided to take a detour. She stepped on a pile of limbs and quickly realized she had fallen into a beaver’s lodge up to her hips. Judy thought that the beavers would chew her legs off. I pulled her out and explained that beavers were herbivores and she had nothing to worry about.

Watoga memories continue to be a part of the fabric of our lives -from a night search for a lost cabin guest on Honeymoon Trail to collecting ancient coral fossils at nearby Calvin Price State Forest. As we get older, we realize the importance of life stories and feel so blessed to have Watoga as an amazing part of our story.

Jim Meads, Glenville State College Professor Emeritus of Biology

Jack Horners’s Corner

For the last 21 years visitors to Watoga State Park have driven by Jack Horner’s Corner as they make their way through the village of Seebert, the gateway to the park and a major trailhead on the Greenbrier River Trail. Longtime visitors have observed the steady growth of the building and parking areas; the old building removed, decks added for dining with a view of the river and bike path. Horner’s Corner is strikingly colorful with stacks of kayaks, floatation devices and bicycles.

Stewart & Chissie Horner proprietors of Jack Horner's Corner Seebert, WVStewart and Chrissie are at the helm of this growth, anticipating the needs of the community and the thousands of visitors who stop by every season, which for Horner’s corner is sometime in April until November. This large, well designed building houses a pizza and sub parlor, a huge array of souvenirs touting Watoga State Park and the Greenbrier River Trail as well as basic groceries and drinks.

Kayak Rental and more…

You can stop in to rent a kayak for a river trip on the Greenbrier River and arrange a shuttle. The same service is offered for those wishing to ride a bike on the 80 mile Greenbrier River Trail.

Their ice cream cones have become legendary; I have never been in there in the summer months without a queue waiting for a cool treat. One chap who wanted to remain anonymous told me he cannot go past the place without getting an ice cream cone. OK you have twisted my arm; it is Mac Gray. Mac lives just a few doors down so that amounts to a heck of a lot of ice cream. Sorry Mac, I am terrible at keeping my sources confidential.

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

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 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